Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Attempted Bombing Will Have Broad Impact

The investigations and recriminations have begun over the foiled attempt by a Nigerian Islamic extremist to blow up a flight to Detroit on Christmas Day. Here in America, that will result in longer delays in boarding flights due to stepped up security, more intrusive searches and tighter scrutiny on who can actually board aircraft. We Americans are worried about the added inconveniences and invasions of privacy that will take place. However, the consequences for Africa could be much broader.

For the past few years, the U.S. government has stepped up its counter-terrorism activities in Africa due to the number of al Qaeda members and allies from or operating in Africa. Al Qaeda has been involved in a number of bombing attacks in North Africa, has supported civil war in Somalia and was responsible for the 1998 bombing of the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.

The Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat is waging an insurgency against the Algerian government and is now called the al Qaeda Organization in the Islamic Mahgreb. Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys, leader of the Islamic courts union in Somalia, is believed to have strong links to al Qaeda. Another successful terrorist attack in Kenya in 2002 claimed 15 lives and was believed to be the work of al Qaeda operatives. A group known as the Fighting Islamic Group in Libya announced that they were joining al Qaeda two years ago. The ruling National Islamic Front in Sudan harbored Osama bin Laden and more than 200 of his supporters and their families from 1991 to 1996 and has used their prior relationship to try to ward off the full impact of sanctions.

Two weeks ago, three alleged al Qaeda operatives were brought to New York and charged with plotting to transport drugs through the Sahara Desert to raise money for terror attacks. The three suspects – Oumar Issa., Harouna Toure and Idriss Abdelrahman – are originally from Mali and had been arrested by authorities in Ghana The arrests were part of an international collaboration of law enforcement to fight a growing alliance between al Qaeda and transnational narcotraffickers.

Back in the early 1990s, I managed democracy training programs in Guinea, and the leaders of the Islamic community even then were lamenting the influence of radical Islamic training received by their young men in the Middle East. Nigeria, the home of Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the thwarted Detroit airplane bomber, has for some time now been the target of aggressive, radical Sunni Muslim agents supported by religious groups in Saudi Arabia. Their aim in Nigeria has been the establishment of extreme Shari’ah (Islamic) law along the lines of the Wahhabi sect as the exclusive law in northern Muslim states in Nigeria. This trend has been exacerbated by al Qaeda branches believed to be operating in Morocco, Mauritania, Mali and Niger.

In response to the increasing threat from radical Islamists in northern and central Africa, the U.S. government established the Pan Sahel Initiative following the 9-11 terrorist attacks to prevent al Qaeda and its allies from establishing safe havens in the vase unpopulated and/or ungoverned areas of Africa. Following the expiration of that program in 2004, the Trans Saharan Counterterrorism Initiative was launched in 2005, operating in ten Mahgreb and Sahelian countries. Its stated aim is to build indigenous counterterrorism capacity and facilitate cooperation in the region among willing governments. The Trans Sahara Counterterrorism Initiative was funded at a level of US$500 million over six years, and there will be heightened pressure to continue this program, whose duties were transferred to Africom in late 2008.

The cooperation of sympathetic Africans may be damaged by the limp response of the U.S. government to the warnings by Abdulmutallab’s family. His father warned the U.S. embassy in Abuja of his son’s dangerously radical views, but while the son’s name was placed on a list of potential terrorists, he was never placed on a no-fly or watch list of passengers. The coordination of these lists is likely to be enhanced, but it could also impact family members of suspected terrorist. In the days after the 9-11 hijackings, conspiracy theorists noted that the U.S. government made arrangements for bin Laden’s family to be flown out of the country, even though they had no ties to the al Qaeda leader’s terrorist activities. To avoid the appearance of aiding terrorists, the U.S. government could make it more difficult for family members of suspected terrorists to travel, which could hinder their willingness to cooperate.

Travelers from countries such as Nigeria already have a difficult time gaining visas to enter the United States and Europe, and tightened restrictions could interfere with flights into the U.S. from all points in Africa and other areas of the world with passengers from countries with suspected al Qaeda activity.

However inconvenient and difficult travel will become for Americans and other Westerners because of the Christmas Day bombing attempt, it could be disastrous for a continent struggling to establish multiple direct air links with the United States, for African and American business people attempting to create and maintain commercial relationships and for cooperative Muslims willing to engage in the fight against radical Islam.

In the aftermath of 9-11, the Patriot Act and other legislation designed to tighten security against terrorist attacks had the inadvertent effect of limiting U.S.-Africa trade. The steps taken over the next several months need to be carefully calibrated so as not to cause unnecessary collateral damage that will harm the long-term interests of the United States.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Museveni Supporters Forced to Do a U-Turn

For years, pro-life leaders found a soul mate in Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni. Like them, he opposed abortion and even fought international efforts to sneak abortion into an African Union document. He opposed efforts to promote homosexuality, although he never went so far as Zimbabwe Prime Minister Robert Mugabe in his hatefulness toward homosexuals. However, a new bill in the Ugandan legislature is tending toward the hateful, and Museveni’s friends around the world are calling on him to oppose it.

Ugandan Bill 18, known as the Anti-Homosexuality Bill 2009, criminalizes homosexual acts. Anyone found to repeatedly engage in homosexual acts faces the death penalty. People who touch one another in a “gay way” could be jailed, as could those who fail to report such an offence within 24 hours of witnessing them or finding out about it.

The bill has been opposed by Ugandan legal experts and human rights activists. Sylvia Tamale, a law don at Makarere University, said five of the 18 clauses in the law “are problematic from the legal point of view.” She added: “The attempt to outlaw the promotion of homosexuality will affect everybody because the clauses introduce censorship and undermine freedom of expression, speech, association and assembly.”

Valentin Kalende of the Coalition on Human Rights and Constitutional Law said “a better title for this bill would have been the anti-human rights bill.”

Here in America, some of Museveni’s staunchest supporters find themselves alarmed by his silence on the bill and are urging him to come out in opposition. Four Republican members of the U.S. House of Representatives – Congressmen Frank Wolf, Chris Smith, Trent Franks and Anh “Joseph” Cao – have written an open letter to Museveni urging him to stop the bill from becoming law.

Other American supporters of Museveni expressed their opposition to the bill in even stronger terms. Republican Senator Tom Coburn called the bill “absurd,” while Republican Senator Chuck Grassley described it as an “un-Christian and unjust proposal.”

So what if Museveni doesn’t oppose this legislation, but rather supports merely an adjustment? How will his current friends in the U.S. government react?
Keep in mind that opposition to the bill is not unanimous in Uganda. Homosexuality is not popular in Uganda or other parts of Africa. Many Ugandans abhor homosexuality and are not offended by the lengths to which the bill goes to stamp out homosexuality in their country. Many members of the Ugandan clergy (though not all) are key supporters of this legislation. Despite widespread international opposition to the bill, its sponsor, David Bahati, the Member of Parliament for Ndorwa, accuses gay rights groups in the West of “engaging in a game of manipulation, deception and control.” Like other Ugandan opponents of homosexuality, he sees the opposition as a sign that he is on the right track and is encouraged to push forward.

While Bahati focuses on the criminalization of forced homosexual acts as the basis for the bill, Ugandan law already punishes rape or sexual coercion. Moreover, homosexuality is proven to be responsible for only 15%of HIV-AIDS cases. So is the potential for rampant violation of Ugandan human rights worth the enemies this bill is creating for the country?

Responsible opponents of homosexual acts do not hate homosexuals or support legislation that equates them with rapists or turn their friends and colleagues into snitches. Those in America who oppose homosexuality and support Museveni now face a dilemma. At a time when they are fighting against the legalization of gay marriage in America, a Ugandan friend appears to support a hateful piece of legislation that simply cannot accept.

If Museveni fails to oppose this bill, he will surely lose the support of American friends even though they still share stands on many issues. How that will play out in terms of aid remains to be seen, but they certainly have to distance themselves from an approach that risks disaster in a country that has seen the face of holocaust before.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Diaspora Entrepreneurs Offer Hope

A recent survey by Africapractice, an African strategic business consultancy, shows that business leaders on the continent have an overwhelmingly positive outlook for their prospects next year. An astounding 95% of those surveyed expect to expand their business next year, and 100% anticipate growth in the level of foreign direct investment in 2010. The only dark clouds they foresee are a lack of credit and a lack of talent. On this last point, however, help may well be on the way.

A business entrepreneur program called the African Diaspora Marketplace (ADM) has encouraged economic development plans from U.S.-based African expatriates to help 19 countries in sub-Saharan Africa. Out of a pool of 733 applicants in a competition for grants of between US$50,000 to $100,000, there are 60 finalists with proposals representing more than US$22 million in expatriate business investment to spur job creation in their native countries.

The ADM program is funded jointly by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), The Western Union Company and the Western Union Foundation. Next month, 10-20 winners will be announced. This program is seen as a long-term investment in Africa’s future and perhaps a model for more successful, sustainable development initiatives for African countries.

“The finalists of the ADM competition represent the best of a new class of entrepreneur – those who are investing back in their home countries to create economic opportunity and reduce poverty and unemployment in sub-Saharan Africa,” said Alonzo Fulgham, Acting USAID Administrator.

Indeed, judging from the descriptions of the prospective businesses, these African expatriates have learned the U.S. market, and are keying their products to meet market demand. For example, Ayele Solomon from Ethiopia wants to begin a commercial honey wine production facility in collaboration with beekeeping cooperative farmers from his country’s southwest forests. His plans are definitely 21st century. Solomon wants to transform the traditional beehives to more modern ones that typically produce seven times more honey of a higher quality. He intends to extend to the cooperative beekeepers a share of the honey wine business and a share in the dividends. Moreover, he understands the importance for markets inside and outside Ethiopia to have consistently high quality.

