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Africa-U.S. Relations

Tag Archives | Africa-U.S. Relations

U.S. Foreign Policy and Africa: The Next Four Years

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An Air Force HC-130 prepares to refuel off the coast of Djibouti

Over the next four years the U.S. will face a number of foreign policy issues, most of them regional, some of them global. It is important to analyze some of the key issues for Africa as this continent is proving to be vital for U.S. foreign policy.

An Air Force HC-130 prepares to refuel off the coast of Djibouti

Africa is probably the single most complex region of the world and arguably its most troubled. While the world concerns itself with the Syrian civil war and the dangers it poses for the Middle East, little notice is taken of the war in the Congo, a tragedy that has taken five million lives and next to which the crisis in Syria pales. Africa represents 15 percent of the world’s population, yet only 2.7 percent of its GDP, which is largely concentrated in only five of 49 sub-Saharan countries. Just two countries—South Africa and Nigeria—account for over 33 percent of the continent’s economic output. Life expectancy is 50 years, and considerably less in those countries ravaged by AIDS. Hunger and malnutrition are worse than they were a decade ago.

At the same time, Africa is wealthy in oil, gas, iron, aluminum and rare metals. By 2015, countries in the Gulf of Guinea will provide the US with 25 percent of its energy needs, and Africa has at least 10 percent of the world’s known oil reserves. South Africa alone has 40 percent of the earth’s gold supply. The continent contains over one-third of the earth’s cobalt and supplies China—the world’s second largest economy—with 50 percent of that country’s copper, aluminum and iron ore.

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Africa Needs a New Approach

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Hillary Clinton with Henry Odein Ajumogobia

In August 2012, Secretary Hillary Clinton made a ten day visit to nine African countries: Senegal, Uganda, South Sudan, Kenya, Malawi, South Africa, Nigeria, Ghana and Benin.

Hillary Clinton with Henry Odein Ajumogobia

The common thread in Secretary Clinton’s remarks were the building blocks of the new “Presidential Policy Directive” (PPD) for sub-Saharan Africa, to strengthen democratic institutions; spur economic growth, trade, and investment; advance peace and security; and promote opportunity and development. African leaders however are skeptical since President Obama has been to sub-Saharan Africa only once, visiting Ghana in 2009. A February 2012, All Africa article noted, “To a large extent, there has been little change in US-Africa relations during the Obama administration, contrary to what many Africans had hoped. Furthermore, there has not been any major change in how Americans view Africa generally-tourists to the region and U.S. foreign direct investment to Africa remains low and declining relative to other countries - especially China…The support of democratic transitions and improved governance are at the core of Obama’s administration’s stated relations with Africa.”

Trade being a cornerstone of the PPD for Africa, with fifteen percent of the world’s population, it only represents 2.7 percent of the total GDP of the world. Five countries in sub-Saharan Africa out of forty-nine, represent 44 percent of the total GDP. South Africa and Nigeria account for over thirty-three percent of the economic market, yet most of the people still live at the poverty-level, not sharing in the rich natural resources.

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U.S. and Chinese Interests on African Security

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Liberian children hold Chinese flags before the arrival of China's President Hu Jintao in Monrovia in 2007. Christopher Herwig/Reuters

There has been intense interest in and outright alarm expressed by western civil society and governments on the rapidly increasing Chinese presence in almost all spheres in African life.

Liberian children hold Chinese flags before the arrival of China’s President Hu Jintao in Monrovia in 2007. Christopher Herwig/Reuters

Many articles paint a picture of a saintly west and a demonic China in Africa, charging the Chinese on the hearsay evidence of abuse of African workers and poor Chinese workmanship of roads and infrastructure projects. The Chinese focus on resources and infrastructure and its pragmatic and self-interest motivated policy of non-interference in domestic affairs is paraded as the smoking gun of Chinese responsibility for a range of African ills from unemployment here in Cape Town where I write, to the Darfur genocide. The intense interest by the west in China-Africa relations - arguably a natural development of the globalization process - betrays a deep seated unease on the part of the west as Chinese companies, government and Chinese models of development are shown to be more adaptable, better liked and more suitable in Africa compared to the western counterparts.

Instead of criticising the Chinese for not acting like westerners or pretending the history of western engagement in Africa was more good than bad; it will be more productive to analyse and understand Beijing’s perspective on Africa and through this identify points of common interest and areas for cooperation. An area of cooperation that is drawing increasing interest in Addis Ababa, Beijing and Washington is African security. Given China’s increasing dependence on African resources and its increasing vested interests in many weak states, it is in Beijing’s interest to cooperate with local, regional, continental and international actors to foster better security in weak African states.

