How President Obama Can Re-Set U.S. Policy Towards Africa

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[Publisher's Commentary]

During his successful re-election bid President Barack Obama said he was different from Mitt Romney because he said what he meant and meant what he said.

President Obama can now use his second term to help accelerate Africa's irreversible path towards democratization and economic development.

Most African countries now hold periodic elections although some are still marred by rigging and state-sponsored violence. There are also a few countries that serve U.S. foreign policy interests and are therefore exempted from condemnation and sanctions for gross human rights abuses, political repression, and even involvement in war crimes by their armies.

President Obama's election in 2008 was hailed throughout Africa. It was widely expected by Africans that America's first president of African ancestry would no longer condone "business as usual" in U.S. dealings with Africa. Africa would no longer be neglected and dealt with merely as a region for mineral resources extraction for Western industries.

During his 2009 visit to Ghana it seemed, that President Obama was on the same page with most Africans. In what's now referred to by some Africans as "The Accra Declaration"   Obama outlined a new U.S. approach in relations with Africa. The days of the so-called "Big Man" or one-man rule, was over in Africa, Obama declared. "Development depends on good governance," he said.

Going forward the U.S. would no longer support corrupt dictatorial African regimes but work with countries that were building and strengthening national institutions of governance and leadership. "Africa doesn't need strong men; it needs strong institutions," Obama said.

With U.S. technological assistance African countries could become net food exporters and with opening of markets in the West boost overall trade, the president said.

It was fitting that the remarks were made in Ghana home of one of the greatest Pan-Africanist Kwame Nkrumah. Although the speech was made on the floors of Ghana's parliament, it was intended for the entire continent and it resonated in all African countries. It also emboldened pro-democracy activists, from Nigeria to Uganda, and elsewhere in Africa.

While President Obama said the right words and offered the right prescriptions, critics contend that U.S. policy towards Africa did not change -- that his administration continued to prop up dictatorial regimes such as Uganda's, under Gen. Yoweri Museveni and Rwanda's under Gen. Paul Kagame.

Both Uganda and Rwanda had received blank checks   from successive U.S. administrations. Gross human rights abuses within their own countries were ignored and the West also turned a blind eye as their respective armies fomented and engaged in massacres in neighboring Congo, creating chaotic conditions under which senior military officials and politicians could plunder Congo's immense wealth.
A radical change in U.S.- Africa policy would involve a paradigm shift while maintaining the status-quo conformed with the historical approach -- predicated by whatever is perceived as best for the United States, often with destructive and even deadly consequences for African countries.

After all, the U.S. supported successive Apartheid regimes in South Africa. The racist regimes  promoted themselves as "guardians" of America's interests, Western capitalism, and as alleged bulwarks against the spread of communism and Soviet influence in Africa.

Other destructive African regimes that played the "anti-communism" card and gained U.S.  support included Mobutu's dictatorship in what was then Zaire, now the Democratic Republic of Congo. The Congolese are still paying the price of Mobutu's destruction of Congo which left it vulnerable to predators from Uganda and Rwanda.

Having learned the game, the Uganda and Rwanda regimes gained U.S.-backing in recent years by claiming to be bulwarks against the spread of Islamic fundamentalism in Africa. Playing the "war on terrorism" card, Uganda developed close relations with the George W. Bush administration and now has about 10,000 troops stationed in war-torn Somalia. The U.S. subsidizes these Ugandan troops, fearing Somalia could become a haven for al-Qaeda and affiliated groups.

Rwanda also gained U.S. blessings by stationing troops in Sudan's volatile Darfur region.

But there's evidence that President Obama wants a new form of U.S. engagement with African countries. This past summer, just before the U.S. Presidential election campaign was in full swing, President Obama issued a White House directive for U.S. engagement with Africa, reaffirming all the positions outlined in the Accra Declaration.

Shortly after the White House directive, some of the action finally began to match up with the rhetoric.
In the past the U.S. had ignored United Nations reports implicating both Uganda and Rwanda in war crimes committed by their armies and affiliated militias in the Congo. But when the U.N. compiled yet another report implicating Gen. Museveni's and Gen. Kagame's armies in Congo crimes by their support of the M23 militia which has been carrying out massacres, this time the U.S. took action.
The Obama administration announced that it was cutting some foreign aid to Gen. Kagame's regime. The U.S. action was echoed by several European countries that also announced either the suspension or delay of assistance to the Kagame regime. And, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton traveled to Uganda in August where she is said to have urged Gen. Museveni, who's been in office for 26 years, to consider stepping down before the next elections.

The UN Security Council is now considering sanctions against Uganda and Rwanda for the Congo atrocities, based on the recent report.

Since Uganda and Rwanda first invaded in 1997, an estimated seven million Congolese, almost all civilians, have died. Many human rights activists have called for indictments of both Gen. Museveni and Gen. Kagame by the International Criminal Court for their roles in Congo's catastrophe.  After all, there is precedent; a Special Tribunal convicted former Liberian president Charles Taylor for his role in war crimes committed by militias he sponsored during Sierra Leone's civil war.

Not surprisingly, both Uganda and Rwanda have launched concerted campaigns to pre-empt any possible sanctions. Rwanda's Kagame claimed the U.N. report was "one sided" while in New York during the U.N. General Assembly.

Uganda's Gen. Museveni dispatched a top government minister and an army general last week to make it's case to the U.N. Security Council. How desperate is the Ugandan regime? The delegation issued a press release threatening the U.N. with blackmail; if the U.N. didn't alter the damning report, Uganda would withdraw its army from the peace keeping mission in Somalia.

The Obama administration should call the bluff. According to recent news accounts including in The Wall Street Journal, Ugandan leaders are busy embezzling millions of dollars from the national treasury. How would the regime pay this army? In any case, should Uganda withdraw, an army from a country with a better human rights record could take up the role.

Meanwhile what amounts to a pro-Uganda regime rally is planned for this Saturday in Washington, D.C., by Invisible Children who made the pro-regime discredited KONY2012 video. Shamelessly invoking the name of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., a man of peace and Nobel laureate, Invisible Children still calls for the U.S. to essentially prop up Gen. Museveni by sending more U.S. forces to help "search" for Joseph Kony, leader of the brutal and now depleted Lord's Resistance Army (LRA). The "rally" conveniently, and probably not by coincidence, diverts attention from the bigger issue of Uganda's and Rwanda's role in the Congo genocide and the possible U.N. sanctions.

Judging by the Obama administration's recent actions -- The White House Directive reaffirming the Accra Declaration and the sanctions against Rwanda-- the U.S. may finally be ending the "business as usual" approach to dealing with Africa.

Millions of Africans -- ordinary villagers, students, professionals, intellectuals, government employees, and even members of the armed forces-- know that African countries could be dramatically transformed with better leadership at the top and management of the continent's resources.

And once African countries get rid of the "Big Men" and rely on strong institutions created by national Constitutions talented young Africans can emerge as leaders. Africa would then be able to take its proper place in the 21st century.

That would be good.   

"Speaking Truth To Empower."

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