AADT Consultants looks to establish a geotechnical laboratory in Liberia to produce information on the physical characteristics of soil and rock. This will enable study of the interactions between soil and structural elements for the design of foundations and structures to reduce structural failure due to unanticipated subsurface conditions. In a country like Liberia that is furiously engaged in reconstruction efforts, such information will be invaluable.

UBS Farm is already operating a fish farming/livestock operation in Nigeria’s Ogun State for more than two years, but they are seeking funding to expand production to meet growing demand for their services. UBS Farm provides training to local market women and advises other fish farmers on current technologies. In addition to acquiring equipment for feeding, flood prevention and water recirculation, UBS Farm wants to increase its knowledge base by adding to their current group of 10 experts in fish farming. The company is open to new ideas and management techniques to enhance its development and efficiency.

The common theme among many of these businesses is that they are not stuck in the old ways of doing business as so many currently successful African companies are. African consumers have purchased products and services from home-grown companies for years, but in a globalized economy, competition will come not from local firms but from modern companies from abroad that understand the latest in management and production techniques. Those African companies that fail to modernize will become non-competitive, and those who have fallen by the wayside already have taken too many jobs with them when they closed. Those who understand that the way to do business has evolved over time will survive to do commercial battle with all rivals.

This is why the ADM program is so critical at this time. The understanding of the home market, while also having knowledge about what advancements there are in business, will help Africa move forward into the 21st century more successfully than all the seminars and booklets we could ever produce. This has been a successful formula for Ghana, whose returning expatriates are known as “boomerangs.” They have helped jump-start Ghana’s economy, and the winners of the ADM competition can do the same for their home countries.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Western Sahara Back in the Spotlight

Following the declaration of the Saharan Arab Democratic Republic in 1976, its governing body – the Polisario Front – has represented the indigenous people of Western Sahara to the outside world. They have waged a guerilla war against Morocco, the occupying power; appealed to international organizations such as the African Union; brought Congressional staff to Saharawi refugee camps to build support in the U.S. Congress, and sent Saharawis on tours to build public understanding of their situation. Still, knowledge about what has been called Africa’s last colony remained low on the public radar. But that may be changing due to the efforts of a lone woman activist.

Aminatou Haidar, called the “Gandhi of Sahara,” began a hunger strike on November 16 after being refused reentry to Western Sahara when she returned home from receiving an international award. Haidar, an internationally known activist who won the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Award last year, is perhaps the best known activist working for the independence of Western Sahara. When she refused to state her nationality as Moroccan, authorities prevented her from entering Western Sahara, seizing her passport and stranding her at Lanzarote Airport in the Spanish-controlled Canary Islands.

Spain was the colonial power in Western Sahara from 1884 to 1975, when the International Court of Justice rejected claims on the territory by Morocco and Mauritania and recognized the right of the Saharawi people to self-determination. Initially, Spain agreed to a Saharawi referendum on independence. However, Morocco staged what was known as the “Green March” weeks after the ICJ decision, bringing more than 300,000 Moroccans to reside in the region. Rather than contend with Morocco, Spain reached a deal to cede its rights to the colony to Morocco and Mauritania. Once Mauritania renounced its claims following an August 1978 coup, Morocco moved to occupy the Mauritanian portion of the territory. This resulted in tens of thousands of refugees who fled into southwestern Algeria.

Despite its renunciation of claims on Western Sahara, Spain has never been able to fully divorce itself from the issue of Saharawi self-determination. The referendum was supposed to be based on the last Spanish census of 1973, but the Moroccans prefer a process that would register Moroccans they claim have ties to the territory. The issue of the basis on which to identify voters in the referendum has brought the process to a deadlock.

Now that Haidar is stuck on Spanish territory and is in increasingly fragile health, she has become an icon to Spanish supporters of human rights, including Spanish celebrities who recently staged a concert to rally support for Haidar and her effort to bring independence to Western Sahara. Spain’s response has been to offer Haidar Spanish nationality, but she wants her current passport returned and is said to have refused to request any other passport.

The United Nations, which has allowed Morocco to tie up the referendum process for years, is now inspired by Haidar’s hunger strike to restart negotiations on the referendum. Unfortunately, Morocco has been unwilling to accept any plan that does not result in their maintaining control over Western Sahara. Earlier UN plans called for a transition period of Saharawi semi-autonomy under Moroccan control leading to a referendum on independence. Morocco has refused to agree to any of the plans put on the table. Consequently, there is little reason for optimism that any new UN plan would receive a different response.

Morocco has inserted the territory into all plans and programs involving the North African Mahgreb Union, alienating fellow members such as Algeria that is supporting the Saharawis. Morocco even dropped out of the then-Organization of African Unity when that group recognized Western Sahara as a member.

The current deadlock will require stronger action to force Moroccan cooperation than the UN and the rest of the international community have been willing to undertake. Perhaps the fate of Aminatou Haidar will change that reluctance.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Obama Seen Failing AIDS Test

Obama Seen Failing AIDS Test

Former President George W. Bush was roundly criticized for most of his foreign policy efforts, even by conservative Republicans. However, the one area for which he has been widely praised is for his Africa policy. His efforts to reduce conflict, educate youth (especially girls) and treat disease were lionized, even by liberal Democrats who otherwise opposed his policies. Many Africanists said Bush had raised the bar for U.S. policy toward Africa. Now some are saying President Barack Obama is failing to meet the challenge of meeting and exceeding Bush Africa policy, especially when it comes to dealing with HIV-AIDS.

When President Bush launched the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) in 2003, he initiated the country’s largest international health initiative devoted to a single disease. More than US$18 billion had been devoted to AIDS-related programs by the time Bush left office, and Congress last year approved a five-year extension and an increase in funding to US$ 48 billion.

Now the Obama Administration is proposing a five-year plan aimed at diverting attention from largely treatment to capacity building to allow AIDS programming to be integrated into African government health systems so that those governments can “oversee, manage and eventually finance these programs.” Instead of providing more and more anti-retroviral (ARV) drugs for AIDS victims at cost of as much as US$2,000 a year, the Obama plan would shift the focus to providing water filters, oral rehydration packets and generic antibiotics.

Under the Bush program, about 500,000 AIDS victims a year were added to the rolls of ARV recipients. Under the Obama plan, only 320,000 AIDS victims will be added each year. A coalition of AIDS activists last week accused the President of failing “to fulfill his commitments to wage an aggressive battle against global AIDS,” and the coalition gave the President a “D+” for his performance to date. The deans and presidents of three dozens medical and public health schools previously urged President Obama to accelerate PEPFAR, but he approved a plan to decelerate and begin the process of devolving responsibility to African governments.

This strategy is consistent with Obama’s overall stance of holding African governments accountable. However, in this case that may be a good long term goal, but in the short run there are too many obstacles to its success. The brain drain has leached thousands of medical professions from African countries to higher-paying jobs with better equipment and supplies in Western countries. African health care systems are too often understaffed and poorly resourced. African health ministries too often lack the best health care professionals still available. In the case of South Africa under former President Thabo Mbeki, decisions were made by non-medical officials based on junk science to avoid facing the true horror of AIDS in Africa.

Africa, particularly the sub-Saharan region, is more significantly affected by HIS-AIDS than any other region of the world, with an estimated 22.4 million people living with the disease. That total represents about two-thirds of all people living with AIDS in the world. Last year, about 1.4 million sub-Saharan African died of AIDS, and 1.9 million new cases of AIDS infection were recorded. Since the beginning of the epidemic, more than 14 million African children lost one or both parents to AIDS. The average life expectancy in Africa today is 47 years; without AIDS, it is estimated that it would be 62 years.

President Obama is said to want to remove the emergency from PEPFAR, but while the rate of AIDS infection seems to be slowing, far too many Africans still are adversely affected by the disease to ease up on addressing it as aggressively as possible. Last year, 390,000 children were infected with HIV, either during pregnancy, through childbirth or from breastfeeding. It will take time for Obama’s strategy to bear fruit. Meanwhile, many more children will contract HIV before their mothers can be affected by prevention efforts or will not have the benefit of medicines such as neviropine to prevent contracting the disease while being born.

It is understandable that President Obama, the African American son of a Kenyan professor, would not want to be known solely as the “African President,” but the Administration’s vague policy toward Africa, and its apparent turnaround on AIDS policy, risks putting him in the position of being worse for Africa than George Bush, who came into office with no ties or known affinity for the continent and achieved more than all his predecessors. That would be a truly sad irony.


Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Alignments Forming on Climate Change

Going into this week’s climate change conference in Copenhagen, Denmark, developed countries made it clear that a binding agreement with specific carbon emission targets in the short-run was unlikely. But it isn’t just the developed world against the developing world on this issue. There are internal splits and realignments that could determine the fate of any future global climate change agreement to replace the current Kyoto Protocol.

The Group of 77, an alliance of mostly developing nations, has been pressing not only for a 40% reduction in carbon emissions by the developed countries, but also financial support, technical transfers and capacity building to help developing countries mitigate the impact of climate change. However, a leaked draft of a compromise agreement specifies that carbon emissions from developed countries will peak in 2020 and reiterates the call for a cut in developed country carbon emissions by 2050 to a level of 80% of 1990 emissions. A blank is inserted for a short-term level of cuts by 2020, leaving it to be negotiated later. Moreover, the agreement calls for the World Bank to control enforcement of the new climate change agreement rather than the United Nations, which developed countries regard as a backdoor way for developed countries to gain more control over enforcement.

