An open memo to Secretary of State John Kerry
2014-05-14, Issue 678
In an open letter to the US Secretary of State, John Kerry, who recently made a tour of several African countries, the Secretary of State is asked to address US policies towards Africa that are broken, counter-productive, and harmful
You have been on a tour of Africa that took you to some of Africa’s troubled hot spots. In Southern Sudan civil war rages. In the Democratic Republic of Congo, decades of mis-rule, and vicious predatory proxy wars from Rwanda and Uganda, have left behind 6 million people dead and a country that is in shambles. As you tour the continent, you are well aware that Somalia and Central African Republic are burning. Just two days ago terror struck again in Kenya. As you embarked on your journey, 300 innocent young girls were abducted in Nigeria. The United States has its Special Forces and aircrafts in Uganda to capture or kill Joseph Kony, the notorious warlord. Libya and Egypt are on edge. Rwanda and Burundi in central Africa, epicenters of violent conflict and genocide two decades ago, are poised for civil war.
GLASS HALF FULL OR EMPTY?
Being a good student of history, you are familiar with Africa’s contending narratives. Our continent falls perfectly within the ‘glass half-full or half-empty’ analogy. Of late, many among Africa’s ruling elite and the international community have amplified their voices; selling the idea that Africa is on the ascendancy, destined to become a powerhouse within the next few decades. To them, the glass is half-full. On the other hand, there are those who point to Africa’s sore spots and open wounds; poverty, HIV/AIDS, illiteracy, poor infrastructure, poor governance, human rights abuses, violent conflicts and terrorism, failed or failing states, and environmental degradation. To these folks, Africa is your typical half-empty glass. Between these two extremes of optimism and pessimism lies the true condition of the African people.
Some US policies towards Africa are broken, counter-productive, and harmful to Africans and Americans in the short, medium and long term. Here are some suggestions to fix them.
First, be aware that the US carries historical and current negative baggage in Africa in terms of its allies in Africa. Even as the Cold War recedes in the minds of the older generation, there is a discrepancy between what successive U.S administrations claim to be a values-driven foreign policy (freedom, democracy, human rights) and guilt by association with some of Africa’s most notorious dictators, as long as they serve ‘US interests’. For example, I have always wondered what the United States gets in return for supporting President Paul Kagame of Rwanda and President Yoweri Museveni of Uganda, bloodied dictators responsible for horrendous human rights abuses that fuel deadly conflict in the Great Lakes and Horn of Africa. How can the United States be part of a solution when it is part of the problem? In short, the United States first line of action is to do no harm.
Second, the U.S should engage pro-democracy and modernizing voices among the political forces, civil society, women and youth organizations, academic institutions and communities. Out of these will emerge the future leaders and managers of Africa. The US embassies in Africa should take the lead in this engagement. Historically, when these embassies have either been compromised by the local ruling elite, or too involved on behalf of narrow US security and economic interests. Either way they are prone to becoming irrelevant because they are far removed from the ordinary lives of Africans. Instead of being a beachhead from which to deploy the whole of US government and international power to make sustainable impact on the lives of Africans by winning their hearts and minds, the embassy often becomes a theater for pitched battles among various departments and agencies. New and innovative marching orders to U.S embassies in Africa are long overdue, in terms of who they serve and to what ends.
Third, be aware of revolutionary pressures that are building up within Africa’s youth bulge, the hundreds of millions of unemployed, unemployable, and often uneducated young men and women. Extremist ideologies and religious fanatics find fertile ground among the marginalized. Of late, if your embassies and intelligence analysts are telling you (or know) the truth, there is a growing anti-American, anti-West, sentiment that is both concealed and open. The publicized economic growth in Africa in recent years, largely from natural resources, hardly reaches the poor. The international community, United States included, does not significantly help willing countries to invest in higher education or small and medium enterprises to create jobs and a motive to hope for the future among the jobless youth. The United States should take the lead with the international community to co-invest with responsible African governments in higher education (especially in science, technology, innovation and entrepreneurship) and, small and medium enterprises (SMEs), and mobilize the whole international community (UN, World Bank, EU, AU, Regional Trading Blocs, Bilateral organizations and Philanthropy) towards this goal. The resources could be pooled together regionally to motivate cross-border co-operation.
Fourth, invest in holistic women and children health at the community level, with HIV/AIDS, TB and Malaria integrated at this level, with a bias towards prevention and systems strengthening. This year alone, over four million under-fives will die in Africa due to preventable conditions. It is estimated that in the same period more than a quarter of a million mothers in Africa will die during delivery. Africa’s future is bleak without putting women and children at the centre of the development and foreign policy agenda.
Fifth, to help end and prevent conflicts in Africa, encourage, champion and support negotiations, accommodation and consensus-building, In particular, in the Great Lakes region and the Horn of Africa, support Tanzania and South Africa in the peacekeeping work they are doing in DRC. Put pressure on the Presidents of Rwanda, Burundi, DRC, and Uganda to have dialogue with their opponents and open political space. Make it absolutely clear that is a high cost to scheming and changing constitutions to perpetuate dictatorship. Withdraw US support to Presidents Museveni and Kagame until they stop their destabilizing military adventures in DRC and South Sudan, and hold them accountable to their war crimes, crimes against humanity, and acts of genocide.
Sixth, reign on your national security team. The hawks among them will insist that there is a red threat (China) looming over Africa, which must be contained or neutralized. Furthermore, these hawks argue, it is US security and economic interests that should take precedence over anything else, even if this means baby-sitting some of Africa’s most dangerous big men. The idealists in your team would love to re-invent Africa in a US image. Both pathways are not only undesirable but also unachievable and dangerous. Africa needs China, the United States and the rest of the world for mutual advantage. U.S, China and the rest of the world need Africa for the same reasons. The premium is on healthy competition and co-operation, with the interests of ordinary African people at the center.
Seventh, be aware of the rising tide of two world religions, Islam and Christianity, on the African continent. From the north to the south, east to the west, the ordinary people in every African country have generally lived together peacefully for centuries. Both Islam and Christianity have largely been forces for good, and together they make Africa what it is and stronger. Everything must be done to prevent anything that would put Muslims and Christians on a collision path, re-enacting the jihads and inquisitions of the past. Engagement and accommodation, rather than prejudice and isolation, should be the American way of navigating the ultra-sensitive terrain of faith, in order to harness the most synergies for US and Africa’s interests.
To summarize, Mr. Secretary, the US should do no harm. Use your big stick, check-book and the threat of America’s gunboats as arrows in your quiver, to be used wisely. If you have to promise a check, let it be to support Africa’s youth in education, small and medium enterprises, and women and children health. Disengage the US from the shameful relationship with Africa’s bloody dictators, and engage to help create conditions for authentic pro-democracy African leaders to emerge. Tame the ambition and temptation for the US to over-promise and over-reach, in search for enemies to contain or destroy, or in the hope of creating an Africa that is a replica of the United States. Promote negotiated and peaceful settlements, and reach out to the Mosques and Churches to promote inter-faith dialogue and co-operation.
Ultimately, it is out of the challenges and opportunities of today that Africans themselves must curve out the peaceful and prosperous Africa of tomorrow.
Theogene Rudasingwa (Dr) is former Ambassador of Rwanda to the United States, and the author of ‘Healing A Nation: A Testimony: Waging and Winning A Peaceful Revolution to Unite’ and ‘Heal A Broken Rwanda.’