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Note: This document is from the archive of the Africa Policy E-Journal, published by the Africa Policy Information Center (APIC) from 1995 to 2001 and by Africa Action from 2001 to 2003. APIC was merged into Africa Action in 2001. Please note that many outdated links in this archived document may not work.

USA/Africa: Questions for Candidates

USA/Africa: Questions for Candidates
Date distributed (ymd): 021004
Africa Action Document

Africa Policy Electronic Distribution List: an information service provided by AFRICA ACTION (incorporating the Africa Policy Information Center, The Africa Fund, and the American Committee on Africa). Find more information for action for Africa at

+++++++++++++++++++++Document Profile+++++++++++++++++++++

Region: Continent-Wide
Issue Areas: +political/rights+ +economy/development+ +security/peace+ +US policy focus+


This posting contains questions on Africa policy for candidates. With the current focus on Iraq or the economy, Africa is even more marginalized than usual in coverage of the November 5 U.S. elections. The basic questions remain unanswered. Despite promises of greater attention to AIDS, poverty, and other issues, the quesions today are little different than those posed two years ago (see>).

To the extent that U.S. Africa policy is now being debated within official circles, the focus seems to be on the strategic importance of oil and plans for a presidential trip sometime early next year. Africa Action will have more on these topics in future postings. Included below are a few selected links on the new oil debate, plus a report on an important statement on the topic by Central African bishops, presenting a perspective currently being ignored in Washington.

Official perspectives include that of an unnamed State Department official in New Yorker article cited below. Among his comments: much of West African oil "is in deep water far offshore, so the natives don't notice it being taken"

+++++++++++++++++end profile++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Questions on Africa Policy for Candidates and Policymakers

Africa Action

October 2002

The questions below are addressed to candidates in the 2002 midterm elections in the U.S. They cover a range of important issues and challenges for U.S. Africa policy. These questions also apply more generally to rich country policymakers whose actions or apathy shape the international response to issues of critical importance to Africa, such as HIV/AIDS, debt, and development.

The events of September 11, 2001 brought the U.S. to focus on its role in the world and on global threats to human security. In the aftermath of the attacks, there seemed to be a new appreciation among U.S. policymakers of the need to address the destabilizing divide between rich and poor countries, and of the importance of building a shared global response to the most urgent global challenges from HIV/AIDS, to poverty, to terrorism. However, in the year since September 11, 2001, little has changed in U.S. Africa policy. The Bush Administration has continued to disregard African concerns and international obligations, and Africa remains marginalized in a system of global apartheid.


The U.S. has a special historical relationship with the African continent. As the wealthiest and most powerful country on earth, it also has a moral and financial obligation to support African efforts to address the continent's most urgent challenges. The most immediate threat to global human security, the HIV/AIDS pandemic, will not be defeated unless there is a successful effort to respond to the crisis at its epicenter in Africa. Recent polls reveal that the American public believes the U.S. has vital interests in Africa. Thirteen percent of Americans trace their ancestry to Africa. The U.S. imports approximately 18% of its crude oil from sub-Saharan Africa. However, the Bush Administration has consistently sidelined African priorities.

Q: What interests do you think the U.S. has in Africa? What should be the priorities of U.S. Africa policy?


The HIV/AIDS crisis in Africa represents the worst plague in human history and the most serious threat to the continent's future. According to UNAIDS, Africa is home to more than 28 million of the 40 million people worldwide living with HIV/AIDS. More than 6,000 Africans die of AIDS every day. The social and economic effects of the HIV/AIDS crisis are devastating entire countries, and life expectancies are plummeting across the continent. African governments and civil society are struggling to address this health emergency, but they lack the necessary resources and public health infrastructure to provide essential prevention and treatment services. The new Global Fund to fight HIV/AIDS is being starved of the resources it needs to defeat the pandemic.

Q: What should the U.S. do to respond to the HIV/AIDS crisis in Africa? Would you support a greater U.S. contribution to the Global Fund against HIV/AIDS? Do you agree that the war on AIDS is more important than the war on terrorism? Why/not?