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Emerging Powers expand ties with Africa

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Chinese and Chadian workers at an oil site in southern Chad. Ruth Fremson/New York Times

The end of the Cold War resulted in the strategic disengagement of western countries, including the United States, from Africa. They continued their trade, aid and assistance relationship with Africa, but once the threat of communist expansion disappeared, the West interacted with the continent in a different way. This change permitted an opening for several emerging countries to expand their ties with Africa.

Chinese and Chadian workers at an oil site in southern Chad. Ruth Fremson/New York Times

As some of these emerging non-African countries became economically strong, they increasingly replaced western influence and engagement in Africa, particularly in certain countries. This new development has fundamentally changed the relationship between the fifty-four countries of Africa and the rest of the world.

China is the most important emerging actor in Africa today. In fact, China has become the principal non-African presence—western or non-western—in a number of African countries. Other emerging countries are also rapidly expanding their activities on the continent. Most notable is India, which has long-standing ties to East Africa and South Africa.

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My Mission to the Republic of Mali

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Villagers drawing water at a well near Bandiagara, in southern Mali. John Isaac/UN

Yeah Samake, the mayor of Ouelessebougou and I had become acquainted over a year ago. Since then we had met on a number of occasions. I was impressed with him — a breath of fresh air in Africa’s young up-and-coming political leaders.

Villagers drawing water at a well near Bandiagara, in southern Mali. John Isaac/UN

In the presidential elections scheduled for April 29, 2012 he was a major contender. The campaign however was cut short by a military coup, that has since destabilized Mali. More than half the country is under siege by radical Islamists, both home grown and imported. Although I visited Mali in 2000, I felt it was necessary for me to return and understand the “real” conditions taking place in this destabilized fledgling democracy. Yeah had put together an agenda that would allow me to meet with government and military leaders, and visit the surrounding refugee camps.

On September 5, 2012 I paid a courtesy call on Ambassador Al Maamoun Keita of Mali, at the embassy in Washington DC. At the same time I picked up my entry visa for my visit that would begin the following day. Our discussion was open as to the dire situation that currently exists in the destabilized northern region of Mali. I found the ambassador very engaging and insightful. It appears that the Ansar Dine Islamist group, which was part of the long time separatist movement, is engaging in rogue business activities. They have also become associated with al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), Boko Haram from Nigeria, al-Shabaab from Somalia and other Islamists from Pakistan and Afghanistan, whose mission is to destabilize the region and take control under Sharia, the brutal Islamic law. With the elapse of five months these groups, connected in a rag-tag style, are now fully entrenched in Timbuktu, Gao and Kidal.

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The Crisis in Mali

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A cholera hospital close to the Mali border in western Niger. Photo: Sean Smith

The reports filtering out of Northern Mali are appalling: a young couple stoned to death, iconic ancient shrines dismantled, and some 365,000 refugees fleeing beatings and whippings for the slightest violations of Sharia law.

A cholera hospital close to the Mali border in western Niger. Photo: Sean Smith

But the bad dream unfolding in this West African country is less the product of a radical version of Islam than a consequence of the West’s scramble for resources on this vast continent, and the wages of sin from the recent Libyan war. The current crisis gripping northern Mali—an area about the size of France— has its origins in the early years of the Bush Administration, when the U.S. declared the Sahara desert a hotbed of “terrorism” and poured arms and Special Forces into the area as part of the Trans-Sahal Counter Terrorism Initiative. But, according to anthropologist Jeremy Keenan, who has done extensive fieldwork in Mali and the surrounding area, the “terrorism” label had no basis in fact, but was simply designed to “justify the militarization of Africa.”