Developing countries are finding that some of those they thought were friends may not be while those they saw as opponents could be proving otherwise. China and India have made common cause with African countries in recent years, for example. However, China, while setting an ambitious target of a 40-45% cut in carbon emissions by 2020, stresses that this is a domestic goal that is enforceable only by the Chinese government and that it will not cooperate with international monitoring efforts. India has a similar position on being bound to international enforcement and monitoring.

The main hitch in the Kyoto Protocol has been that China and India are treated a developing countries and are exempt from carbon emission limits. Given their increasing industrialization and contribution to carbon emissions, the United States in particular refused to sign the Kyoto Protocol. European nations that did sign the agreement have become increasingly disturbed by the continuing exclusion of two growing industrial powers from carbon emission limits. The European Union has challenged China and India to contribute 20-50 billion euros annually to the annual goal of 100 billion euros seen as necessary to help developing countries deal with climate change.

Adherence to climate change accords has serious economic implications, since cutting carbon emissions by the 20-30% pledged by developed countries will be enormously costly – not to mention the cost of helping developing countries – and such efforts make developed country economies less competitive with unbound China and India. The potential cost to the U.S. economy is the reason why the U.S. Senate refused to approve the Kyoto Protocol during the Clinton Administration and is leery of Obama Administration climate change legislation now.

In countries such as the United States, the debate centers on the extent to which climate change is being caused by humans. More than a thousand leaked e-mails and other documents from the Climatic Research Unit at the University of East Anglia show that leading scientists supporting the notion that climate change is largely caused by humans have manipulated data to eliminate contrary views. Opponents of their view have trumpeted the leaked information to prove that global warming is a fraud.

Meanwhile, Africa is bearing the brunt of very real climate change – no matter what the source, be it natural or man-made. Desertification, more frequent droughts, coastal erosion and other conditions threaten millions of Africa lives and cause devastation to African economies despite the continent being responsible for less than four percent of global carbon emissions.

In the current economic situation, it will be difficult to guarantee developed world efforts to help African and other developing world nations to fight climate change. Still among the strongest supporters of an agreement with genuine financial help for developing countries is France, a leading member of an EU that will only pledge 2-15 billion euros to the annual pot of 100 billion euros.

As the developed world nations and transitional countries such as China, India and Brazil battle over who should be under limits and what causes climate change, conditions worsen steadily on the Africa continent.

It seems the old Africa adage still holds true: when elephants fight, it is the grass that is trampled.

Monday, December 7, 2009

The Failing State of Guinea

According to eminent international legal expert Daniel Thürer of the University of Zurich, "Failing States are invariably the product of a collapse of the power structures providing political support for law and order, a process generally triggered and accompanied by anarchic forms of internal violence." The decline of the Republic of Guinea is a classic case of a failing state that is alarmingly close to being a definitive failure.

The country began its independence in 1958 by severing ties with France, the former colonial power, and aligning itself with the Soviet Union in a disastrous socialist experiment. Under the first president, Ahmed Sekou Touré, thousands of people disappeared, many tortured and eventually executed. The political opposition was devastated. Gradually, the country was isolated. Despite being among the world’s leaders in bauxite production, most Guineans lived in (and still live in) abject poverty on less than US$1 a day.

Sekou Touré was overthrown by a military coup led by Lansana Conté in 1984, but while the socialist experiment was abandoned, there was no lessening of poverty. Moreover, acute economic problems grew, made worse by the instability of its neighbors and a large number of refugees that include Liberian rebels. For years, there was political infighting within the government about a successor to the seemingly perpetually ailing Conté. Ethnic tensions made electoral politics all but impossible to bring to full fruition.

After the death of Conté last year, Captain Moussa Dadis Camara emerged as the leader of a bloodless military coup, and Guineans were initially relieved to hear his promises that he would not run for elections, which he promised after a two-year transitional period. Unfortunately, Camara showed himself to be overly sensitive to criticism and went back on his word about running for president. The September massacre of more than 150 peaceful demonstrators and the mass gang rape of dozens of women shocked the world.

However brutal the incident and its aftermath were, even more frightening developments threaten a collapse of the Guinean state. Camara claimed to not be in full control of his forces. While this may have initially seemed like an excuse for what happened in September, those who have followed Guinea recall that President Conté also experienced problems with a rebellious military. Camara’s allegation was seemingly further confirmed last week when he was shot during a clash between his bodyguards and forces aligned with Lieutenant Aboubacar Diakité, who is now on the run after having failed to kill Camara. The Guinean leader was taken to a Saudi Arabian hospital late last week with a serious head wound.

As it turns out, Camara apparently had been the spokesperson for the 2008 coup and elevated himself over a general and other senior officers. It appears they were willing to allow him to fill the role of “head of state” as a caretaker until a proper successor could be found, but Camara seems to have overstepped his boundaries. In addition to his change of heart on holding onto power, there are indications that Camara intended to identify scapegoats within the military to take the blame for the massacre and mass rapes.
Diakité was said to be directing the massacre and likely feared being offered up as a sacrifice.

Meanwhile, the military is reportedly dividing into ethnic factions, and high-ranking officers are traveling in protected convoys between military bases and other locations. Camara’s absence from the country has sparked fears of yet another coup attempt and further instability.

Guinea currently is subject to European Union and Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) arms embargos and is the subject of a United Nations Commission of Inquiry examination of the evidence surrounding the massacre and rapes. In fact, the presence of the investigators may have sparked last week’s coup attempt.

Longstanding internal military and ethnic tensions look to deepen as Guinea’s military government remains at the center of an international political storm. Meanwhile, the suffering of the people of Guinea worsens – to the extent that is possible.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Truth and Consequences in Nigeria

Nigeria’s rumor mill has traditionally outpaced all forms of legitimate media in that country. With radio, television, newspapers and magazines often restricted under once-frequent instances of military rule, rumors often were the only means of communication about what was going on in the country. Twenty years ago, Nigerians awoke to word that one-time President Nnamdi Azikiwe was dead. They soon learned that report was untrue when Azikiwe read his own obituary. Last week, there were rumors that President Umaru Yar’adua was dead. Those rumors also proved to be untrue.

Since the election of President Yar’adua in 2007, the Nigerian rumor mill has run overtime concerning the state of his health. Early on, there was speculation that the new President was seriously ill. Photos were examined for signs of what was ailing him. It is known, though, that he has suffered from a chronic kidney condition for the last 10 years, and he has made several trips to Germany and Saudi Arabia for medical care.

Referred to derisively as “Baba-go-slow,” Yar’adua was said to take a long time to make a decision because he was not well. More likely, he is just an extremely deliberative person, but it suited the rumor-mongers to believe he was mentally and physically impaired. He became President on the strength of former President Olusegun Obasanjo’s political manipulations. Consequently, Yar’adua has numerous former rivals and others adversely affected by his presidency who want to believe the worst about him and spread rumors about his incapacity for the office.

Now President Yar’adua’s true condition has been revealed: he has acute pericarditis. This is an inflammation of the lining surrounding the heart. There are several causes of this condition, and it is usually treated with anti-inflammatory medication, but in serious cases, it could require an operation to remove the inflamed tissue, known as a pericardotomy. Reports that his condition often is connected with cancer are now picking up steam.

After 10 days in a hospital in a Saudi Arabian hospital, Yar’adua has been released and is said to be recovering. However, rather than relief that the President is on the mend, a campaign has begun to force him to step down. A statement was released this week, signed by 50 prominent Nigerians, including former Senate President Ken Nnamani and former Speaker of the House of Representatives Aminu Bello Masari, called on President Yar’adua to resign due to his ill health that has impaired his judgment. Dr. Samuel Adejare, a member of the Lagos State House of Assembly that also called for the President to step down, questioned Yar’adua’s ability to remain in office.

“How can he direct this country when able-bodied men are finding it very difficult to direct the affairs of the country? He should just resign and allow whoever that can do it to take over. He is going through pains, and pain cannot allow him to concentrate on anything,” Adejare said.

There was a motion in the Nigerian Senate to debate the president’s health on the Senate floor, but it was voted down.

Information Minister Dora Akunyili has issued assurances that the cabinet was fully behind the President continuing and said Yar’adua “has not been found incapable of discharging his functions.”

The political obstacle for efforts to have the President removed is that the current political dispensation under the ruling party’s rules is that the President must be a northerner. Vice President Goodluck Jonathan is from the country’s southern Niger Delta region.

Whether President Yar’adua will be working with diminished health remains to be seen since his treatment for pericarditis, but it is clear that his political health has been diminished.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Can the E.G. Election Be Justified?

When a national leader wins an election with more than 90% of the vote, it defies all rational ability to explain such an outcome. Such is the case with Equatorial Guinea President Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, who for the second consecutive election has won the presidential race this week with nearly 100% of all votes cast. In America, we are suspicious of a politician whose vote approaches 70% of the votes cast. The idea of universal popularity is beyond our ability to accept, and I make no case that one should find justification in this case. This situation can be explained, but not justified.

What has allowed President Obiang to win such daunting majorities is a combination of factors that need to be better understood. First of all, the vote total certainly does not reflect his personal appeal to all Equato-Guineans. Among the leading clan of his majority Fang ethnic group, Obiang has played politics well enough to achieve and hold onto power since overthrowing his uncle in a 1979 coup. As there is no consensus choice to succeed him, he has the support of those still jockeying for position, as well as those prospering under his rule and their extended families. Moreover, local officials jockey to attain the highest support levels possible in their areas so they “guild the lily” by finding ways to boosting the vote count even though President Obiang would win anyway. At this point, no one among his officials would want to win less than 90% of the vote, even though 60% would be just as much a victory.

