Kerry or Rice? The View From Africa

The window is closing fast on the chances of having an Africanist as US Secretary of State (Minister of Foreign Affairs). Republicans in the US Congress, human rights activists and a section of Africanists have come out in opposition to Ambassador Susan Rice. Republicans insist that she lied to Americans about the real masterminds of the attack on the US embassy in Libya that resulted in the deaths of four Americans, including the ambassador. The Africanists and human rights activists are not enthused by Ms Rice’s cozy relationship with the regimes of Paul Kagame of Rwanda and the late Meles Zenawi of Ethiopia. A section of African elites (the elitist sovereignty crowd) may also be wary of her support for interventionism on humanitarian grounds.

Source: Wikipedia

Source: Wikipedia

As things stand Pres. Obama might be forced to choose Sen. John Kerry over Ms Rice in order to avoid an unnecessary war with a section of Congress at a time when everyone and their dogs and cats should be worrying about the fiscal cliff.

John Kerry would not be a terrible choice. His past focus on drug trafficking in Latin America, free trade agreements and climate change would make him useful to Africa.

As I have written before, Africa is increasingly becoming a transit point for drugs from Asia and Latin America destined for the European market. Africa also needs more trade with the US beyond AGOA. And climate change will probably affect Africans the most since the vast majority of them depend on rain-fed agriculture and live under conditions that can least withstand natural disasters. But Kerry is not an Africa expert and has done little on the region beyond his support for the South Sudanese cause. This makes it hard to see how he will connect his global focus on these important issues to the African context.

Susan Rice on the other hand has studied Africa and has in the past shown a pragmatism that you want in the top US diplomat. Plus it helps that Ms Rice would have Obama’s ear as she is reported to be very close to the president. She has had successes at the UNSC, the highlight of which was the intervention in Libya to stop Gaddafi from butchering civilians in Benghazi. Rice is a smart straight-talker whose undiplomatic streaks can be a plus in a region full of under-achieving strongmen.

For a very long time Foggy Bottom has seen Africa through a humanitarian lens. Even Hillary Clinton, with all her awesomeness, has done little in new initiatives for Africa beyond human rights issues and a campaign that involved providing cameras for rape victims in eastern DRC. These are not unimportant issues. I am not saying that human rights catastrophes in Africa should be ignored. Just that this should not be a secretary of state’s pet project for the entire the region.

In my opinion Ms Rice’s biggest plus is that she gets one of Africa’s biggest challenges: state incapacity.

It would be nice to have a US secretary of state who takes state capacity development in the region as her pet project (and has the guts to at times subordinate democracy promotion to this project). Her praise of Kagame and Zenawi (no doubt both rabid and at times murderous autocrats) was centred around this very same idea (and to be honest, the ghosts of Rwanda circa 1994). Democracy promotion is a noble cause. But it must be done with a sober mind. The last thing you want is a procrustean approach to the promotion of rights, freedoms and liberties like we have seen in the past.

(Just for the record, I am pro-democracy and have criticized the likes of Kagame here and here, among other forums).

Anyone who reads the development reports side by side with the human rights reports from Rwanda and Ethiopia must be conflicted. I have talked to a senior opposition figure from Ethiopia who told me that she thinks the biggest challenge to fighting Meles Zenawi (at the time) is that “people see the dams and the roads.” It is hard to ignore revealed competence. I would hazard to guess that most people would rather live in autocratic Singapore than democratic Malawi. Yes, it is not an either/or argument with these regimes. All I am saying is that interventionism has to be constructive and not lead to the rolling back of hard fought gains against disease, illiteracy and poverty in these states.

As I opined following Obama’s reelection, I think that security will be at the top of the US Africa policy, of course dressed up in rhetoric about democracy and human rights. John Kerry will handle that on auto pilot. His focus will be on the Middle East and South Asia. It would have been better to have an Africanist at the helm who understands more about the continent and could sneak in a few policy agendas here and there that could make a difference on the ground. An aggressive focus on state capacity development could have been one of those policies.

This is a missed opportunity for Africa. For the first time in history Africa had a chance to have the number one American diplomat be a person who is an expert on a section of the region (Ms Rice wrote a thesis on Zimbabwe). Her defense of a couple of African autocrats aside, I think Ms Rice would have been better for Africa than John Kerry – who in all likelihood will focus on the Middle East and South Asia and continue Sub-Saharan Africa’s designation to the “humanitarianism column.”

The dangers of simplistic single narratives

As Stearns argues in this excellent book, the causes of the conflicts in eastern DRC are multiple and complex. Yet simple narratives in the media and among aid workers and advocacy groups have tried hard to reduce these causes to a fight over minerals; and similarly the consequences as mass rape of women and young girls (remember the video cameras fiasco??). In reality the story is more complex than this.