Sub-Saharan Africa's massive external debt is the single largest obstacle to the continent's economic development. It is also a major hindrance to African governments' efforts to respond to the HIV/AIDS crisis. Over the past two decades, African countries have paid out more in debt service to foreign creditors than they have received in development assistance or in new loans. These foreign debts drain almost $15 billion out of Africa each year. Many African countries are still forced to spend more on debt repayments than on the health or education of their own people. The current international debt relief framework, the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) Initiative, has failed to provide a solution to Africa's debt crisis.

Q: Do you support canceling Africa's unsustainable debt burden, as was done for European countries such as Germany and Poland? What new measures do you propose to achieve this?


Public investment in Africa's development, in the form of official development assistance (ODA), is critical to African efforts to address the immense social and economic challenges the continent faces. While the need for such support is greater than ever, levels of development assistance have fallen in a consistent downward trend over the past decade. U.S. spending on foreign aid has declined and now ranks lowest among the world's richest countries, relative to the size of its economy. Recent Bush Administration proposals to increase foreign aid to Africa are still less than the U.S.' fair share, and will not come into effect for several years yet, if approved by Congress.

Q: Recent polls reveal that the American public supports more foreign aid for Africa. Do you support an increase in U.S. development assistance to African countries? Why/not? Do you think Washington should dictate economic policies to African countries as a condition for aid?


Africa is marginalized in the global economy by both the institutions and the rules that govern the system. Both are dominated by the interests of the world's richest countries. The World Bank, the IMF and the WTO are controlled by the U.S. and other G7 countries. These institutions have come to dominate economic policy-making in African countries, and this has severely weakened the capacity of African governments to respond to urgent domestic needs. Poor terms of trade and restricted market access also keep Africa economically vulnerable, and have restricted the continent's share of world trade to 1%.

Q: How would you propose reforming the institutions that govern the global economy in order to make them more democratic and accountable to those affected by their decisions? What do you think is the best way to increase the benefits African countries could derive from international trade?


Democratic governance and the respect for human rights are indispensable to ensuring stability and sustainable development in African countries. U.S. support for human rights in Africa also helps promote international security. The failure to support human rights in Africa, and the practice of using double standards to measure human rights practices in Africa, contribute to the loss of credibility and influence that the U.S. government has on these matters internationally.

Q: How can the U.S. best support democracy and human rights in Africa? Do you agree that U.S. support for democracy in Africa should extend beyond support for elections in African countries? What should be the focus of more long-term U.S. efforts?


U.S. diplomatic and financial support for conflict resolution in Africa is essential to both regional and global stability. Unresolved conflicts in Sudan and Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), continue to threaten democratic progress and development efforts in the continent as a whole. The human and economic toll of these wars has been devastating. Secretary of State Powell has referred to the war in Sudan as "the greatest tragedy in the world today." In Angola, progress has been made with this year's ceasefire agreement, yet massive challenges still face the country after 27 years of war. U.S. support for bilateral and multilateral efforts to end ongoing conflicts in Africa, and to mitigate the impact of these conflicts, is critical.

Q: What should be the role of the U.S. in promoting peace and security in Africa? Which countries should be priorities of the U.S., and why? Do you agree that the U.S. has some degree of obligation to support peace and reconstruction in countries where it helped promote war, e.g. Angola and Congo?


Many people say that because the U.S. benefitted so much from the slave trade and the subsequent exploitation of Africa's human and natural resources, the U.S. should pay reparations to Africans and their descendants. Precedents for reparations include the compensation provided by the German government to Holocaust survivors, and the restitution provided Japanese internment camp survivors by the U.S. government. The call for reparations for Africa is based not only on historical exploitation and destruction caused by the slave trade and colonialism, but also the crimes of structural racism, as well as Cold War support for apartheid and other brutal dictatorships in Africa.

Q: Do you believe the U.S. owes reparations to Africa and African descendants? If so, how do you propose reparations be implemented in order to address this legacy of injustice? If not, why not?