The U.S. military claimed that when the Taliban fell in Afghanistan, terrorists moved west into the Horn of Africa, the Sudan and the Sahara. But Keenan says, “There was absolutely no evidence for that…really a figment of imagination.” The real target of enlarging the U.S.’s military footprint was “oil resources” and “the gradually increasing threat of China on the continent.” The U.S. currently receives about 18 percent of its energy supplies from Africa, a figure that is slated to rise to 25 percent by 2015. Africa also provides about one-third of China’s energy needs, plus copper, platinum, timber and iron ore. According to the Financial Times, new gas fields were recently discovered on the Algeria-Mali border

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Mali: Not on Clinton’s Farewell Agenda

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Secretary of State Hillary Clinton addressing a gathering of African youth

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton addressing a gathering of African youth

On August 10, 2012 Secretary Hillary Clinton ended her ten day trip to nine sub-Saharan African countries: Senegal, Uganda, South Sudan, Kenya, Malawi, South Africa, Nigeria, Ghana and Benin. The trip was publicized as her last to the continent, as Secretary of State in the Obama Administration. The common thread throughout her structured remarks was on the building blocks for democratic institutions, good governance, rule of law, corruption, security, and trade.

In the August 12, 2012 All Africa article, “Africa: Clinton Concludes African Trip”, Kimeng Hilton Ndukong noted that Mali’s security issues were briefly alluded to in several speeches, but no concrete solution to stabilize the country was offered. During Clinton’s visit the crucial situation in northern Mali has only become worse, with over four hundred thousand Malians being displaced, escaping to refugee camps in Mauritania, Burkina Faso and Niger.

Mali has a limited interest to the United States, and has not been on our radar screen since the March 22, 2012 coup d’etat which destabilized the country. The northern region, the size of France, is now under the control of radical Islamists. This democratic country of fifteen million people should have been the poster child for Clinton’s tailored remarks on building democratic institutions, good governance, and security concerns in sub-Saharan Africa. A stop in Mali to meet with transitional government leaders, and offer meaningful support to underpin the democratic regime, would have given Malians hope for the future; with countless lives being saved along the way. It would have also sent a clear message to other sub-Saharan African countries that the U. S. will support democratic regimes in their fight against radical Islamists — to maintain their freedom.

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China, Africa and Implications for the United States

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China is planning to build Chad’s first oil refinery, lay new roads, provide irrigation and erect a mobile telephone network. Chinese oil workers at the exploration site.  Ruth Fremson/New York Times

China and the United States have surprisingly similar interests in Africa.

China is planning to build Chad’s first oil refinery, lay new roads, provide irrigation and erect a mobile telephone network. Chinese oil workers at the exploration site. Ruth Fremson/New York Times

Both rely increasingly on the continent for oil while China also imports large quantities of minerals. Both seek political support from Africa’s 54 countries, which constitute more than a quarter of the membership of the United Nations. Both see Africa as an increasingly attractive export market, although today the African countries collectively account for a tiny percentage of each country’s global trade.

China also wants to expand the “one China” principle throughout Africa; four African countries recognize Taiwan. This is not an American interest. For its part, the United States wants to minimize the impact in Africa of terrorism, narcotics trafficking, international crime, piracy and money laundering so they do not harm US interests in Africa or the homeland. While these are increasingly becoming Chinese interests, they have not yet reached the level of US interest. The United States also seeks to continue naval access to African ports and maintain the ability to overfly and land military aircraft. This is not yet an important interest for China.

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Somalia: U.S. Dual Track Policy

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Abandoned Al-Shabaab ‘technicals’ in Mogadishu's stadium. Source: Enough Project

Let’s be sure we understand what the United States means by the dual track policy towards Somalia and Somaliland.

Abandoned Al-Shabaab ‘technicals’ in Mogadishu’s stadium. Source: Enough Project

In October 2010, Assistant Secretary of State Johnnie Carson announced the dual track approach. Track one involved continuing support for the Djibouti Peace Process, the Transitional Federal Government (TFG), its National Security Forces and the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM). Track two recognized that there were large pockets of stability in Somalia that merited greater engagement. These areas included Somaliland, Puntland and regional and local anti-al-Shabaab groups throughout south/central Somalia. Track two included additional support for Somali civil society groups and clan leaders.

Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Don Yamamoto testified before Congress in mid-2011 that track one remained critical to political and security progress in Mogadishu and ultimately the rest of Somalia. He said the United States would continue to support the TFG’s political progress in the coming year. He added that the United States expected the TFG would bring into the political process Puntland, Galmudug, Ahlu Sunna wal Jama’a (ASWJ) and other Somali stakeholders.

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Somalia’s Under the Tutelage of Ghost-Lords

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Prime Minister David Cameron and Transitional Federal Government Prime Minister Abdiweli Mohamed Ali at the London Conference on Somalia press conference. Source: UK Foreign Office

Prime Minister David Cameron and Transitional Federal Government Prime Minister Abdiweli Mohamed Ali at the London Conference on Somalia press conference. Source: UK Foreign Office

At this dreadful moment in its history—when the obituary of a nation on life support is being written—political correctness is a luxury that Somalia cannot afford. Yes, Somalia is a failed state. But, failure is not a permanent condition, unless people choose to make it so by retiring their dignity and spirit of resilience.