Here is a quote from a good paper on the international community’s responses to the Congo (DRC) conflicts by Severine Autesserre in the latest edition of African Affairs:

“These narratives focus on a primary cause of violence, illegal exploitation of mineral resources; a main consequence, sexual abuse of women and girls; and a central solution, extending state authority. I elucidate why simple narratives are necessary for policy makers, journalists, advocacy groups, and practitioners on the ground, especially those involved in the Congo. I then consider each narrative in turn and explain how they achieved prominence: they provided straightforward explanations for the violence, suggested feasible solutions to it, and resonated with foreign audiences. I demonstrate that the focus on these narratives and on the solutions they recommended has led to results that clash with their intended purposes, notably an increase in human rights violations.

The international actors’ concentration on trafficking of mineral resources as a source of violence has led them to overlook the myriad other causes, such as land conflict, poverty, corruption, local political and social antagonisms, and hostile relationships between state officials, including security forces, and the general population. Interveners have singled out for support one category of victims, sexually injured women and girls, at the expense of others, notably those tortured in a non-sexual manner, child soldiers, and the families of those killed.”

The paper is a grim reminder that “fixing the Congo”  – whatever that means – will take a long time. More on this here.

The Consequences of Dodd-Frank in the Kivus

The dusty streets of Goma, North Kivu’s capital and a mining hub, illustrate Congo’s ills. Metals dealerships dominated the city’s economy until last year but are mostly padlocked now. Repair shops and bars that relied on mining business are empty. So are most public offices. Local government, financed by mining taxes, is insolvent; salaries have not been paid in full for months.

In the past year Goma has suffered a miserable decline. Hundreds of mines in the surrounding countryside have cut output by as much as 95%. At the Humule coltan mine a few gumbooted miners scramble up a red-earth ravine where last year there were thousands. Most stopped coming because they could no longer find buyers for their nuggets of coltan, a metal used in electronic gadgets. They blame what they call “the American law”.

That is the Economist reporting on the mining sector in the DRC.

Dodd-Frank (found here) is a lesson in the failure of solutions imposed from 30,000 feet. As has been stressed by many DRC experts (see Mvemba, Aronson and Seay, for instance), the problem with eastern DRC is not a law enforcement problem but a weak state problem.

With that in mind, it is sad that Joseph Kabila, the man who has failed to pacify the country, is poised for reelection this November. Good governance, even in relatively peaceful and cohesive states, take a long time to evolve. Once can only imagine how much longer Congolese will have to wait before they can get an effective and accountable state.

For  a slightly different opinion check out AFJN.

Securing Peace in South Sudan

UPDATE:

The ICG has a good report on the simmering conflicts in Sudan and South Sudan:

The loss of South Sudan has had a profound effect on the NCP, and senior generals led a soft-coup within the party. They have outflanked more pragmatic elements in the NCP who seek a negotiated strategy. Encouraging progress in the post-separation arrangements between North and South was blocked. More importantly, hardliners in Khartoum — including SAF generals — immediately rejected a 28 June framework agreement, which includes a political and a security agreement for Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile, facilitated by former South African President Thabo Mbeki and Prime Minister Meles Zenawi of Ethiopia, and signed by Dr. Nafie Ali Nafie, Co-deputy NCP chairman and a presidential adviser. A few days later, President Omar al-Bashir publicly disavowed the agreement.

Check out the rest of the report here.

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Texas in Africa makes a compelling argument against arming South Sudan (against potential aggression from Khartoum). She basically outlines three reasons against arming Juba:

  1. Such a move would implicitly side with the SPLM against other domestic armed/opposition groups. The point of concern here is that having just won independence South Susan needs to have a negotiated settlement among all interested groups. The Dinka-dominated SPLM, in particular, ought to credibly share power and resources with the other ethnic/interest groups.
  2. Arming South Sudan would spark an arms race against Khartoum and might lead to a war sooner rather than later.
  3. The West can’t be sure of Juba’s future geopolitical leanings. The same weapons might be used in the future against say America and its allies – AfPak style.

For the most part I agree with Laura. And like her, I am on record as having concerns over the alarmist celebrity diplomacy/mediation effort that has been orchestrated in South Sudan, Darfur and eastern DRC by Prendergast and his buddy Clooney.

In addition, I think that the debate over whether or not to arm Juba forecloses on other options that might also help secure South Sudan. Make no mistake, South Sudan has real domestic and international security challenges that occasionally will require the use of military force. Addressing these security challenges will necessarily require some form of military aid to South Sudan.