USA & African Oil - selected recent articles

Institute for Advanced and Strategic Studies
Study by an Israeli think tank on strategic importance of African oil, which has won support in both the Bush administration and Congress.

Ken Silverstein, "U.S. Oil Politics in the 'Kuwait of Africa'"
(Equatorial Guinea), The Nation, April 22, 2002

Jon Lee Anderson, "Our New Best Friend: Who needs Saudi Arabia when you've got Sao Tome?" New Yorker, October 7, 2002. Nine-page feature article; not available in on-line edition. Includes quotes from unnamed U.S. official, such as much of the oil "is in deep water far offshore, so the natives don't notice it being taken" and Sao Tome "is basically the only stable democracy in West Africa. It's perfect."

Other recent news articles on the topic
[some articles may no longer be available on current web sites]

East African, "U.S. Moves to Protect Interest in African Oil" September 16, 2002

New York Times, "In Quietly Courting Africa, U.S. Likes the Dowry: Oil" September 19, 2002

Houston Chronicle, "West African oil suddenly strategic for U.S." September 20, 2002

The Independent (Banjul), "Africa Becomes New Focal Point of U.S. Energy Strategy" September 23, 2002


Few benefit from oil wealth, bishops say

ABIDJAN, 18 Jul 2002 (IRIN) - Central Africa is rich in oil and other natural resources but its people are among the world's poorest, say Roman Catholic bishops who have appealed to petroleum companies, governments, international bodies and churches in western countries to help end the inequities linked to the oil industry in the region.

The call came in a joint pastoral letter on the impact of oil in the region, issued at the end of a plenary assembly of the Association des Conferences Episcopales de la Region d'Afrique Centrale (ACERAC), held from 7 to 14 July in Malabo, capital of Equatorial Guinea.

Strategic oil region

Just about every country in the region is an established, new or prospective oil producer. Cameroon, Gabon and the Republic of Congo have been exporters for about three decades. Chad and Equatorial Guinea are newcomers, and exploratory activities in the northeast of Central African Republic have been promising, the bishops noted.

The Gulf of Guinea - which includes Cameroon, Congo, Equatorial Guinea and Gabon, along with Nigeria - is becoming an important strategic zone in the global oil industry, they said.

"It offers an interesting alternative to the Middle East," added the document, titled "L'eglise et la pauvrete en Afrique centrale: le cas du petrole" (The Church and Poverty in Central Africa: the case of oil) "Twenty-five percent of American oil will soon be imported from sub-Saharan Africa, with an important share coming from our countries".

However, the vast majority of Central Africans have not benefited from their oil for a number of reasons, says ACERAC (in English, Association of Episcopal Conferences of the Region of Central Africa).

Whereas member states of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) nationalised their oil sector, Central Africa's oil is in the hands of private foreign companies, so most of its income comes in the form of taxes. OPEC countries use production cutbacks to keep their prices afloat. Central African ones have no such leverage.

The bishops also denounced what they saw as "complicity" between oil companies and politicians in the region, where oil incomes are used to keep regimes in power and "contracts are drawn up in absolute secrecy". "The contracts our states sign with the [oil] companies are surely to the advantage of the latter and reinforce our economic dependence," they said.

The few dividends derived from such contracts have not contributed to poverty alleviation and "high illiteracy, mortality and malnutrition rates still characterise the region" while roads, health care and education "leave much to be desired".

The region's people pay a heavy price

For the bishops, the negligeable benefits that have accrued to the region's people are dwarfed by the price they have had to pay.

While offshore production usually has little direct incidence on people's lives, it affects the marine population and occasional spills mar the ecological balance. "A study is under way in Congo, where changes have been observed along the shoreline in oil-producing areas," ACERAC said. The effects of onshore production are easier to see: "biodiversity is endangered, and the population is subjected directly to inflation and endemic diseases".

