Note these excerpts from a recent story on allAfrica.com:
Africa: Understanding U.S.-Africa Relations During Obama’s Presidency
BY MWANGI S. KIMENYI, 27 FEBRUARY 2012
“The limited U.S. interest in Africa…remain(s) very low. In 2009, of the $282bn foreign direct investment outflows from the US, less than 2 percent went to Africa – the majority of which went to the oil and extractive minerals sectors.”
“[W]hat seemed to have been missed is that Africa does not have any constituents who deliver votes and thus there are no substantive political returns for focusing on the region. For a president keen to be re-elected, a focus on Africa is hardly an optimal political investment.”
“[T]here has been little change in US-Africa relations during the Obama administration, contrary to what many Africans had hoped.”
“Secretary Clinton’s visit [in January] took in four West African countries. This visit targeted countries that recently made democratic transitions through competitive elections. The support of democratic transitions and improved governance are at the core of Obama’s administration’s stated relations with Africa.”
To read the full article: http://allafrica.com/stories/201202271612.html
Our inconsistent Foreign Policy in sub-Saharan Africa
In my book “When the White House Calls” I discuss the need to better understand the critical nature of sub-Saharan Africa; that congressional delegations (CODELS) need to spend more time in the region, especially in some of the thousands of multicultural and ethnically diverse villages. I further noted that every elected member of Congress should be required to visit sub-Saharan Africa. Many of the members of Congress, in my opinion, have a myopic view of this faraway continent and a limited understanding of its importance to our national security.
We need a more consistent foreign policy in this part of the world, and we need to engage sub-Saharan Africa and its people in a more meaningful way. If matters are left unchecked, sub-Saharan Africa will continue to deteriorate, as will any remaining quality of life and hope for a brighter future.
Our start-and-stop, wait-and-see foreign policy does not sit well with governments already suspicious of our agenda in the region. When we need these countries to support our issues at the UN we twist their arm. However we are not always proactively engaging them, and at times we resort to using threats of aid cuts and sanctions to get our way.
U.S. foreign policy towards sub-Saharan Africa may have served us well in the past, but we will be trumped by China, with our long list of conditions for democracy and transparency, and by the sanctions we impose when countries fail to meet them. We need to engage the sub-Saharan African countries keeping in mind an understanding of our cultural differences. If we want to gain influence, we need to lower the bar on all the conditions we impose or we will lose out in sub-Saharan Africa.
The Millennium Challenge Act (MCA) announced by President Bush in 2002, was approved in 2004 and funded by Congress in 2005, as the way of the future for properly administering financial aid. This represented a fundamental change in U.S. foreign assistance policy. Intended to provide new foreign assistance to low-income countries that were “governing justly, investing in their people, and encouraging economic freedom”, the Millennium Challenge program had sixteen benchmarks that recipient governments needed to meet. Over the years, the United States had set a precedent of giving financial aid, with few strings attached, to autocratic and corrupt rulers in sub-Saharan African countries. In the case of some fledgling democracies where the United States didn’t have any economic interest, we weren’t so generous. I believe a provision in the program is needed for those countries that are not able to meet all sixteen of the MCA requirements to qualify for assistance, but are young democracies that risk becoming failed states; susceptible to the influence of al-Qaeda and other Islamic extremists. There should have been a provision to meet perhaps twelve out of the sixteen criteria, with ten mandatory requirements, to be more flexible with the continent’s fledgling democracies.
In my meetings, with sub-Saharan African leaders while I was U.S. ambassador and subsequent interviews with African leaders for my book, I heard repeatedly that the United States is considered a “fair-weather friend.” The U.S. government needs to have a consistent, dependable foreign policy, including foreign assistance programs for sub-Saharan Africa that aims to rebuild trust and friendships, and leads these countries out of their abject poverty conditions.
We should not forget that “foreign assistance is a real bargain for American taxpayers,” as Secretary of State Warren Christopher noted in 1995. He went on to add, “Recent polls suggest that the American people think that up to 25 percent of federal spending goes to foreign assistance, and that 8 percent should be the maximum. In fact, we spend less than 1 percent of the total federal budget on foreign assistance—about 12 cents a day for each American citizen—in contrast to about 18 percent still spent on defense.” Asserting that our “diplomatic ‘field offices’ abroad also constitute an invaluable early-warning intelligence system” the secretary added, “their rapid-fire political, military, and economic reporting is essential to the crisis-prevention work of Washington national security decision-makers.”
Responding to questions about whether our foreign assistance made any real difference in developing countries and what would happen if we just stopped giving it, Secretary Christopher responded by saying, “Both we and they would suffer. Our foreign assistance programs are intended to promote the kind of economic growth and political stability that are critical to U.S. national security and economic well-being. Failing to provide aid to developing countries would therefore jeopardize our national security.” The Secretary further pointed out that “it costs a hundred times as much to deal with humanitarian crises as it does to prevent them.” For example, it cost the United States more than $2 billion to deal with Somalia, and $1 billion to address Rwanda’s problems.
