Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Moving on Humanitarian Aid Policy

InterAction, the association of American private voluntary organizations, is writing to President Obama to urge him to nominate an Administrator for the U.S. Agency for International Development. The aid machine chugs on even with acting leadership, but important systemic decisions must be made that require a confirmed leader.

The association letter said there has been a missed opportunity for policy review regarding Afghanistan-Pakistan and the Gaza crisis. I would add that creative responses to the Sudan humanitarian aid cutoff that would apply to future such actions by dictators also would have been helpful. Missed opportunities mean we continue policies that may be inadequate. All too often, making corrections retroactively means people have suffered while waiting for change to come, or in some cases, have died.

Humanitarian aid issues are global, but Africa has significant challenges that beg to be addressed now. The lack of leadership on humanitarian issues unbalances the equation under which Africom was created. While the Department of Defense took the lead in discussing the combination of military, diplomatic and humanitarian policy that was to be the hallmark of Africom, it was always USAID that was supposed to handle the humanitarian phase. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton are strong personalities with their own ideas for the role of the military and diplomats in the Africom scheme. There must be a permanent USAID Administrator to counterbalance their head start.

Without a full-time Administrator, aid may continue to flow, but no long-term planning will be possible, and creativity will be limited by the uncertainty of not having permanent leadership in place. The Administration is supposed to be instituting a “Smart Power” toolkit to provide non-military means of exerting American influence. That toolkit is not complete without permanent leadership at USAID.

The current confirmation process is complex, and according to some nominees, onerous. However, some way must be found to get the new USAID head in place if we are to see any significant integration of development into American foreign policy.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Doing Business with Dictators

Parade magazine this week presented their annual list of the world’s 10 worst dictators. Number one on the list is Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe, who also rated cover treatment for a story about his government’s campaign of rape and violence against women in his country.

Number two on the list is Sudan President Omar al-Bashir, whose regime has been accused by the U.S. government and others of engaging in genocide against residents of the three Darfur provinces in his country. He currently is the target of an international arrest warrant by the International Criminal Court.

Other African leaders on the list are Eritrea President Isayas Afwerki in 8th place and Libyan leader Muammar al-Qaddafi in 10th place. There are six more African leaders in a second list of 10 dictators cited by Parade: Teodoro Obiang Nguema of Equatorial Guinea (14th), Meles Zenawi of Ethiopia (16th), Idriss Deby of Chad (17th), King Mswati III of Swaziland (18th), Paul Biya of Cameroon (19th) and Hosni Mubarak of Egypt (20th).

These African leaders are considered dictators for actions ranging from rigging elections in their favor to crushing dissent to making their citizens disappear – temporarily or permanently. Various human rights reports confirm the validity of these accusations. Still, we have ties to these leaders because of our political and economic needs.

Zimbabwe has long been the target of criticism, but it remains an American trading partner because of the nickel and ferrochromium used in making steel. The next major source of ferrochromium is Russia, but we don’t want to be that beholden to them. Zimbabwe has been cast out of the ranks of African Growth and Opportunity Act beneficiaries, but that has hurt Zimbabwean businesses and not the government. We have placed almost every sanction known to man on Sudan, except for an embargo on gum arabic, probably the only strategic agricultural product, and Sudan is by far the world’s leading producer of quality gum arabic. Since we need gum arabic for uses ranging from pharmaceuticals to soft drinks, we have left this door to trade open with a nation accused of killing its own citizens on a massive scale.

Others on the list produce oil in significant amounts, such as Equatorial Guinea, or have strategic political importance, such as Egypt. Therefore, necessity leads us to do business with or provide aid in large amounts to governments we criticize and sometimes sanction. For those with little economic or political importance, our sanctions are more severe and our isolation is more complete. While this arrangement is not without its logic, it does seem hypocritical, and it undermines our moral authority. As we have learned and continue to experience, expedience carries its own cost. We just haven’t yet paid a steep price for practicing it.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Will G20 Come to Africa’s Aid?

