Eye on Africa: Condoleezza challenges

Posted in Africa | 12-Dec-04 | Author: Mvemba Dizolele

US National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice (L) stands with US President George W. Bush after her nomination to be the next US Secretary of State at the White House in Washington DC.

WASHINGTON, Nov. 22 (UPI) -- "In Dr. Rice, the world will see the strength, the grace and the decency of our country," President Bush said last week as he named the 50-year-old Condoleezza Rice to be the next secretary of State.

"The nation needs her," Bush continued.

Well, so does Africa. As Rice fought back tears under the flood of camera flashes, the African community welcomed her nomination with great hope.

In Africa, the significance of Rice's appointment is not her skin color. The new opportunity she represents for U.S. diplomacy is paramount. Current United States-Africa trade runs at $33 billion a year. While it represents only one percent of U.S. foreign trade, it is greater than U.S. trade with both Eastern Europe and Russia. Sub-Saharan Africa provides 15 percent of U.S. total oil imports. This contribution will rise to 25 percent by 2015. Walter Kansteiner, former assistant secretary of State for Africa, said it better: "African oil is of national strategic interest to us, and it will increase and become more important as we go forward."

Yet, for the last several years, U.S. engagement on the continent has been mostly symbolic, often lacking in substance. Rice inherits a thick dossier full of challenges. According to UNAIDS -- the Joint United Nations Program on HIV/AIDS -- 66 percent of the 38 million people infected with HIV/AIDS worldwide live in Africa. Half of the population lives on less than one dollar a day. The killing fields of Darfur in Sudan still burn despite a U.S. declaration of genocide. The fighting in the Ivory Coast threatens to destabilize the West African sub-region. Analysts predict another war in Congo, as tensions remain high in the eastern provinces.

This past July, I witnessed an embarrassing congressional hearing on the crisis in Congo. To most questions asked by the members of the House Africa Sub-committee, Connie Newman, assistant secretary of State for Africa, had the same answers. Either "I don't know," "I am not sure," or a version of both. This is unacceptable; Africa deserves the same standards the United States requires of its diplomats in other parts of the world.

African conflicts are not African problems, as U.S. officials often claim. Just as Iraq and Afghanistan are the world's problems, Congo, Sudan and the Ivory Coast are all international problems. As the new face of America in Africa, and enjoying President Bush's full confidence, Rice is in a unique position to initiate the vital change in U.S. Africa policy. U.S. diplomacy should match the strategic value of the continent.

Africa knows only the insidious strength of the United States in the context of the Cold War. The U.S. propped up dictators and tyrants at great human and economic cost to their countrymen. Since the end of the Cold War, however, the United States has not manifested its positive strength. The continent has witnessed amorphous and waffling policies that reflect neither the strength nor the grace or the decency Rice is to represent.

For instance, the United States refused to lead the world to stop the genocide in Rwanda in 1994, when Hutu militias slaughtered 800,000 Tutsis and other Hutus. The State department advocated an African solution to an African problem -- a tribal problem. The United States then supported Rwanda and Uganda in their invasions of Congo 1996 and 1998, which caused the death of 3.5 million Congolese. Congo, we still hear today, is an African problem. Where is America's decency?

While the United States has launched a number of economic initiatives intended to buttress trade and reduce poverty in Africa, such as the Millennium Challenge Account and the African Growth and Opportunity Act, the U.S. has incessantly failed to promote the real force behind good governance and economic growth -- democracy. America has invested little in democratic institution-building. As it did during the Cold War, the United States continues to support despotic leaders to the detriment of their countrymen. Unfortunately, this approach has not worked. The U.S. did not succeed with Zaire's Mobutu Sese Seko; it will not succeed with Uganda's Yoweri Museveni. Temporary stability is no substitute for democracy.

One potential solution can be found in the U.S. policy toward the Republic of Georgia. The United States sustained engagement with President Eduard Shevardnadze throughout his tumultuous tenure. The worse the situation got, the more the U.S. committed itself to maintaining a dialogue with both Shevardnadze and the opposition. Shevardnadze was eventually forced to resign last November. Three days after a peaceful resignation, President Bush pledged even greater support to the new, still untested government. In so doing, the United States unequivocally affirmed its support for democracy in the former Soviet Union.

A similar approach in Africa would demonstrate U.S. commitment to global democracy. Africa needs a success story to both sustain and encourage opposition parties that are fighting for democracy across the continent. A hit-and-run diplomacy has not helped these parties. Instead, every time U.S. commitment withers, those who advocate democracy are left at the mercy of dictators. Continuous engagement and support from Western powers, under U.S. leadership, would instill much-needed momentum to the anemic democratic movement in Africa.

(Comments may be sent to mvemba@worldsecuritynetwork.com.)