Obama's Visit To Africa: Tell Remaining Dictators 'Your Lease Is Up. Get Out Of The Way'

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[Publisher's Comment]

In about one week President Barack Obama will visit the African continent, making stops in Senegal, South Africa and Tanzania.

If he's to offer just one advice, it must be to tell the few remaining dictators in Africa to get out of the way.

The U.S. can help make this happen by ending military support for regimes whose leaders usurp the will of the people by denying them the right to elect their leaders. If the U.S. wants allies against militancy in Africa its most reliable partners would be those freely elected with popular mandates not tyrants.

This is a big thing for Africans. The post-colonial leadership that governed after the 1960s had fought for independence so Africans could determine their rulers. That's why the leaders immediately after colonial rule were initially adored. Today, in some African countries the citizens suffer under a new yoke: tyranny imposed by rulers who deny Africans the right to elect who governs them.

All the three countries Obama is visiting are peaceful with stable political environments. All three have regular elections, peaceful transition of political leadership, and presidential term limits.

If every African country had this type of mature politics much of the armed conflicts would end. There would be greater success in fighting corruption --the plunder of public resources, embezzlement and bribe-taking from foreign corporations; and, many young Africans, including women, would rise into leadership. Accountable leadership would institute independent mechanisms to punish those who abuse power.

This is the message Obama can help amplify during his visit to Africa: Africans must elect their leaders. That's the meaning of independence and self-determination everywhere in the world.

Four years ago, Obama delivered a rousing address to Ghana's Parliament, the Accra Speech, that was meant for the entire continent. He called for an end to life-presidency in African countries and announced that the U.S. would support countries that: adhere to political transparency and transition in leadership; the ones that fought corruption; and, the ones that respected their constitutions and the rule of law. The days of the strong man were over, he said.

But that Accra message, which was welcomed by millions of ordinary Africans, was diminished and even perverted. Subsequently the Obama administration yielded to politics. It continued supporting dictatorial rulers such as Uganda's Gen. Yoweri Museveni and Rwanda's Gen. Paul Kagame.

The U.S. financial and military backing for the pair was primarily because Uganda sent thousands of troops to shore up Somalia's weak government; the U.S. feared it would be overrun by al-Qaeda-affiliated militants. Kagame's regime ingratiated itself to Washington by deploying peace-keeping troops to Sudan's Darfur region.

Finally, after Rwanda and Uganda again invaded Congo last year, using a group called M23 as their Trojan Horse, and seeking to continue plundering Congo's vast mineral and natural resource wealth, the U.S. condemned Museveni's and Kagame's militarism.  President Obama himself personally telephoned Gen. Kagame and warned of consequences.

This time around Obama's message must be followed by action; no mere lip service. At the very least, the U.S. must show commitment to peace and democracy in Africa by ending military support to the Rwandan and Ugandan regimes. This would encourage the citizens of both countries who risk their lives, agitating for the type of mature politics now in place in Ghana, Sierra Leone, South Africa, Tanzania and elsewhere.

Even with the great challenges, there is much hope for transition in Africa.

Kenya learned from its bloody elections of five years ago. While this year's March vote was marred by some allegations of vote-rigging the opposition ultimately accepted the ruling of the Supreme Court affirming Uhuru Kenyatta's victory.

Elsewhere political maturity continues. Just a decade ago fire was raging in West Africa with bloody conflicts in Sierra Leone and in Liberia. Now both these countries are relatively stable and have instituted processes for regular transition of leadership. Senegal showed great political maturity last year when voters rejected President Abdoulaye Wade's attempt to stay beyond the original constitutionally-mandated term. Voters elected challenger Macky Sall.

These West African countries join Ghana, whose politics has been mature for much longer. Ghana has been rewarded with economic growth and increased investments and a return of skilled Diaspora Ghanaians: it's also emerging as a regional technology hub.

While the spillover effect of the collapse of the Libyan regime has escalated conflict in Mali, and Nigeria's battles with militants and those disaffected intensify, the gains secured by Ghana, Liberia,  Sierra Leone and Senegal must be supported and consolidated.

South Africa, which emerged from its own special type of colonialism --apartheid-- is the bulwark of southern Africa. With its powerful economy, developed infrastructure and politics, and admirable constitution,  South Africa can use its clout to promote mature politics in the region.

So while there are many things to lament about the African continent --the level of poverty; poor healthcare delivery; lack of access to adequate education; and continued armed conflicts in Congo, South Sudan, and parts of West Africa-- there have been significant gains in the decades since formal independence in the 1960s.

And on average Africa's economic growth rate is one of the highest in the world even though the challenge remains how to get the benefits to more people at the grassroots level. Africa's greatest blessings is its natural and mineral resources endowment. The Democratic Republic of Congo alone has reported mineral and resource wealth estimated at worth $30 trillion.

That's why it's critical to end all armed conflicts in Africa, so that African countries can use the resources to develop their economies and lift the standard of living of the continents' citizens. Mature politics will allow a new class of young and talented Africans to emerge into leadership to help guide the continent into the 21st century.

Africans don't need handouts from Washington. The best possible help from the U.S. is to stop backing tyrants in Africa. 




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