Human rights reports cite numerous violations, which are beyond dispute. However, the bulk of the issues involve the political opposition, whose level of support is surprisingly small, and not so much the general public as in the past. There have been several attempts to overthrow Obiang – most directed or supported by Spain, the former colonial power. Harassment and jailing of opposition leaders and execution of convicted coup plotters apparently have not prevented even civil society representatives from supporting to some extent Obiang’s reelection because of security concerns. The last coup attempt involved not only Spain, but also has created suspicion of at least tacit support by France and the United States. When the big powers are believed to be involved in efforts to overthrow your government (whether proven or not), many citizens will form some level of alliance to ward off potential neo-colonial control from outside.

One of the consistent figures in Equato-Guinean coup attempts has been Severo Moto, an opposition party leader who has long believed there was no way to democratically replace Obiang through elections. Spain, desiring to remove Obiang and replace him with a leader less inclined to the United States and more favorable to Madrid, continues to back schemes to install Moto as president. Instead of building his UP party, Moto has spent his time in exile creating ways to seize power through force rather than win it at the ballot box. He was not his party’s candidate in the 2009 race because he is wanted for his involvement in multiple coup attempts.

Placido Mico Abogo, leader of the CPDS party, for quite some time seemed to prefer basing his political appeal on well-justified criticism of the Obiang government rather than focusing on party-building. After joining his fellow opposition leaders in a boycott of the 2002 elections, he and others found that Western countries may listen to the criticism and provide an international spotlight, but in the end, they will at least tacitly accept the results of an election they once called fraudulent. This is especially true when the government in question is a major oil producer as is Equatorial Guinea.

Building a political party in Equatorial Guinea is not an easy task. The ruling PDGE party controls the media and has the power of incumbency. By limiting the campaign period to a few weeks, opposition parties are hardly able to make the case that they should replace Obiang and PDGE. When the government can build a modern hospital in Bata, the largest city on the mainland, or bring development to the long-ignored island of Annobon, many voters begin to believe they’re better off with the government they know rather than one whose policies and ability to deliver are only speculative. This is especially true for the roads and electricity brought to opposition areas of the country. It dissolves the ill will against a government that has otherwise monopolized oil revenues.

It must be pointed out, though, that in the 1995 local elections, the opposition did quite well, even capturing the mayor’s office in the capital of Malabo. Unfortunately, the opposition party mayor failed to deliver city services, and when Obiang’s party recaptured the office, they learned from that mistake. Still, if the opposition parties were able to better understand how politics works and find an appeal to voters, they have shown they can win elections in Equatorial Guinea.

Incumbent parties are turned out eventually in every country no matter how long they have held power. Complacency, corruption and abuse of power catch up with all parties if they stay long enough. But you can’t beat something with nothing. If the Equato-Guinean opposition wants to see an end to 90%-plus margins of victory for Obiang, they will have to go back to the drawing board because as unbelievable as the vote totals are, they are not merely the product of political sleight-of-hand. People are actually voting for Obiang and his party and not for the opposition leaders and their parties – certainly not in the astronomical range we see, but surely by landslide proportions.

International news conferences and favorable articles outside Equatorial Guinea influence no votes on election day. Only convinced voters do.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

African Women Receiving Their Due

This will be the last column in November because of the Thanksgiving holiday and my participation in an election observation in Equatorial Guinea, which I expect to report on next week.

The African woman survives despite the overwhelming odds against her. They are the backbone of African economies, comprising an estimated 70% of informal economies, which typically are more than two-thirds of the entire economy in African countries. She is the primary producer of agricultural products, which are the overwhelming non-oil product in Africa and operates as the primary seller of those products. African women also play a major role in many peace-making and peace-maintaining efforts on the ground.

However, African women also bear the brunt of conflict, becoming the overwhelming percentage of victims of rape and death. Maternal death rates and the rate of women suffering serious complications during pregnancy in Africa remain among the highest in the world. The global economic crisis has especially limited the ability of African women to accumulate capital for business and has lessened their household incomes.

Still, African women overcome. After failing in her first attempt to win the presidency, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf became the first elected woman President in Africa. Countries such as Gambia (Aja Isatou-Njie-Saidy) and Zimbabwe (Joice Majuru) have female Vice-Presidents, and women hold senior government positions in other African countries, including Prime Minister and Speaker of the Parliament. The previous tendency to limit women politicians to heading women’s departments or other social service posts is disappearing.

In 2000, the United Nations approved Resolution 1325, which recognized the important role African women are playing in the prevention and resolution of conflicts and the pursuit of enduring peace. A recently-launched initiative calls for African women to receive a collective Nobel Peace Prize for their work in preserving the peace in some of Africa’s most difficult situations.

The 2009 Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Award was just given to Magodonga Mahlangu and Jenni Williams of Women of Zimbabwe Arise (WOZA) for their leadership of an organization that has led the fight against the tyrannical rule of President Robert Mugabe. Often WOZA was the only organization with the courage to stand up for their rights, shaming male opposition leaders in Zimbabwe. As President Barack Obama said at the awards ceremony, “They have been gassed, abducted, threatened with guns, and badly beaten – forced to count out loud as each blow was administered. Three thousand WOZA members have spent time in custody or in prison, sometimes dragged with their babies into cells.”

Mahlangu, who has been arrested 30 times in the last seven years for peaceful protests, told the award audience: “These arrests to do deter us because WOZA has empowered us to believe that we deserve better. We deserve to have a roof over our head, food in our stomachs, our children in schools and the nation working.”

While not always as noted, many women have been at the forefront of the struggle for peace and justice in Africa – from Zainab Bangura in Sierra Leone to Martha Karua in Kenya. In fact, so many African women have played a critical role in peace and justice movements all across Africa that the collective Nobel Peace Prize makes a lot of sense.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Making AGOA Work Better

When I attended the August 2009 AGOA Forum in Nairobi, Kenya, I heard complaints from African participants that the African Growth and Opportunity Act was not as effective as it could be because its term needed to be extended, and its coverage of products needed to be expanded. U.S. government officials responded that AGOA had already been expanded to 2015 and that relatively few of the more than 6,400 tariff lines were being used currently by Africans. This disparity is the result of a disconnect on the how and why of AGOA that must be corrected.

African producers aren’t taking full advantage of AGOA, but we have made it unnecessarily difficult to do so. The U.S. government has extended AGOA, but what officials see as a long extension is too short for business people asked to make longer-term investments. African governments have been too slow to make the necessary adjustments to enable their producers to better compete on the world market, including trade preference compliance issues and internal trade process issues.

If AGOA is to work as effectively as we had hoped, I recommend the following steps be taken:

o AGOA is based on the Generalized System of Preferences, which also is subject to periodic renewal. The U.S. government should make AGOA and GSP permanent subject to review to remove the reluctance to source products in Africa. All of our reasonable requirements can be maintained to determine which countries should continue to benefit from AGOA even as the overall program continues.

o The U.S. government should support infrastructure programs to lower costs for African producers to reach U.S. markets. For example, the German Marshall Fund and the Hewlett Foundation are working on a Development Corridors program to stimulate the expansion of existing and creation of new transportation structures to allow African products, especially those produced by smallholder farmers, to be brought to market.

o The U.S. government should target capacity building on U.S. trade rules and processes to the African private sector, African government officials and African civil society together. Governments must understand how to make the playing field level, while the private sectors understands the rules under which they must operate and civil society plays watchdog on the whole process.

o The U.S. government should eliminate existing product exclusions under AGOA, which are primarily in agricultural products. This would have negligible impact on American agricultural competitiveness, but would be of great benefit to African agricultural producers, who comprise such a high percentage of African productive capacity.

o Using its taxation authority, the U.S. government should create tax incentives to stimulate economic development by encouraging American investment in non-extractive, labor-intensive sectors such as the agriculture and hospitality industries in Africa, as well as encouraging shipping companies to provide adequate transportation options to African exporters.

o In order to assist in the African process of regionalization, U.S. government aid programs should take into account the regional impact of single-country grants and create regional grants to help Regional Economic Communities better facilitate the creation of regional markets that are more attractive destinations for U.S. investment and product sourcing and more efficient exporters of African products. Manchester Trade, a trade facilitation firm, has a Partnership for African Economic Growth and Opportunity proposal for facilitating African regional and international trade that should be examined for its U.S. policy implications.

Government, the private sector and civil society have worked together thus far to make AGOA work as well as it has. If we continue to work together, we can remove the obstacles that prevent it from working as well as we want.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Copenhagen Showdown Looming

The major developed countries have come to consensus that they have no agreement on climate change. Coming out of the Barcelona (Spain) climate change talks last week, there is no framework for agreement on the level of cuts in carbon emissions, money to be spent to address the impact of climate change on the developing world or on the management of the global fund on climate change. Meanwhile, African and other developing country officials and activists are becoming increasingly unwilling to abide continued delay in reaching a binding agreement on climate change. As a result, next month’s meeting of 192 countries in Copenhagen, Denmark, appears headed for serious conflict.