"The example of the Chad-Cameroon pipeline clearly illustrates this," the bishops say, referring to a project involving the construction of a pipeline through which oil from new fields in southern Chad will be pumped to the port of Kribi in southwestern Cameroon. "Despite the assurances given by the different partners involved in this project, adverse effects have been observed in various localities," ACERAC noted. These included skyrocketing prices of basic commodities, increased prostitution and AIDS, the erosion of morals and the destruction of the environment, the bishops said.

Moreover, there is an "imbalance between the harm suffered as a result of expropriations, on one hand, and compensatory measures, on the other. "Oil companies violate commitments made with regard to environmental protection, the provision of jobs and markets," according to the clergymen, who said local administrations sometimes pressured populations into submitting to unjust decisions by oil companies.

Oil has also fuelled conflict in the region, they pointed out, noting that within states, there was a certain animosity between oil-mining regions and others. "The territorial location of oil wells and the unequal distribution of oil incomes have become arguments in favour of a new splintering of our countries," said the bishops. They added that seccessionist, regionalist and ethnic-based trends that jeopardise the cohesion of states were being justified by factors such as injustice in the exploitation of natural resources in given areas.

Moreover, many power struggles were centred on controlling oil money, which has also been used to finance arms purchases and the maintenance of private militias in some countries of the region "sometimes with the complicity of oil companies" which "based on their interests, have given financial and logistical support to belligerents in the region". The ensuing conflicts have contributed largely to the proliferation of arms, which has become one of the main causes of insecurity "on the borders of as well as within our countries," the bishops added. They were also worried that regional countries might go to war over violations of oil zones along their borders.

What governments, transnationals need to do

The bishops praised the work of people who strove to eradicate injustice, corruption, human rights violations and environmental degradation in Central Africa, but said they were still very few. They called on others to shrug off fear and selfishness and join the struggle for respect for human dignity, the preservation of people's rights and social justice.

They welcomed regulatory and corrective steps some states had taken or planned in areas such as the management of oil revenues, environmental protection and social measures, expressing the hope that other states would follow suit and, especially, that the measures would be enforced.

ACERAC called on governments to: work towards fair distribution of the fruits of oil mining by investing the income generated in social sectors, offering services at reduced costs for all citizens; manage natural resources with foresight by creating funds for future generations and investing in economic diversification; encourage transparency by involving civil society in the decision-making process, disseminating information on the mining of oil and other resources, and consulting organised groups when drawing up contracts.

Governments were also asked to "ensure that commitments made by the oil companies and any other enterprises engaged in oil mining are respected" and to "avert conflict by investing not in arms but in peace-building activities".

The drawing up of codes of conduct by some oil companies, with a view to correcting past mistakes and improving their image, also came in for favourable mention. However, the bishops urged the transnationals to fully respect "the lives of our people, our environment and our individual and social rights".

The companies were also asked to draw up plans for providing fair compensation for material and moral harm their activities cause to the communities and nations, and to consider local populations as partners by offering them the possibility to define their needs with regard to compensation and social infrastructure for their communities.

They were also told to stay out of the region's conflicts and contribute to transparency and the fight against corruption by making the revenue they give to states public.

How can the World Bank and western churches help?

International financial institutions earned appreciation for their involvement in oil mining, and the World Bank came in for mention for the emphasis it has been placing on the use of oil income to alleviate poverty. "May this noble wish become a reality through the bank's refusing to sanction any activity that deviates from this guideline," the bishops said. "May it set up participatory mechanisms for monitoring petroleum projects in our region, evaluate the effectiveness of its operational directives, and establish means and criteria for making them more concrete."

The bishops expressed gratitude to churches in other countries and continents that have shown solidarity with those of Central Africa. "The oil companies operating in our region are headquartered in your countries," they said. "We hope you will echo our voices in your respective countries.

"May the people of good will in your countries who take action in favour of the humanisation of oil mining in our region receive real support from you."

This material is distributed by Africa Action (incorporating the Africa Policy Information Center, The Africa Fund, and the American Committee on Africa). Africa Action's information services provide accessible information and analysis in order to promote U.S. and international policies toward Africa that advance economic, political and social justice and the full spectrum of human rights.

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