[Note to non-U.S. readers: This posting is provided both
for your background information and for possible forwarding to those of
your U.S. contacts you think would be interested.]
Questions on Africa Policy for the 106th Congress
Washington Office on Africa
October 16, 1998
For more information contact:
Leon Spencer, Executive Director
Washington Office on Africa
212 East Capitol St.
Washington, DC 20003
Phone: 202-547-7503; Fax: 202-547-7505
President Clinton's trip to Africa in spring 1998 highlighted both the
continent's success stories and the horror of the 1994 genocide in Rwanda.
Before the trip, Assistant Secretary of State for Africa Susan Rice laid
out a "new vision for Africa" and called for a "new partnership"
Despite these encouraging signals, the trip also reflected problems
with the Administration's policy. It was marred by promotion of simplistic
free-market solutions to Africa's economic woes. The message on U.S. support
for democracy was ambivalent. The President apologized for failure to respond
to the Rwandan genocide, but offered no coherent commitment on responding
to ongoing violent conflict in the Great Lakes region.
After the trip, despite the efforts of some policy-makers, Africa quickly
resumed its place near the bottom of the foreign policy agenda. The escalating
crisis in the Congo, with profound regional implications, apparently caught
the Administration by surprise.
Then Washington's response to the terrorist attack in August on U.S.
embassies in Dar es Salaam and Nairobi quickly sidelined the "partnership"
theme. The strike on a factory in Sudan was not only unilateral and counterproductive
to its stated aim of reducing the terrorist threat. It also undermined
opponents of the abusive military regime in Sudan by allowing that regime
to present itself as a victim.
With a new Congress to take office in January, a framework for giving
serious attention to African concerns is yet to be constructed. Policy-makers
need to confront the hard questions of how the United States can be helpful,
rather than harmful or irrelevant, as Africans struggle to achieve widely-shared
economic advance, democratic rights for all, and durable peace. Following
are a few of the questions that need to be asked.
Partnership for Development
In the last two years, Washington debate about Africa has centered on
the Africa Growth and Opportunity Act and presidential initiatives along
the same line. Despite token endorsements of aid, debt relief and human
rights inserted into later versions of the bill, its principal backers
continued to present it as a "paradigm shift" from aid to trade
and investment. While the Act's rhetoric pitched a "free-trade"
pact with Africa, its actual provisions were limited: a Cabinet-level forum
with participating African states, $650 million in investment fund guarantees,
some tariff concessions, and elimination of import quotas for African textiles.
Both the Congressional Black Caucus and nongovernmental Africa advocacy
groups were split in response to the bill. For many proponents, the point
was to counter Africa's marginalization by rejecting the "aid seen
as welfare" model and insist on Africa's incorporation into the economic
mainstream. Most opponents rejected that mainstream model as damaging to
African grassroots interests and Africa's long-term development prospects.
Black Caucus chair Rep. Maxine Waters commented that both sides should
recognize that the bill was neither "the best thing" nor "the
worst thing" that could happen for Africa. In any event, by session's
end the bill had changed into a vehicle for fast-track trade authority
and bogged down in the Senate.
Instead of debating "trade versus aid," those concerned with
building a prosperous Africa should try to shift the discussion to asking
what mix of public and private investment can foster sustainable and equitable
growth. For example, public investment in health, education and the advancement
of women in Africa should not be seen simply as a question of aid. Such
investments are in fact prerequisites for economic advance. Drastic cuts
in African government budgets in these sectors not only impose suffering
but also slow the creation of a healthy, educated populace that can build
In this context, we need to ask whether the U.S. is paying its fair
share of these crucial investments, and examine the variety of constructive
roles U.S. public and private institutions can play. The U.S. currently
ranks last among industrialized countries in per-capita development aid.
- What measures do you propose to increase Africa's share in U.S. trade
and investment, and what guidelines do you propose to protect workers'
rights and the environment?
- How would you support a dialogue about development policies in Africa
that includes African and U.S. citizens' groups as well as business and
government officials? Do you agree that the conditions for African countries'
access to international finance should be worked out in dialogue rather
than imposed by "structural adjustment" packages?
- Do you support cancellation of the debts of Africa's poorest countries,
as advocated by the Jubilee 2000 campaign? If not, what measures do you
propose to ease Africa's debt burden?
- Do you believe that the U.S. should pay its fair share of international
investment in health, education and other development programs for African
countries? If so, what steps would you take to bring this about?
There is a substantial consensus among Washington officials and African
civil society on political goals, including democracy, the rule of law,
human rights, participation, and accountable governments. In a 1997 address
to the Organization of African Unity, U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan
stated: "Human rights are African rights, and I call upon you to ensure
that all Africans are able fully to enjoy them." Official U.S. policy
The President's trip, however, revealed inconsistencies. Calls for the
President to speak out clearly on democracy in Nigeria fell on deaf ears.
Clinton celebrated Africa's "new leaders" but did not stress
the need to advance democracy on multiple fronts. Many U.S. officials still
argue that economic advance will automatically bring progress in other
areas, or that human rights issues should be downplayed for diplomatic
The political situation in Nigeria has now changed, and many observers
hope that the current military regime will keep its pledge of a transition
to democracy. But others are skeptical. Repressive legislation remains
in place, while discontent in the oil-producing areas continues to grow.