The critical element in the current deadlock arises in the United States, where Congress, primarily the Senate, is unable to come to agreement on climate change legislation before the Copenhagen meeting. Consequently, President Barack Obama has said he is unwilling to make a binding commitment on the United States. Such a premature commitment could derail efforts to pass the Administration’s climate change plan by building resentment among members of Congress who would feel their authority had been preempted. In the absence of a U.S. commitment, the other major developed nations are reluctant to enter into a binding agreement.

The Barcelona talks and their aftermath revealed significant differences among the developing economies on how to tackle climate change. Wealthy country pledges on cuts in carbon emissions range from Norway’s 30% to Japan’s 25% to the European Union’s 20% to the United States’ 14-20% to Russia’s 10-15% to Canada’s 6%. Aside from being vastly different in the amount of emissions cuts, there is no consensus on a target date to achieve these goals. Lumumba D-Aping, the Sudanese chair of the Group of 77 developing nations, said developed countries must cut emissions by at least 40% by 2020. “Anything south of 40% means Africa is destroyed,” Di-Aping said.
Developing countries also are supposed to pledge to cut emissions by 2020. Indonesia has pledged to cut emissions by 26%, China by 20% and Mexico by 8%. As for African countries, few, if any, African countries are ready to make significant pledges of cuts in carbon emissions without a guarantee of international financial support. Moreover, there is inconsistent and allegedly unreliable information on climate change’s impact on such areas as water supplies.

On the matter of financing of climate change efforts, African and other developing countries insist on a fund of US$400 billion a year, while the European Union is pledging at most €100 billion Euros a year. There is no consensus among the world’s other major economies on the level of support for climate change programming. Furthermore, there is no developed country-developing country agreement on who will manage these funds. Di-Aping said his group wants the United Nations to manage the funds, while the World Bank is apparently preferred by developed nations.
The United States and other developed countries want to postpone an agreement on climate change programming. At the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation meeting in Singapore this past weekend, the chairman of the Copenhagen conference, Danish Prime Minister Lars Lokke, said a full, international agreement on climate change was definitely not possible by next month and that the goal should be an agreement before the current Kyoto treaty expires in 2012.

Not all developing country leaders refuse to accept delay in order to push for consensus on an effective climate change policy. Bruno Sekoli of Lesotho is chair of the Group of Least Developed Countries, and he said it is more important to take the time to negotiate a comprehensive, binding arrangement on climate change mitigation. “We do not want a compromise deal, “ Sekoli said. “If it takes a year, even two years, then we will continue talking. A bad deal is not a good deal for Africa or vulnerable countries.”

A deal that slows the impact of desertification in Africa, halts the erosion of coastlines and reverses the disastrous cycle of drought and flood will take work on both sides. African governments will have limited ability to press their case without solid information on the impact of climate change, and any position on the carbon emission cuts in the developed world has to be based on science appropriate to African circumstances. Rigid positions expressed as ultimatums will not be helpful in this situation. Meanwhile, no part of the world is more affected by climate change than Africa. Island nations such as Seychelles face a steadily rising sea and could disappear at some point at current rates of sea rise. Consequently, inordinate delay by developed countries in coming to agreement on a climate change response will not be taken lightly by Africans – nor should it be.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Tracing the 3 Ts from Congo

The Democratic Republic of the Congo, formerly known as Zaire, has known few periods of peace and stability since becoming independent on June 30, 1960. The brutal Belgian colonial rule of Congo led to a bloody separation, causing many foreigners to flee and a United Nations peacekeeping force to be installed. In 1964, rebels declared a “People’s Republic” in what is now Kisangani. Belgian military forces quelled the rebellion within three months. The next few decades saw a repressive, corrupt regime in power under the late Mobutu Sese Seko. Thirty years after the Kisangani revolt, refugees from Rwanda’s genocide brought on two rounds of an internationalized civil war and ethnic violence that persists in eastern Congo today.

The Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda operate in eastern Congo, as does the Rally for Congolese Democracy-Goma and Banyamulengue militia. Numerous militia groups operate in and around Ituri, and Mai-Mai rebels are operating in northern Katanga . Many of these groups control mines from which the 3 Ts – tin, tungsten and tantalum – are mined. These minerals, along with gold, are the key ingredients of the electronic equipment our society has become dependent on: cell phones, personal computers, iPods, MP3 players, etc. Armed groups in Congo earned an estimated US$180 million from the mineral trade last year. So as we use our 21st century arsenal of communications and entertainment equipment, our purchases are enabling these rebels and militia to continue their murders, rapes and robberies.

The Enough campaign announced earlier this year a 3Ts campaign to highlight the deadly impact of this trade. Enough’s John Prendergast and Sasha Lezhnev of the Grassroots Reconciliation Group travelled to Congo recently and examined the supply chain for these minerals to determine what has made it so difficult to shut down the profiteering of these minerals by armed groups in Congo.

They found that of the 13 major mines in eastern Congo, 12 are controlled by armed groups. Other mines are operated by the Congolese army, which is a violation of the country’s mining laws. In rebel mines, workers are forced to labor, including children, and many workers are abused. While the other mines may not be as brutal toward their labor force, they also adhere to no health or safety standards and pay as little as US$1 a day to their workers.

Once mined, the 3 Ts minerals to go Bukavu and Goma, while gold goes mostly to Butembo and Uvira. The 3Ts must be transported by truck or plane, and you think it would be easier to control their flow, but Prendergast and Lezhnev found that the majority of transporters (often rebel groups) and trading houses operate outside the law. Even though they found that it is relatively easy to determine the source of minerals based on different coloration and texture based on the source mine, there is insufficient regulation to make this work.

Export companies are required to register with the government, but their method of determining the source of minerals they buy is to merely ask the seller whether their goods are from conflict mines. There is no system of confirming what the seller says.

The Congolese government told Prendergast and Lezhnev that the country legally exported only 270 pounds of gold, but gold production was estimated to be 11,000 pounds of gold. Rebels, therefore, reaped the lion’s share of profit from the gold trade.

Exported minerals go to Rwanda, Uganda and Burundi. In Uganda and Burundi, buying houses are unregulated, and in Rwanda, Congolese minerals are mixed with minerals from Rwandan mines. Buying houses, Prendergast and Lezhnev found, rarely ask questions about where the minerals come from. Moreover, in Uganda and Burundi, the army and police provide security for the minerals, taking a cut of the profits.
The mineral refining is done mostly in East Asian countries such as China, but also include Germany, the United States, Russia, Austria, Switzerland, Italy, Belgium and Dubai. At metal processing companies, Congolese minerals are smelted or chemically processed with metals from other countries. At this point, it is impossible to determine whether or how much of the finished product comes from Congo.

Electronics companies claim they buy the end product and can’t be expected to prove it is not the product of materials from conflict regions. However, the International Tin Research Institute, an association of major tin smelters, has initiated a process to improve due diligence on the sourcing of illegal tin from Congo. Why then can’t other companies at least try to ensure that they aren’t participating in a chain of production that is fueling war and abuse of people in Congo?

Until we consumers make a fuss, these companies won’t think this is important enough to make that effort. Civil society organizations such as Enough are to be commended for their efforts in this regard, but it is up to consumers to keep in mind the suffering Congolese people when we make that next cell phone call, boot up our personal computer or download music onto our MP3 player. We have to call or write the producers of our electronic equipment and insist they do a better job of guaranteeing that the materials in our machines don’t contribute to war in Congo.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Defending Against Africa’s Biggest Enemy

Irony is evident in many situations facing Africa, but no situation presents more irony than the fact that Africa’s biggest enemy is the tiny Anopheles mosquito. It is only an infected female anopheles that can transmit malaria, which kills hundreds of millions of people worldwide annually. Ninety percent of those who die from malaria each year are African, and at least one million of them are children.

The vast majority of malaria victims are children under five years of age. The disease often causes cognitive impairment in children, causing permanent brain damage. In older victims, the alternating states of coldness and fever impair people to the extent that they become unable to be productive workers. Thus malaria is not just a symptom of poverty; it is a cause of poverty.

Now there may be hope for stemming the terrible impact of malaria beyond indoor spraying and chemically-treated bed nets. At the recent fifth Multilateral Initiative on Malaria Pan African Conference in Kenya, a great deal of enthusiasm was expressed for a malaria vaccine drug developed by GlaxoSmithKline – RTS,S. The drug is in its final stage of testing in seven African countries: Burkina Faso, Gabon, Ghana, Kenya, Malawi, Mozambique and Tanzania. This is the world’s largest-ever trial of a malaria vaccine. According to the Nigerian publication Leadership, the research centers were selected “for their track record of world-class clinical research, strong community relations and commitment to meeting the highest international ethical, medical clinical and regulatory standards.

Participants in the Kenya malaria conference also discussed the potential of traditional African herbal medicines to prevent malarial devastation in Africa. Traditional medicine is seen as an alternative to drugs produced by pharmaceutical companies. It is pointed out that many Africans can’t afford such medicine, which is often not available to rural populations at any price. Traditional medicines are used elsewhere quite effectively. B.N. Prakash, a researcher at the Foundation for the Revitalization of Local Health in Bangalore, India, told the conference that medicinal plants have been used with great success in his country, demonstrating “a 5-10 times reduction in malaria-related deaths among communities who use traditional medicinal plants like guduchi (a plant found in India).”

Some of the conference participants raised caution on two fronts. First, traditional medicines are often not well tested to prove their effectiveness, and some traditional healers use medicines without standardizing doses or concentrations. Second, the disintegration of health care systems in African countries means there is no guarantee that drugs will be handled professionally so that improper storage can reduce the effectiveness of any drug.