Because most African nations have only tenuous connections to the world’s financial system, many thought Africa would largely avoid the depths of the financial crisis now felt throughout the developed world. However, such a view ignores the non-capital market impact of a global economic slowdown on African countries.

The slowdown in developed world economies has caused a sharp downturn in commodity process – 70% for oil-producing countries and more than 50% for metal producing countries. Those nations who relied on higher prices for raw commodities (all falling except for gold and cocoa) are losing billions of dollars. But the negative global downturn impact doesn’t end there.

Foreign direct investment also is down. After reaching a high of $53 billion in 2007, an estimated $50 billion in short-term money has been withdrawn from capital markets in Nigeria, South Africa and Kenya, and at least $10 billion in projects have been suspended in Tanzania and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Moreover, remittances from African expatriates have fallen sharply over the last six months. The World Bank estimates that African economic growth will slow to 3.5% in 2009, down from an average of 5.8% over the last decade, and predicts a further decline to 2.5% next year.

Next Thursday, the G20 group of old and emerging economic powers will gather in London for their annual meeting. Some G20 members are already signaling their intention to support Africa in terms of its position on how the global economy should be addressed and how they should specifically be helped. Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, the representative of Africa at the meeting, has announced his intention to request an increase in funding (as much as $50 billion) and easier access to international financing. South African Finance Minister Trevor Manual, representing the only African member of the G20, is putting fellow G20 members on notice that the global economic downturn is not the fault of Africa and that the developed nations of the world must correct the mess they’ve made.

The British, the Germans and the Chinese are voicing their support for African demands that the international Monetary Fund be reformed, but while they are not signaling an intention to cut aid, neither are they promising to boost aid. It is estimated that the nations who took part in the G-8 summit in 2005 are now $20 billion behind in their pledge of another $30 billion a year in aid by 2010.

There is an old African saying: “When elephants battle, it is the grass that is trampled.” Now the grass is saying to the elephants that enough is enough.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Africa Back on the Agenda

In the space of a week, President Barack Obama has taken dramatic action to demonstrate that Africa is on his Administration’s foreign policy agenda. He has nominated Ambassador Johnnie Carson as the new Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs and retired Air Force Major General J. Scott Gration as the Special Envoy to Sudan.

Africa watchers have been wondering over the past several weeks why it was taking so long to have a nomination for the post of Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs. Ambassador Carson was viewed as the front runner since late last year, and his overwhelming experience seemed to make his nomination a fait accompli. Ambassador Carson currently serves as National Intelligence Office for Africa on the National Intelligence Council. He is a three-time ambassador, serving in Kenya, Zimbabwe and Uganda. He was Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State during the Clinton Administration and staff director for the U.S. House Subcommittee on Africa in the late 1970s. So respected is Ambassador Carson that, even though he is a Democrat, the Bush Administration reportedly was considering him at one time as ambassador to Ethiopia.

Ambassador Carson will face front-burner issues such as Sudan and Somalia, simmering concerns in Kenya and Nigeria, transitions in Cote d’Ivoire and South Africa and difficult to handle issues such as Zimbabwe. He will need all his experience and contacts to hit the ground running, but Africanists inside and outside government expect him to do just that.

Meanwhile, Sudan watchers have been clamoring for someone to replace Richard Williamson, the last Special Envoy to Sudan, especially with the uproar over the International Criminal Court arrest warrant for Sudan President Omar Hassan al-Bashir for complicity in crimes against humanity in his country’s Darfur region. In the wake of that warrant, President Bashir has banned humanitarian aid to Darfur, which threatens hundreds of thousands of lives dependent on foreign food and medical aid.