The need for outside pressure and support for democracy in Nigeria remains
The same is true of countries around the continent. Standards of human
rights need to be applied across the board. And support for civil society
as well as accountable government institutions needs to be on the agenda
for U.S. involvement in every region of Africa. Democracy is not made by
a few leaders or a few elections; it is built through institutional change
at many levels.
Support for democracy may mean sanctions, aid conditionality, high-profile
diplomatic statements, financial support for pro-democracy groups, or "quiet
diplomacy," as well as cooperation with reform-minded African leaders.
No "one-size-fits-all" approach will work. Instead, U.S. policy
towards different African countries should be informed by a wide-ranging
dialogue with African civil society, not only with top-level political
leaders and the private sector.
- Do you support pressure on the Nigerian military regime to implement
its promise for a return to civilian rule by early 1999 and to restore
full democratic rights?
- How can the U.S. provide support to Africans working to build democracy
and oppose repressive regimes?
- How can the U.S. support and learn from the growing dialogue among
governments, multilateral organizations, and civil society groups in Africa?
- How do you think the U.S. can best support democracy and human rights
in [name here an African country you are concerned about]?
Peace and Security
In this area, U.S. officials and African opinion also agree on general
goals. Despite the persistence of conflict in many countries, the overwhelming
demand of civil society groups is for peace. Church groups, women's groups,
human rights organizations and conflict resolution groups advocate negotiation
and compromise. Disgust with leaders who find ideological or ethnic excuses
for continuing conflicts is a powerful sentiment in almost all African
countries. While many Africans deplore the unilateral U.S. response to
last summer's terrorist bombings, there is little popular support for terrorist
strategies even in countries where such armed groups are active internally,
such as Algeria and Egypt.
The end of the Cold War saw significant progress in negotiating resolutions
to a series of conflicts. Yet the 1990s have brought a bewildering profusion
of old and new internal conflicts, most notably in Angola, Sudan, Somalia,
Liberia, Sierra Leone, Algeria, Burundi, Rwanda, Congo (Brazzaville) and
Congo (Kinshasa). These include the slaughter of more than half a million
in the space of a few months in Rwanda and massive abuses against civilians
in each country mentioned. In 1998 conventional inter-state conflict has
emerged as well with a border dispute between former allies Ethiopia and
Although certain countries may be seen as success stories, they cannot
be isolated from the impact of conflict in their region. The spillover
of refugees and border insecurity even from conflicts in small countries
can be significant. As giant Congo (Kinshasa) fragments into an array of
shifting battlefields, shock waves are felt not only throughout central
Africa but as far as east and southern Africa.
In almost all current African conflicts, Washington should use its influence
to encourage negotiations that involve all parties in a search for compromise
solutions. It is a mistake to pick "good guys" to receive unconditional
diplomatic support or military aid, or to exempt favored clients from criticism
for human rights abuses. Above all, the U.S. should not worsen conflicts
by providing arms or military training to forces involved in major human
rights abuses or escalation of hostilities. On the other hand, policies
of isolation and exclusion should be used only in exceptional cases where
parties are guilty of massive abuses or have a long history of sabotaging
The U.S. contribution to peacemaking is more likely to be fruitful if
it is coordinated with peacemaking by African and international mediators.
Support for peacekeeping with U.N. or regional organizations should take
priority over support for bilateral partners. U.S. involvement-financial,
diplomatic and logistical-is often a key factor in sustaining such multilateral
operations. But the United States' failure to pay fully its U.N. dues and
arrears undermines U.S. credibility and weakens the U.N.'s capacity to
respond to crises.
- Do you want the U.S. to sign and ratify the International Treaty to
Ban Landmines, which becomes international law in March 1999?
- What measures do you suggest to ensure that U.S. arms and military
training are not provided to regimes guilty of major human rights abuses,
and do not fuel conflicts in Africa?
- Do you support full payment of U.S. arrears to the United Nations peacekeeping
budget, as well as other U.N. dues? If not, why not?
- How do you think the U.S. can best support African peace-making initiatives,
including grassroots efforts as well as regional and continental diplomacy?
The questions in the background article can be used with candidates
for the House and Senate in the short time before the elections. They can
also be directed to members of the next Congress after they are elected.
Even a few letters can sometimes make a difference by letting lawmakers
know they have constituents who care about Africa. And lawmakers can pose
hard questions to Administration officials even when they don't take legislative
action. But if there is silence from voters, politicians and officials
will assume they can keep on with business as usual and focus on other
issues with more vocal constituencies.
Questions can be asked at candidate forums, in letters to campaign headquarters
and congressional offices, on radio call-in programs, and in letters to
the editor of local newspapers. Concentrate on one or two questions in
a single message. You can adapt the questions given here or substitute
your own. The important thing is to raise the visibility of African issues.
Include other short background material if you wish. You may or may
not get an answer, but you will let elected officials know that voters
More detailed background on most of the policy issues mentioned here
can be found on the Web at www.africapolicy.org.
The following are two relevant background papers available from Africa
Policy Information Center (APIC):
"Changing Africa: A Human Development Overview." August 1998.
16 pages. $5 each, $4 each for 20 or more. Add 15% for postage and handling.
"Thinking Regionally: Priorities for U.S. Policy toward Africa."
March 1996. 8 pages. $2 each, $1.60 each for 20 or more. Add 15% for postage