Hopefully, these problems can be addressed because the enemy is trying to overcome current preventative methods. According to researchers at the malaria conference, Anopheles mosquitoes are changing their habits by feeding earlier in the evening before people go to bed under treated nets. Furthermore, many mosquitoes are showing signs of developing resistance to the insecticides used in treat nets, especially chemicals derived from pyrethrum. Consequently, the quicker the vaccine can be certified and distribution methods perfected the better. Millions of lives depend on the speed and effectiveness of this effort.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Pushing China on Sudan Action

President Barack Obama is scheduled to meet with Chinese President Hu Jintao soon, and activist groups in America and members of Congress are urging him to join the international campaign to pressure the Government of Sudan to end human rights abuses in Darfur. China, now Sudan’s biggest foreign trading partner, has struck a bargain with that government in which Sudan has access to Sudan’s oil supplies, and China provides cover in the United Nations Security Council against effective international sanctions on the Khartoum government.

In a congressional letter to President Obama, Representatives Frank Wolf and Michael Capuano referred to the Administration’s newly expressed Sudan policy and called on the President to make Sudan a focal point of his discussions with the Chinese government. “Failure to exert sufficient public pressure on China regarding its relationship with Khartoum will send a signal to the rest of the world that the United States places other interests ahead of achieving peace in Sudan. If that happens, the talk of an American multilateral effort to bring peace and justice to this war-ravaged land will have been mere words,” the letter states.

But when President Obama visits China a little over a week from now, his main focus will be on what the Administration calls “rebalancing” of China-U.S. trade. Jeffrey Bader, the Administration’s top National Security Council official on East Asia said in a speech this week at the Brookings Institution that China, as well as other Asian nations, had been “achieving prosperity based on the profligacy of the America consumer.” U.S.-China trade dropped 19.4% between the last quarter of 2008 and the first quarter of 2009 when compared to the same period a year earlier. In recent months, Chinese exports to the U.S. have picked up, but Bader cautions that the previous model of a wave of Chinese exports to America and limited U.S. exports to China was not sustainable.

According to U.S. Census Bureau trade figures, the trade balance between the United States and China exceeded US$143 billion in China’s favor near the end of the third quarter of this year. U.S. officials have complained that China is keeping its currency, the yuan, undervalued to gain trade advantages. Moreover, the U.S. and China may be about to engage in a trade war over export dumping practices. China is complaining loudly that the United States has unfairly imposed duties on Chinese-made steel pipes, which U.S. Department of Commerce officials say are being sold at artificially low prices to gain market share, a practice known as dumping. In response, China is now examining their import of U.S. automobiles for potential tariffs in retaliation. A U.S.-China trade war is seen as endangering a wide range of issues on which cooperation between the two nations is essential, such as the global economic crisis, North Korea and climate change. Sudan is not high on the priority list for the Administration’s engagement with China.

China invests more than US$10 billion in Sudan and buys as much as 70% of its oil. Consequently, those who have campaigned to end human rights abuses in Darfur have seen China as a potentially key player in pressuring the government in Khartoum to finally bring to an end abuses once called genocide in the three Darfur provinces of Sudan. China has been moving toward a position on Sudan more in concert with much of the world community. Still, it has been difficult to achieve significant movement in China’s traditional hands-off position on human rights in other countries.

First of all, China is more concerned about its economic advancement and fulfilling its commercial needs than it is in defending international human rights. Chinese officials have consistently said that it is not their policy to intervene in the internal affairs of other countries. Pressure on China through world opinion has slowly moved them to recognize the need to respond to human rights concerns in the countries with which they do business. The Leon H. Sullivan Foundation led a tripartite series of discussions with U.S., Chinese and African notables in 2007-08 to discuss corporate social responsibility in Africa, and the Chinese seem only now to begin to understand the need to make human rights and community involvement important concerns in their international commercial dealings.

The second constraint in dealing with China for the United States is that this Asian giant is America’s largest foreign creditor and second leading trading partner. Among China’s strongest defenders in the world are U.S. businesses eager to tap into China’s vast consumer market. This Administration is trying to be nuanced in its approach to China. President Obama’s refusal recently to meet with the Dalai Lama of Tibet was intended to not aggravate the increasingly tense situation between China and America at this point. Given the many global issues to be raised in Beijing next week, one hopes President Obama will bring up the need for China to join the international pressure on Khartoum – not only on Darfur but also on compliance with the Comprehensive Peace Agreement that ended the North-South civil war.

Nuance in diplomacy is a skill to be admired when it works, but nuance without results seems more self-serving. As the nation that has taken the lead in resolving Sudan’s various crises, America cannot afford to fail to be bold in seeking a lasting resolution to Darfur.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

What Does the U.S. Want from Africa?

Recently, I attended a State Department briefing at which an African reporter asked the official conducting the briefing what the United States wanted from the country in question. Essentially, the official answered that America wanted to ensure that the government of that African country better cared for its people by practicing good governance and transparency and provided an opportunity for its people to progress. The reporter’s expression looked like he was thinking: “Yeah, right.”

I didn’t think the State Department official was lying, and actually, I don’t believe the reporter thought so either. However, what we both knew, in fact what we all knew in that room, was that the answer was only a partial one. Surely, the United States has demonstrated a genuine concern for Africa’s people. Our long record of government spending to help Africans, however misplaced at times, and our citizens raising money and engaging in hands-on help for those in need on the continent proves our genuine concern. Still, the welfare of the African people is not our only interest in Africa.

Within this continent are 80% of the world’s strategic minerals, which we and the rest of the developed world need to maintain our economies and lifestyles. An estimated 97% of the world’s platinum is in Africa, especially South Africa and Zimbabwe. About 90% of the world’s cobalt is found in countries like the Democratic Republic of Congo and Zambia. Countries such as Burkina Faso and Cote d’Ivoire are where you find 64% of the world’s manganese. Gold mines across the continent in countries such as Ghana and Mali contain half the world’s gold reserves. A third of the world’s uranium comes from countries such as Guinea and Niger. Coltan, the African name given to columbite-tantalite, is mined worldwide, but is found in increasing amounts in African countries such as Ethiopia and Mozambique.

These minerals have enabled the development of computers, cell phones and other electronic devices, and we would be hard-pressed to operate advanced medical equipment to conduct CAT scans or MRIs or construct jet aircraft, automobile catalytic converters or iPods without the minerals found in Africa, and in some cases, almost nowhere else in the world.

This is not to mention the oil and natural gas that this country sources from Africa in increasing amounts. The overwhelming majority of U.S. trade with African nations still centers on American imports of African oil. U.S. oil purchases from Africa comprise nearly a quarter of American oil imports and promises to grow as new sources of oil continue to be found in West Africa and other parts of the continent, such as Uganda. West African crude oil is less costly to produce and refine than oil from other sources, such as the Middle East, and there are no strategic choke points to inhibit its transport – just open ocean between that oil and American refineries.

America has a significant economic interest in the stability of Africa so that these resources continue to flow. We have all seen the economic devastation that oil embargoes or sharp rises in the price of oil can have. Does anyone believe that our relations with nations such as Angola or Nigeria have nothing to do with our oil imports? Even when the diplomats don’t openly discuss such matters, they provide the subtext to all conversations about U.S. relations with the oil-producing nations of Africa.

Some may feel economic interests are our main focus in our interactions with Africa. At one point that was undoubtedly true, but what the State Department official said that day is also true. The many African Americans and African expatriates in America have provided a relatable face to their friends and neighbors about our interests on the continent. The images of starving children and drought-stricken villages often have touched the hearts of Americans. Through church missions, many Americans have shared their time, talent and reassure with Africans. So our concern for Africa has become quite genuine.

My point is that we have multi-level interests in the countries of Africa, and our economic interests are nothing to be ashamed of admitting. Unlike the colonial times, we are not robbing Africa of its resources today. African countries sell because they need the money they can earn from their resources, and we buy because we need those resources to make our 21st century economy possible. So long as this trade is conducted fairly and without coercion, there is a willing buyer and a willing seller. We shouldn’t be ashamed to admit that. When we hide this fact, it makes our humanitarian interests seem phony, and they certainly aren’t.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Behind-the-Scenes Debate on GM Foods

Despite all the discussion concerning what to do about genetically modified (GM) foods in Africa, it is a relatively quiet debate about whether scientifically altered seeds have a place in achieving the long-awaited Green Revolution on the continent. Some are working to use science to speed up agricultural advancements in Africa, while other see this as the beginning of Africa’s doom.

I recently came across the following headline: “Bill Gates launches attack on Africa’s food production.” The article’s author, Ayesha Fleary, accuses the Microsoft founder with setting up an African agriculture organization “under the pretext of ensuring that small farmers get the funding needed that will enable them to feed themselves and their communities.” She writes that GM and hybrid seeds degrade the soil and inhibit the growth of any other type of seed for at least 10 years, even though she acknowledges that “no independent scientific research has been conducted” on GM products. Fleary blames the degradation of African soil on centuries-long denutritionalizing of soil by production of the same crops for export to Western countries and the byproducts of industrial waste and calls for natural techniques such as rain harvesting and community farming.

On the other hand, African organizations such as the African Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF) in Nairobi, Kenya, are working to enable African countries to take advantage of existing technology, especially biotechnology, to advance the green revolution. “If money was not a constraint, we could achieve a green revolution through not necessarily biotechnology, but if we could put irrigation systems in place, if we could afford to purchase fertilizer, pesticides, we should be able to reach a green revolution as what happened in Asia,” said Daniel Mutaruka, director of AATF in an interview with allAfrica.com. Mutaruka went on to point out that an African living in a resource-poor environment today consumes less than what he or she would have 10 years ago. He calls for African governments to create enabling environments to stimulate research on GM foods.