Secretary Christopher under pressure from Congress, recommended that USAID close down twenty-eight missions abroad, shutter ten U.S. Information Agency (USIA) offices, and cut more than three thousand job positions; USIA’s activities and programs merged with the State Department programs. Secretary Christopher talked about “the principle of universality,” wherein the United States must maintain an official diplomatic presence in every country where it is welcome. I would have gone further and said that we should maintain a presence in every country that is a voting member at the United Nations.
China has been active in sub-Saharan Africa for over fifty years, and uses its diplomatic and financial influence to gain support, on such matters as diminishing relations with Taiwan in sub-Saharan Africa. China has been diligently working to make friends and gain advantages in sub-Saharan Africa, in order to lock up all the natural resources. Currently, China is purchasing almost 60 percent of the oil produced by Sudan, which has the third-largest reserves in sub-Saharan Africa. China is also actively involved in oil and other trade deals with over forty sub-Saharan African countries. China’s economic investment in sub-Saharan Africa has brought it many new friends thanks to its policy of not interfering with the internal affairs of these countries. But at the same time, China has turned a blind eye to genocide and war in Sudan.
Although President Obama traveled to the sub-Saharan African country of Ghana in 2009, there has been a limited engagement of the region as a whole. Mwangi Kimenyi, in the February 27, 2012 article wrote, “The support of democratic transitions and improved governance are at the core of Obama’s administration’s stated relations with Africa”. In early 2012 Secretary Clinton visited the four West African countries of Liberia, Cape Verde, Cote d’Ivoire, and Togo. The trip was to show support for these countries, “who recently made democratic transitions through competitive elections”. The Secretary had also visited a number of countries in sub-Saharan Africa in previous years. President Hu Jintao of China has been active in Africa as well, visiting over twenty countries since 2003. And there are other countries pursuing opportunities in sub-Saharan Africa including India, Brazil and Iran. The United States needs to actively engage the continent, because these countries represent fifty-four votes at the UN, including forty-nine in sub-Saharan Africa, potentially a powerful block of votes.
In the January 18, 2012 Suite 101 article by Gary Raynaldo he notes, “Is Iran the Motive for Hillary Clinton’s Visit to West Africa?” and, “A move to blunt Iran’s nuclear weapons program may be the motive for U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s trip to Africa this week”. (To read his full article click here)
Iran has seen China’s effective influence in garnering support from the African countries. Iran under economic and political sanctions, relating to its nuclear program, has been seeking support at the UN from non- aligned countries. While serving in Africa as U.S. ambassador, I became familiar with Iran’s support of projects in Comoros, including infrastructure improvements, building educational and medical facilities, doctor training and supplying medical equipment. Iran has made similar investments in other sub-Saharan African countries. In Uganda and Namibia, Iran provided financing for building oil refineries. President Ahmadinejad has also visited several West African nations to discuss investments. “As a result of its isolation from the world (particularly the West), Iran has had to turn to Africa in an effort to gain more relevance in global affairs”, Raynaldo further noted. On April 23, 2010 the BBC reported, “[T]hat Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe backed Iran’s ‘just cause’ on seeking nuclear power as President Ahmadinejad visited Zimbabwe”.
In an August 3, 2010 article published in the American Enterprise Institute’s Iran Tracker, Charlie Szrom wrote, “The Islamic Republic’s soft-power activities in West Africa have yielded successes. In a November 2009 UN vote on the human rights situation in Iran, almost all West African nations maintained their previous positions (which were primarily in support of Iran), while several other African and Middle Eastern nations took stronger stances due to Iran’s June 2009 post-election crackdown. A lack of American attention to West Africa allows Iran to continue to expand its influence and undercut Western interests.”
In previous Commentaries I stated, the United States needs to more actively engage the sub-Saharan African countries, embrace their cultures, and understand the thousands of years of tribal history. Above all we need to win back the respect and friendship we enjoyed in Africa for over fifty years. We should not try to mold every country into our form of democracy, which may not take hold in a tribal society. We need to improve our diplomatic relations and reestablish our economic ties, or we will be trumped by China, and now facing competition by Iran. In addition we still face the jihadist movement which wants to destroy the western culture, and our form of democracy.
The United States needs a more consistent Foreign Policy in sub-Saharan Africa. We need to understand that our form of democracy may not take hold everywhere, so we must listen to what these countries want to achieve and work with them, rather than exclude them from our aid programs for not complying with our standards. At the same time, it is necessary to consider having a focused public diplomacy message reaching out to the people more directly, including those who live in the villages.