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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 Please note that many outdated links in this archived document may not work.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: Questions for Congress

USA: Questions for Congress
Date distributed (ymd): 981022
Document reposted by APIC

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

Region: Continent-Wide
Issue Areas: +political/rights+ +economy/development+ +security/peace+ +US policy focus+
Summary Contents:
This posting contains a succinct set of questions on Africa policy from the Washington Office on Africa, intended to be used by grassroots groups as a resource for raising African issues with members of the new U.S. Congress to take office in January.

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

[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" with Africa.

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 national economies.

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.

  1. 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?
  2. 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?
  3. 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?
  4. 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?

Building Democracy

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 concurs.

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 expediency.

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 high.

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.

  1. 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?
  2. How can the U.S. provide support to Africans working to build democracy and oppose repressive regimes?
  3. How can the U.S. support and learn from the growing dialogue among governments, multilateral organizations, and civil society groups in Africa?
  4. 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 Eritrea.

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 peace agreements.

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.

  1. Do you want the U.S. to sign and ratify the International Treaty to Ban Landmines, which becomes international law in March 1999?
  2. 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?
  3. 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?
  4. How do you think the U.S. can best support African peace-making initiatives, including grassroots efforts as well as regional and continental diplomacy?

Suggested action:

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 do care.


More detailed background on most of the policy issues mentioned here can be found on the Web at

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 and handling.

This material is being reposted for wider distribution by the Africa Policy Information Center (APIC). APIC's primary objective is to widen the policy debate in the United States around African issues and the U.S. role in Africa, by concentrating on providing accessible policy-relevant information and analysis usable by a wide range of groups and individuals.

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