Here’s my take:

  1. If South Sudan is to avoid the fate of Zaire/DRC, the pacification of the whole country must happen ASAP. While negotiating with rebel leaders is the best approach, the truth is that in some cases military force might be needed. To that end providing SPLM with the necessary capacity to win the fight against fringe groups that do not want to sit at the negotiating table may be a necessary evil. Yes, we should be cognizant of the fact that there are legitimate internal differences within South Sudan. But we should not legitimize any groups that might want to air those differences using the force of arms. Real democratic competition can only take place in a peaceful environment. Armed challengers to SPLA (the legitimate army of South Sudan) must bear the burden of proving the legitimacy of their grievances. South Sudan’s Savimbis must be deterred. Also, the international community must not be under any illusion that democracy will come soon to South Sudan. It will take a long time.
  2. The arms race between Khartoum and Juba is already underway. The question is not if it will happen but what it will lead to. Furthermore, after “losing” the South and its oil Bashir will be hard pressed for distractions from his domestic woes, especially if the economy of Sudan experiences a sharp decline. Starting a border war with South Sudan would be a welcome distraction. Although arming the SPLA is not the best way to deal with this possibility, an alternative would be to bring in the EAC through a regional defense pact. Uganda, in particular, would be interested in such a deal since it would help reduce its own defense budget. The involvement of Eritrea in South Sudan’s internal conflicts makes the need for a regional security arrangement even more urgent. Most recently the UN accused Eritrea of plotting to bomb an AU meeting in Addis Ababa Ethiopia.
  3. Concerns over Juba’s future geopolitical leanings can be allayed through continued military aid and professionalization. This can be achieved by getting the generals out of politics following the Kenyan model – a combination of awesome perks and professional training – and through greater political and economic integration of South Sudan into the East African Community.

War is nasty and should be the last option. That said, there is a need for genuine debate over how to achieve the twin goals of state monopoly of violence within South Sudan and the deterrence of a trigger-happy Khartoum.

If it were left to me I would quickly move to decouple the SPLM and SPLA as a condition for any military assistance. The last thing the region needs is yet another regime with a fused political and military leadership as is the case in Rwanda and Uganda.

the good news from africa, and their implications

The photo in the flyer says it all:

John Prendergast with two anonymous African children

John Prendergast is Jesus the bearer of good news and presumably a savior, through his tireless advocacy work, of the many African victims of fate, their governments and endless conflicts. It must feel good being the anonymous kids being used to massage a humanitarian worker’s ego in flyers like this one.

Mr. Prendergast, co-founder of the enough project, gave a talk this afternoon (I only attended the first part of the talk because of TA duty) at Stanford on the positive developments on the Continent and the state of the conflicts in central Africa. For more of what he does see Texas in Africa.

a million shirts guy is back

From Texas in Africa

For those of you who “seem to think that everyone in Africa has clothing” and don’t like the idea of sending a million t-shirts (and do they have pants??) to African families, this guy wants to change your minds. The misguided self-righteousness passion in the video is palpable. More on this here.

not so common commonsense

Because commonsense is not as common as we might think, or want, please check out Texas in Africa who has lately been writing a bit about how social science works.

frantz fanon in the white house?

Interesting stuff from American Politics….

Former speaker of the US House of Representatives, Newt Gingrich, echoed an article in Forbes magazine by the nutjob D’Souza  which claimed that Obama’s philosophy and worldview is viewed by an anti-colonial mentality inherited from his father – along with his father’s other non-stellar traits.

Which sort of makes you wonder about Newt’s opinion on colonialism. People like Newt should be made to understand that the anti-colonial movement was not inherently anti-European. It was anti-repression and against blatant abuse of basic human rights. It just so happened that the abusers were people from Europe. It would have been just as justified if it were Swiss people rebelling against colonizers from Vanuatu.

kagame on the ropes

I respect all that Paul Kagame has done for Rwanda. Under his leadership the country appears to have survived the 1994 catastrophe, emerging as the least corrupt and one of the fastest growing economies in the region. But like most autocrats, Mr. Kagame has had his dark side. A damning UN report apparently documents atrocities committed by Rwandan troops in eastern Congo. The just concluded general election in the mountainous central African nation has also exposed the former rebel’s anti-democratic tendencies and intolerance of any form of opposition. It is slowly emerging that not even the much praised and disciplined Mr. Kagame is immune to the most common disease afflicting most autocrats: believing that they are God’s gift to their people and therefore have the right to do whatever they want with their power.

I have not read the entire UN report but for more on it check out Texas in Africa.