The key foreign policy officials in the Obama Administration have been known to take a hard-line position on dealing with the Sudanese government. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has called for a no-fly zone over Darfur, while United Nations Ambassador Susan Rice once discussed a bombing campaign to save victims of genocide in Darfur. While there is support in Congress for strong action against the Khartoum government, U.S. allies in NATO and elsewhere have never gone along with such responses. Moreover, coming from such a position, General Gration likely will be met with even more intransigence from Khartoum than his predecessor once removed, Andrew Natsios, who was one of the first U.S. officials to call the killings in Darfur “genocide.” Even though he grew up in Africa as the son of missionaries and speaks Swahili, Gration has been dealt a tough hand in crafting a successful Sudan policy.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

AGOA Benefits Denied

In all the controversy over the coup that toppled Madagascar President Marc Ravalomanana this week, it may have escaped notice that poverty was the fuel for the social fire that swept him out of office, even though his country is still considered one of the stars in the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) process.

According to the most recent AGOA report, Madagascar was hailed for achieving a single-digit inflation rate and six percent growth in gross domestic product. The country was the first to receive funds from the Millennium Challenge Account, and the Madagascar Action Plan is supported by the World Bank. This island nation is America’s 12th largest African trading partner – ahead of economic success stories such as Ghana, Botswana and Senegal. So why are economic conditions so unfavorable to the average citizen that they are willing to see their once-popular elected president thrown out of office?

Well, 70% of the citizens of Madagascar today are struggling to survive on less than $1 a day. The collapse of prices for the country’s primary products – coffee and vanilla – has been problematic. However, the standard economic indicators say this country’s economy is doing well, and the government has been praised for its economic reforms. Somehow, the promised AGOA benefits have not translated to a better life for Madagascar’s people. Out of 179 countries measured by the United Nations’ Human Development Index, Madagascar ranks 143rd. Despite its economic progress on paper, the country ranks 164th in terms of gross domestic product per capita. That means the share of economic benefits per citizen is lagging.

Madagascar is a prime example of how you can make statistics tell a positive story, when the reality on the ground is far different. When farmers can’t make a living in rural areas, they move their families to the cities, and when poverty is as stark as it is in Madagascar, the poor are more aware of their relative poverty and can be convinced to take action in the streets – as they have now in Madagascar.

Paper wealth is no substitute for the real thing. It doesn’t calm an empty belly. It can’t provide shelter. It will not pay for an education. If AGOA or any other process intended to increase economic success are to work, there must be a genuine spreading of the benefits of success. This is why the Leon H. Sullivan Foundation and the Trade, Aid and Security Coalition have joined together to measure the impact of trade. We need to know if trade is broadly benefiting African societies, and if it isn’t, we need to know why so that corrections can be made. Otherwise, citizens will continue to languish in poverty in the midst of some people’s success, and another leader praised by the developed world will find himself ousted despite apparent success.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Misguided Protests on Sudan

Last week, demonstrations in Sudan, Washington and elsewhere accused the United States and other Western nations of being behind the arrest warrant for Sudanese President Omer Hassan Al-Bashir. Their claim, which echoed that of the Government of Sudan, is that the International Criminal Court is pursuing an agenda of “imperialist domination” and that nations such as the United States are interested in regime change in Sudan “because the country has vast lands and resources they are loathe to let out of their control.”

If these uninformed sentiments weren’t so destructive to efforts to bring to account those responsible for the death or displacement of millions of Sudanese, it might be amusing. However, covering up for genocidal dictators is not in the least funny, and those who make these claims while defending the Khartoum regime are willfully ignorant of the facts and have no interest in helping the people of Sudan.

The defenders of Khartoum are some of the same people who claimed there was no slavery driven by that government involved in the long North-South civil war despite abundant evidence that the government so devalued the life of non-Arab Sudanese that they set Arab Sudanese militias loose on them to do as they will. There is no doubt that the government aided and abetted these slave raids, even if their soldiers did not take direct part in them.

It has become obvious that the Sudanese government also has had an active role in Arab militia attacks on Darfur residents. There have been too many people who have traveled to Darfur to see for themselves the devastation of these attacks. So many of these defenders of Bashir’s government have taken trips sponsored by that government and have spoken only to those who support the government’s line of defense. Not only have I traveled to all three Darfur provinces in Sudan, but I also have spoken with Darfur residents now in America.

