John Bolton On Trump's Anti-Dictatorship Africa Initiative--- A Departure or Useless New Words?

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John Bolton at Heritage Foundation. 
 
What's most interesting in John Bolton's U.S. Africa policy speech at the Heritage Foundation on Thursday is the declaration that, "This administration will not allow hard-earned taxpayer dollars to fund corrupt autocrats, who use the money to fill their coffers at the expense of their people, or commit gross human rights violations.”
 
This part of Bolton's presentation isn't new. It's a more public articulation of a policy first announced in the Trump administration National Security Directive, which devoted a page to Africa and which was posted on the White House website in the end of 2017.  
 
Yet the fact that Bolton made it a part of a major speech is important. On the other hand it may be a smokescreen for more U.S. militarism in Africa. 
 
Bolton said unaccountable regimes and failing states won't be supported. He specifically called out South Sudan and said the leadership was "morally bankrupt;" in essence the rulers don't deserve to be in power. For the East and Central Africa region this is important. It's a sign that Salva Kiir's regime, which is essentially an extension of Gen. Yoweri Museveni's Ugandan dictatorship, is in serious trouble. 
 
Kiir may need Vice President Riek Machar now more than he realizes. If he was planning to kill him --as he tried to and failed in 2013 and 2015 with Gen. Museveni's support-- he should think twice; he would be committing political suicide. If he and Machar can demonstrate a new credible rapport, his chances become better than zero. 
 
If the U.S. is sending such a clear signal that it's done with Kiir --combined with the arms embargo slapped on South Sudan by the United Nations Security Council at the behest of Washington-- it means the U.S. is also looking beyond Kiir's sponsor, Gen. Museveni. 
 
The signs are increasingly clear. The statement by Bolton not to "allow hard-earned taxpayer dollars to fund corrupt autocrats" fits Gen. Museveni like a glove. In recent years the Museveni dictatorship  received anywhere from $700 million to $1 billion annually in U.S. financial and military support. This has allowed him to prolong his brutal dictatorship of 32 years while spreading his destructive militarism to neighboring countries--Rwanda, Congo, and South Sudan.
 
Museveni was also on Bolton's mind when he denounced corrupt African autocrats. Just last week, on Dec. 5, Chi Ping Patrick Ho, a businessman and former home affairs minister in Hong Kong was convicted in federal court in Manhattan for bribing Gen. Museveni and Sam Kutesa his notoriously corrupt minister of foreign affairs $1 million between the two of them on behalf of CEFC China Energy, in return for uncompetitive business advantages including in the oil industry. 
 
Presumably the Trump administration will also shun dictators such as Faure Gnassingbe in Togo, the ailing Ali Bongo in Gabon, Teodoro Obiang in Equatorial Guinea, and Paul Biya, the Cameroon kleptocrat who lives in a palatial hotel most of the year in Switzerland. 
 
In the past the U.S. has made announcements that were welcomed by anti-dictatorship activists in Africa. They have always turned out to be mere words. President Obama famously said Africa doesn't need strong men, but strong institutions. Yet his administration continued business as usual with three tyrants in East and Central Africa; Museveni, Rwanda's Paul Kagame and Congo's Joseph Kabila. 
 
How will the U.S. compete with and challenge China and Russia if it claims it won't support tyrants? 
 
In Uganda for example, following the conviction of Patrick Ho for bribing the top leaders, what position will the U.S. take on GE's investment in a Ugandan oil refinery? Will it be business as usual for fear that China or Russia would step into the vacuum if GE withdrew? Yet investments such as GE's are precisely how dictators continue to be empowered in Africa. 
 
Will Trump's "Prosper Africa" policy also turn out to be more useless words from the U.S.? Will we actually see a different U.S. approach in its dealing with corrupt African dictators who suppress their citizens, civil society, the youth, and the entrepreneurial class--or will it be business as usual as the U.S. tries to counter China's superior economic position and Russia's expansion of its interests with more militarism? 
 
U.S. actions, not words will answer these questions.
 

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