Since the collapse of the military government 21 years ago, Somalia went through various levels of problems perpetuated by clan militias, warlords, economic-lords, religious-lords, regional-lords, and a group that I would refer to as the Ghost-lords. All except the latter were domestic phenomena, and as counter-intuitive as it may seem, the Ghost-lords is the most elusive and perhaps the biggest obstacle to the reconstitution of the Somali state. Yet it remains the highest international authority that oversees every aspect of the political process in Somalia.  The Ghost-lords are a loose association of paradoxical powers of the Good, Bad, and Ugly of the International Community. They come with all kinds of stripes, creeds, dogmas, and political and economic opportunism; they work together and work against each other; they provide solutions and problems, enticements and threats, good governance and corruption.

Of course this is not to say that there is a covert web of conspiracy connecting every aspect of the Ghost-lords. There is no evidence that each of the elements that make up the Ghost-lords is driven by the same objective. In fact, there is ample evidence to the contrary as certain elements within that group have interests that are clearly at odds with one another, especially on who should engineer the post civil-war Somali state and whose interest should that state serve.  In one form or another, the Ghost-lords have funded at least 15 “Reconciliation Conferences” that turned out to be nothing more than pricey power-clutching rituals.  Within the span of 12 years of transition, these so-called Reconciliation Conferences have produced 3 Presidents and 9 Prime Ministers.

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‘SSC’ is the Last Hope to Bridge Somalia Back Together

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World Food Programme in Kobe refugee camp in Ethiopia. Photo: Petterik Wiggers

World Food Programme in Kobe refugee camp in Ethiopia. Photo: Petterik Wiggers

Like many nations in Africa, Somalia has endured the legacy of the foreign expedition of greed throughout the continent. After the Berlin Conference 1884, Western European powers sought to divide Somaliland—one of the most homogeneous regions of Africa—into British Somaliland, French Somaliland, Italian Somaliland, Ethiopian Somaliland (the Ogaden), and the Northern Frontier District (NFD) of British Kenya. Thus, sowing the seed for the current ongoing inter and intra-regional unrest of Somalia.

Fast forward to 1991: a mix of northern and southern clan-based militias armed, financed, and supported by Ethiopia toppled Somalia’s central government and, in due course, brought the strategic collaboration between these militia groups to an end as each went to secure its area of influence (read clan-based). This formula would work for some and not the others.

Stabilization has proven a difficult undertaking in a number of the southern regions while in the north-west and north-east regions (Somaliland and Puntland) clan militia groups and their clan elders were able to bring relative stability to those regions. This, some argue, was possible mainly because of the clear single clan dominance in both of those regions.  Though, both northwest and northeast regions of Somalia enjoyed relative peace that gained them much praise, they both fell short of playing a pivotal role in instilling hope in the hearts and minds of the majority of people in the rest of Somalia. Neither Somaliland nor Puntland has indicated any interest in mediating between their warring brethren in the South.

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The U.S. Reassesses the China-Africa Relationship

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Chinese Contingent of the United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) during a medal ceremony held today in the Liberian capital, Monrovia.  Eric Kanalstein/UN

China, India, Brazil and Russia and even smaller non-western countries such as Turkey, Iran and Indonesia steadily have been replacing western influence in Africa throughout the first decade of the 21st century. China has contributed more to this process than any other single non-western nation and perhaps more than all of the others combined.

Chinese Contingent of the United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) during a medal ceremony held today in the Liberian capital, Monrovia. Eric Kanalstein/UN

China surpassed the United States in 2009 as the largest bilateral trading partner with the combined fifty-three countries in Africa. Although accurate statistics are elusive, Chinese investment in Africa during 2009 may also have been larger than that of any other single nation. Chinese leadership in trade and investment with Africa almost certainly extended through 2010 and will likely continue into the foreseeable future. The United States was slow to react to the non-western challenge to western influence in Africa, especially that which came from China. The United States did not even perceive the situation as a challenge during the waning years of the Clinton administration and through the first four years of the Bush administration.