Millions of Africans face death from malnutrition as I write this. For a variety of reasons, too many African nations are no longer able to meet their agricultural needs. Despite skepticism among European countries, the United States, China, India and several South American countries are forging ahead on with testing of GM crops. Several African countries also are in the process of testing biotechnology in agriculture, and South Africa, Nigeria, Egypt and Burkina Faso already have commercialized some GM crops.

Clearly, there is a disconnect between advocates and scientists about the utility and safety of GM agricultural products that stems from a lack of understanding of what these products are and what their short-term and long-term effects may be. GM crops are produced by seeds altered for a variety of purposes: pest resistance, disease resistance, herbicide resistance, cold tolerance, drought tolerance, enhanced nutrition or added medicines and vaccines. It is simply not yet proven that GM foods are broadly hazardous to human health, although it is very likely that those with food allergies could be adversely affected by altered food products.

Those who don’t trust what they see as Big Science and capitalists believe GM agricultural products are “Frankenfood.” Those alarmed by the rise in both malnutrition and food prices a see a crisis that may be alleviated by using science to jump-start the Green Revolution in Africa. The problem is that there is not enough evidence that these products are either unjustifiably dangerous or completely safe. Africa’s brain drain doesn’t make this situation any easier since many of the scientists who could ensure that their homelands don’t use unsafe agricultural products or take advantage of existing technology to prevent starvation live and work in other countries.

So African governments are faced with heeding warnings by those who are suspicious of technology they acknowledge not understanding or accepting advice from those desperate to meet pressing needs despite potential risks in the future. The behind-the-scenes debate over GM foods needs to be brought into the open and examined carefully. Promoting products that may be dangerous is unacceptable. However, in the face of growing hunger in Africa, we owe it to the hungry to explore every possibility for meeting their needs while they still live.

Let the open debate begin!

Friday, October 30, 2009

Stemming the Tide of African Hunger

Over the past few months, there have been an increasing number of reports, forums, Congressional hearings and legislation focused on food security. The Obama Administration is pushing its seven-part plan to deal with food security, and civil society organizations are figuring out how to support efforts to feed the hungry, many of whom live in African countries.

According to Bread for the World, the number of hungry people in sub-Saharan Africa has increased from 198 million at the beginning this decade to an estimated 265 million this year. The organization told a hearing of the House Subcommittee on Africa and Global Health this week that nearly three million children in Africa under five years of age died last year due to malnutrition. Moreover, tens of millions more malnourished children will never reach their developmental potential, suffering from physical and/or cognitive damage from lack of sufficient caloric intake and clean water. The impact of that could cost African countries as much as two to three percent of lost gross domestic product over time.

In his inaugural address, President Barack Obama said: “To the people of poor nations, we pledge to work alongside you to make your farms flourish and let clean waters flow; to nourish starved bodies and feed hungry minds.”

To achieve this lofty goal, there will have to be reform in how the United States addresses the issue of food security. Too often, we see this as charity for those suffering from natural disaster, war or civil unrest. However, climate change has entered out consciousness as a major cause of hunger. We now better understand that what had been considered chronically poor rains is actually a change in climate to which donors and recipients must adapt. Lifestyles developed over millennia must change, as will the international response to the issue of hunger. Furthermore, unless we want to provide food aid indefinitely to the same people in the same areas of Africa, we need to look at long-term strategies to enable Africans to meet their own food needs. Capacity building for farmers and cooperatives, better access to international markets and enhancing available financing are among some of the recommendations to help Africans become food sufficient in the long run.

The Partnership to Cut Hunger and Poverty in America, another Subcommittee hearing witness, warned that current efforts to address hunger are hampered by “stove piping” of programs on which there is a rigid separation of funding accounts and a complex system for selecting contract or grantee organizations to implement responses in situations in which conditions or priorities change. The organization suggests a “Food Security Fund” to allow for a unique mix of assistance to be tapped that is appropriate for each nation or region.

Both Care and Friends of the World Food Program called for a safety net program for vulnerable people, which would provide temporary assistance to enable the poor to hold onto their assets in the event of unexpected shocks so they don’t fall into destitution. Moreover, due to the scale of chronic food insecurity, it is suggested that the United States reconsider shipping food from here to those in need because it is “expensive, slow and unpredictable,” and shipments often reach only a fraction of the population in need.

Will the job of restructuring our food aid so it is more effective get done? A recent survey indicates that 85% of registered voters polled agreed that we “need to modernize how foreign assistance is currently organized and implemented, and another poll taken during the height of the recession in November 2008 revealed that 87% those polled agreed that “in a time like this, we need to make foreign assistance more efficient and get more of our aid to people who really need it.” Add to that President Obama’s pledge to double foreign assistance by 2015 and food security legislation in both houses of Congress, and you have the stage set for change.

What kind of change is up to those of us who want to see the hungry of Africa better served.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

African Apparel Sector Wearing Thin

When the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) was being promoted during the campaign to obtain Congressional approval, success stories were predicted for the export of African-made clothing to the United States. In the first AGOA, as well as in three successive measures, tweaks were made to facilitate ever-higher levels of African clothing exports. For awhile, these prophecies of clothing success seemed about to come true. Several African nations have led the way to a tripling of African textile and apparel exports to America since 2001: Lesotho, Madagascar, Kenya, Swaziland and Mauritius.

However, the African apparel success story began to unravel in early 2005 with the ending of the Multi-Fiber Agreement, which had limited Chinese domination of the apparel sector. Chinese, Indian and Bangladeshi exports of apparel began to crowd out African apparel, especially since African producers had not protected their intellectual property rights. You began to see more Ghanaian Kente cloth produced in India than in Ghana itself. The market share, transportation and economies of scale advantages in Asian countries put the African textile and apparel sector in decline.

While it is true that the African apparel exports to America under AGOA have skyrocketed since the trade process began in 2001, AGOA apparel exports to the U.S. declined by 10.4% last year. Four of the top five African apparel exporters are lagging when today’s exports are compared to this point last year, except for Mauritius, which is slightly ahead of the previous year. There are numerous reasons for the decline. The downturn in the global economy meant fewer buyers. Continuing infrastructure and transportation difficulties eliminated the AGOA tariff advantage by increasing the cost of apparel shipment from African when compared to the shipping costs from Asian countries. The reoccurring uncertainty of the expiration of tariff benefits under AGOA led many U.S. buyers to be leery of sourcing from African suppliers. African countries that produced cotton did not achieve the vertical integration hoped for, failing to turn African cotton into African-made fabric and yarn and then into African-produced clothing.

In Nigeria, their homegrown apparel industry, already crippled by high production costs, was further undone by Asian firms taking over factories and exporting clothing to America using AGOA benefits. In Ghana, second-hand foreign clothing became a booming business, as a provision that allowed non-governmental organizations to import and sell a limited amount of such clothing was greatly abused. In Uganda, thousands of women are preparing to sue the largest apparel manufacturer for failure to observe the terms and conditions of employment under which they were hired with abuses including low wages, poor working conditions and housing men with women.

Certainly, Africa’s apparel sector is not in irreversible decline, even though woven and knit apparel only represented Africa’s sixth leading export to America last year. So-called heritage clothing surely has a niche market if marketed properly, that is, if they are sold to targeted stores catering to a clientele that values African clothing year-round. To stem the decline in African clothing sales in America, Howard University’s Africa Business Club has begun the “Purchase for Africa” initiative in conjunction with the Kingdom of Lesotho aimed at encouraging consumers to be label conscious and “look for Lesotho labels” when they shop for clothing. “Our idea is based on a belief that Africans should be empowered to take charge of their own destinies. We want to put their future in their own hands, and break Africans’ dependence on foreign aid for their daily bread,” stated a letter by the club.

That may seem like a tall order, but at least someone is trying to make a concrete contribution to Africa’s survival in a way that is surely doable. Others are fighting to ensure that legislation being considered in Congress will not give an undue advantage to Asian apparel producers to the detriment of African producers. Both tactics will be needed if African apparel is to maintain its currently small share of the American market. Those of us accustomed to being able to buy and wear dashikis, kaftans, boubous and other items produced from north to south in Africa had better keep track of and support these efforts if we want to keep supplies flowing here in the United States.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Guinea Crisis Seen As “Litmus Test”

The international community as a whole has reacted sharply to the crisis in Guinea. The Economic Community of West African States held a special summit and imposed an arms embargo on the Guinea regime after condemning the “atrocities” committed against demonstrators on September 28th. France, the former colonial power, also imposed an arms embargo. The European Union as a whole has condemned the violence, and its development chief has called for Guinea leader Captain Moussa “Dadis” Camara to be prosecuted for crimes against humanity. The International Criminal Court is investigating such charges in the wake of the deaths of an estimated 157 people and the wounding of more than 1,000 others in the incident. The United Nations Security Council authorized an independent commission of inquiry on the incident. Even China is distancing itself from the Guinea regime, reportedly backing away from a US$7 billion deal with the China International Fund.

The one actor that has been slow to take the Government of Guinea to task is the African Union. The African regional body imposed a deadline on Camara to renounce his ambitions to run for President in the next elections. Not only has Camara failed to meet the deadline, but he now all but guarantees his candidacy, saying: “No one can stop me.” Still, the threatened AU sanctions have yet to materialize. In fact, the AU President, Libyan leader Muamar Ghadafi, issued a statement condemning the AU probe into last month’s government-sponsored violence.

“The African Union strongly rejects this intervention, which it considers as interference in the internal affairs of an independent country.”

Certainly, Ghadafi is well-known for taking an independent stance on African issues, but the AU has not contradicted this view, and combined with the lack of actual action on Guinea, it is sending a message of weakness when other global organizations are taking a strong position in support of Guinea’s beleaguered citizenry. At a time when the Guinean military are engaging in post-incident banditry and brutality, the AU is awaiting further investigation before acting. Rather than condemning the UN investigation, the Camara regime itself is pledging to cooperate. Why then is the AU so passive on this matter?

Of course, Camara’s regime is simultaneously trying to minimize its culpability in this tragedy. Camara claims the incident, which his government says saw only 57 deaths caused largely by trampling by an over-excited crowd, was caused by overly-zealous military forces and an opposition that held an illegal rally. He has at times claimed to be a prisoner of his own army and sounded defiant about what the international committee can do about it. Despite the killings (however many the government is responsible for), the continuing open robberies by soldiers and the untold numbers of women and girls who allegedly have been and still are being raped by soldiers, Camara’s regime has arrested or prosecuted no one.

Recently, the Government of Guinea has reached out to Washington to recruit a team to conduct a fact-finding mission. However, they have received a cool response from those unwilling to take part in a whitewash of the September incident or its continuing aftermath. In the past, the Government of Sudan, the Government of Zimbabwe, the Government of Nigeria under Sani Abacha and other rogue regimes have found it much easier to identify those willing to take a paid trip to see what the government in question wanted them to see and return to the United States as apologists for that regime’s crimes and abuses. The situation in Guinea, however, has been so widely seen as egregious that previously successful appeals are now falling on deaf ears. Even if a team could be put together, it likely would ruin the reputations of those participating rather than help redeem the Camara regime’s reputation. A strongly critical report would be difficult to document if the government does not facilitate a genuine examination, and such an independent probe is not in their interest.

EU development chief Karel de Gucht said the global response to the Guinea situation is “a litmus test on the seriousness of the international community.” The AU would do well to heed his words as other parts of the international community are choosing to isolate the Camara regime – not defend it or postpone action against it.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Reexamining Governments of National Unity

Now that Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai has been convinced by U.S. officials to accept a run-off election, concern is rising about the possibility of that election being free and fair. The violence that kept voters home the first time is still believed to be a problem for a re-run. Consequently, talk is growing among Western leaders about the possibility of a Government of National Unity (GNU) either in lieu of a second round of elections or until such elections can be organized effectively. Before such a GNU is pressed on the Afghans, two examples in Africa should be taken into account.

In light of suspect election results in Zimbabwe in March 2008, the international community pressed Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe and Movement for Democratic Change leader Morgan Tsvangirai to form a GNU to ease tensions and bring into the executive branch those in the opposition considered more representative of the voters’ intent. Opposition parliamentarians already out-numbered the Zimbabwe African National Union in the legislature as a result of the 2008 elections. In theory, this would ensure that both sides were involved in governance – the same sentiments heard in formulating suggestions for Afghanistan.

In Zimbabwe, however, ZANU leaders had little intention of really sharing power. Leading up to the formalization of the GNU in early 2008, Mugabe’s security forces reportedly murdered five opposition activists in a 24-hour period alone. Many others were killed, jailed or harassed. Even after the formation of the GNU, Mugabe’s government has pursued power over cooperation. Civil leaders and human rights activists in Zimbabwe last week released a memo describing ZANU round-ups of people in Mashonaland East province to force them to chant party slogans or sign up for party training. According to the memo, villagers were threatened with decapitation if they opposed the version of the constitution being pushed by ZANU, which would retain strong presidential powers.

For more than a year, the Zimbabwe GNU has been hanging by a thread, but late last week. Tsvangirai announced that his party members in government were distancing themselves from their ZANU colleagues. They weren’t pulling out of government, a spokesman made clear later, but by not participating, government would not be able to function constitutionally without their cooperation.

Yet another African example of the dysfunction of GNUs is Kenya. Ethnic violence in the aftermath of the disputed results of the December 2007 election surprised the world in what had been a formerly stable African country. So horrific were the slayings that the international community again believed a GNU would put together the major ethnic groups, much as is now being proposed in Afghanistan. President Mwai Kibaki and then-opposition leader Raila Odinga represented major ethnic groups in Kenya, and the thinking was that an alliance would calm the ethnic storm. That thinking did not take into account the mistrust the men have for one another nor the antipathy of their supporters, which is largely ethnically fueled. The office of Prime Minister is a created one that has no longstanding constitutional authority. Its success depends on the good will of all parties, which has been lacking in Kenya. Such considerations should be taken into account when deciding how to handle Afghanistan’s situation.

In Kenya, the Government of National Unity has become known inside the country as the “Government of National Impunity.” The broad nature of corruption in Kenya has led to a sort of alliance of corrupt officials who cover for one another or use investigations to offer up sacrificial lambs. The one thing they aren’t doing is trying to end corruption and punish those who have subverted the system. The government broadly has been unwilling to cooperate with investigations of the post-election violence because both sides have leaders involved. We already know that Afghanistan suffers from rampant corruption so why would anyone think a GNU would solve this problem? If Kenya is any indication, it could make the government less accountable rather than more.

The temptation to press for GNUs seems like an effective way to include those cheated in a poor election and ensure that various ethnic groups are included. Often, American officials will point to Democrats in Republican administrations and Republicans in Democratic administrations as examples of GNUs here in the United States. However, those individuals of other parties represent themselves and not their parties, which is the major difference between what we do and what we ask others to do.

It was somewhat extraordinary for President Obama to select his main rival for the nomination as Secretary of State, but he didn’t consider nominating Senator John McCain for a major post. That has not happened in modern history because what ruling party would want someone who could use their position to run for President later, and what opposition party leader would want to help his rival’s government succeed when he or she may face them in a subsequent election? We should keep that dynamic in mind when we recommend to others to form a GNU. Harmony in such cases is more than a notion. It isn’t that GNUs cannot work; it’s just that those governments that promote them ignore the necessity of certain conditions required to make them work and forget why they don’t institute GNUs themselves.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Does the New Sudan Policy Have a Real Chance?

The Obama Administration has released a new policy formulation on Sudan that has allayed some fears of softness in official U.S. handling of the situation in this East African giant. However, while the new policy strikes all the right policy chords, implementation of this plan may be more difficult than anticipated as tensions are running high in the country.

The three strategic objectives for the new Sudan policy are: 1) a definitive end to conflict, gross human rights abuses and genocide in Darfur, 2) implementation of the North-South Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) that results in a peaceful post-2011 Sudan, or an orderly path towards two separate and viable states at peace with each other, and 3) assurance that Sudan does not provide a safe haven for international terrorists. These are all very laudable goals, but over the past few years, the signs have pointed against progress in these areas.

Reuters is reporting that there is a military buildup in Darfur, especially in the north, and rebel and government forces seem to be massing for more conflict. UNAMID, the hybrid African Union-United Nations peacekeeping force in Darfur, also confirms a military buildup, although neither the government in Khartoum nor the rebels would admit to moving forces and weapons in the region. Observers note that this military movement demonstrates that neither the government nor the fractured rebel movements are ready to lay down their arms. Peace accords attempted in the past have failed due to continuing government intransigence on establishing and maintaining peace in Darfur and safety for its citizens, as well as impact of the splintering of rebel movements in the region.

Similarly, Jane’s Defense Weekly reports that military conflict between the North and South could rematerialize, as satellite imagery is showing 33 new T-72 tanks en route to the South. Meanwhile, the Khartoum government has repeatedly failed to live up to the terms of the CPA, signed in 2005 to end the North-South civil war. The bulk of the country’s oil reserves are in the South, and Khartoum has refused to abide by the commission established to set the boundaries between North and South. In Southern Sudan, leadership appears to be awaiting the 2011 referendum that will almost certainly lead to independence. Yet full control over their oil is obviously not a development the Khartoum government is prepared to accept.

From about 1992 to 1996, al-Qaeda and Osama bin Laden based themselves in Sudan at the invitation of Islamist theoretician Hassan al Turabi. Providing information on al-Qaeda has been a lever the Khartoum government used to curry favor with the Bush Administration since there were rifts between Sudan President Omar al-Bashir and Islamist extremists such as Turabi. Turning in al-Qaeda elements had an upside for Bashir. But since his International Criminal Court indictment earlier this year, al-Qaeda leaders have tried to use it as an enticement to bring Bashir’s government to their side. In March, al-Qaeda’s number two in commend, Ayman Zawahiri urged the people of Sudan to prepare for a long guerrilla war against the West and asked Bashir to "repent." Should the U.S. and other western allies continue to support the indictment, Bashir might make common cause with Islamists who share his disdain for the West and its justice.

President Obama’s government has its work cut out for it in resolving the mess that is Sudan. The President expressed his intention to remain tough in the fight for peace in Sudan. “Later this week, I will renew the declaration of a National Emergency with respect to Sudan, which will continue tough sanctions on the Sudanese Government,” he said in a statement issued by the White House. “If the Government of Sudan acts to improve the situation on the ground to advance peace, there will be incentives; if it does not, then there will be increased pressure imposed by the United States and the international community.”

The President is applauded for his sentiments, but China and Russia have stymied the effective implementation of tough sanctions before. With conflict about ready to erupt again and terrorists aiming to get back into Sudan, stronger allied cooperation will be required to make President Obama’s words actionable.