When the United States finally understood the magnitude of growing Chinese influence in Africa during the second half of the Bush administration, it did not accord it a high priority in U.S.-Africa policy, which has traditionally had the lowest policy priority of major world regions. The West generally had decreased its attention to Africa following the end of the Cold War in the late 1980s. The 11 September 2001 attacks on the United States focused Washington on the Global War on Terror, especially the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. This created an ideal environment for China, which has now experienced three decades of annual GDP growth of about 9 percent, to assert its economic and, in some cases, political influence in Africa.

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United States and China in Africa: Advancing the Diplomatic Agenda

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Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton delivers her opening statement at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China, September 5, 2012

It is important to look at U.S.-China interaction in Africa from the optic of statements by senior U.S. officials. These statements began in 2005 and generally reflect a desire to engage with China in Africa in a positive way.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton delivers her opening statement at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China, September 5, 2012

There have been, however, occasional expressions of concern, criticism, and caution. At the same time, the official statements rarely reflect the strident expressions of concern about China’s activities in Africa that are often heard in the American media. Let’s look at the statements chronologically. Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, Michael Ranneberger, told the House Africa Subcommittee in July 2005: “China’s growing presence in Africa is a reality, but it can increase the potential for collaboration between the United States and China as part of a broader, constructive bilateral relationship. China should have many of the same interests in Africa as the United States, based, among other elements, on our shared reliance on a global oil market, shared desire to diversify sources from the Middle East and shared concern over volatile oil prices.”

In remarks before the National Committee on U.S. China Relations in September 2005, Deputy Secretary of State, Robert Zoellick, addressed China’s role in the wider global community. Although not referring specifically to Africa, he stated that “it is time to take our policy beyond opening doors to China’s membership into the international system: we need to urge China to become a responsible stakeholder in that system.” The concept of China as a responsible stakeholder in the international system became the watchword throughout the Bush administration.

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U.S. Helps Uganda, Does What’s Right

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A U.S. Marine training a group of Ugandan soldiers. The Pentagon sent a small team of Marines into Uganda to train Ugandan forces to hunt for Joseph Kony and his Lord’s Resistance Army

The tentacles of the United States of America’s military extend to all corners of the world. On 14 October, United States President Barack Obama informed Congress that he dispatched about 100 US military advisers — mostly special operations forces — to Uganda to assist in the fight against a local militant group.  The questions being asked are what America wants in return and whether Africa needs the assistance in the first place, and why militarize Africa when it is this very action that is perceived to be holding democracy on the continent back? Many perceive this as a new development, but it is not. America has provided nearly US$33 million dollars in support to regional efforts to battle the LRA Army since 2008.

The help cannot be labeled successful or unsuccessful at the present moment, as it just too soon to tell. But now perhaps we will see whether the additional Special Forces ‘advisers’ who carry weapons for self-defense purposes will be the straw that breaks the camel’s back. Many around the world, and even most Africans hope this will be the case.

Although Uganda doesn’t want foreign militaries fighting their battles for them, it and the world’s newest nation-state South Sudan, for now, are welcoming the American assistance. This is despite the African outcry in 2007 over America’s military in Africa and its Africa Military Command, AFRICOM.  The South Africans were scared that the Americans were going to invade South Africa to gain access to strategic minerals following the Iraq War, while others saw AFRICOM as an arm to thwart the growing Chinese influence in Africa. Whatever the concerns, what many people don’t know is that two years prior, in 2005, South Africa became the 13th African nation to participate in America’s Africa Contingency Operations Training Assistance program (ACOTA).

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U.S. to Pursue Joseph Kony

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Reuters
Reuters

Reuters

Late last week, President Obama announced that he was ordering 100 armed advisors to be sent to central Africa to bolster efforts on the ground to combat Joseph Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) operating in Uganda and neighboring countries. For years, the LRA has systematically used rape as a weapon, burned villages to the ground, killed countless unarmed civilians and taken as prisoner, young girls, to act as sex slaves for Kony and his followers. Additionally, the LRA has forced many of its young prisoners to take up arms against their countrymen.

Originating in Uganda over two decades ago, the LRA under the leadership of Joseph Kony, a cultlike personality, has spread its activities into neighboring South Sudan, northeastern Democratic Republic of the Congo and eastern Central African Republic (CAR). What differentiates the group from other rebel groups throughout modern history is that it operates without clear political objectives and is notable for its fondness for committing rape, abducting children and enlisting them as child soldiers and the indiscriminate killing of unarmed civilians.

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