The Leon H. Sullivan Foundation sponsored a forum on Darfur in Philadelphia in 2007 during which Darfurians themselves got to speak with representatives of the government of Sudan, the Government of the People’s Republic of China (a major investor in Sudan’s economy) and the United States government. These same arguments against action to safeguard the people of Darfur were made, but didn’t stand up to the testimony of dozens present who had to leave their homeland because of attacks by government-supported militias. The arguments still don’t stand up today.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

West African Narco-State: Who’s Fault?

Today the nation of Guinea-Bissau buried its late President – Joao Bernardo Viera. He was killed by members of his armed forces, ostensibly in retaliation for the assassination days earlier of General Tagame Na Waie. At first, it was believed that the deaths were the result of ethnic and political rivalry gone too far. Viera was from the small Papel ethnic group, and Tagame was from the Balanta ethnic group, which has dominated the military in Guinea Bissau. However, it is becoming increasing clear that the drug trade may have played a role in the killing and in a continuing threat to the stability of this West African nation.

Guinea-Bissau, the only West African nation to have successfully fought its way to independence, has become what the United Nations has called Africa’s first “narco-state.” The world’s fifth poorest nation has no prison and few police. Only three years after being targeted by Columbian drug cartels, this small country is awash in drugs. With so few ways to sustain themselves, Guinea-Bissau’s people are vulnerable to the temptations of the drug trade. One man told The Guardian newspaper that a man who used to be his gardener recently offered to sell him 7 kilograms of cocaine.

Even more ominous, Guinea-Bissau’s military totals 4,500, but with an officer force of 3,000. This unsustainable situation is the result of officers refusing to retire to an economy in which they have few if any prospects. Such a military has already shown itself to be vulnerable to corruption, and has been involved in numerous coups and mutinies in the past. When you add the specter of drug money, interim President Raimundo Pereira and his successor must be wary of the “narcotraficantes” in their midst.

But one must ask who is responsible for this tragic situation in Guinea-Bissau. Of course, successive governments have failed to stabilize this country and provide a viable environment for its people. However, the developed world has paid little attention to what some consider a failed state. We have the example of Somalia to demonstrate the danger of ignoring states whose governance collapses. The absence of effective government in Somalia has led to international piracy and the presence of international terrorist cells. Must the situation in Guinea-Bissau reach such a crisis state before the world community pays attention to it?

Monday, March 9, 2009

Sudan: Tragic Lack of Planning

The American public and its government have been heavily involved in dealing with the abuse of Sudanese citizens since before the Darfur crisis came to world attention. First, it was slavery involved in the North-South civil war. More recently, we have been outraged by the genocide in Darfur and the continuing mistreatment of the people of the three Darfur provinces in western Sudan.

Sudan has been the target of more sanctions than perhaps any other nation so targeted by the United States. There are trade sanctions, travel sanctions and targeted personal sanctions. We have passed American legislation and lobbied diligently in the United Nations for globally-supported sanctions. However, gum arabic is always exempted, even though it is a major earner for the Government of Sudan and its private sector partners. The reason is that Sudan provides the world with two-thirds of what is perhaps the sole strategic agricultural product.

This colorless, tasteless resin from the acacia tree is used in a myriad of products - from carbonated beverages to pharmaceutical products. Certainly, consumers around the world would balk if their shampoo was unevenly mixed or their beer had a thinner foam, but the many uses of this product include vital supplies, such as medicines, whose production would be made difficult without gum arabic.

However, a quick cut-off of gum arabic supplies has never been necessary. Had the developed nations helped other gum arabic-producing countries to enhance the quality and supply of this product that they produce years ago, when we realized what a bad actor the Khartoum government was, we could have made provisions to source high-quality supplies from elsewhere. For example, Chad is a major producer, but no major project was ever launched to help that country or the other Sahelian countries with similar climates improve and expand their production of gum arabic.

When we in the West refuse to inconvenience ourselves despite our convictions, we cannot fairly ask African governments to make sacrifices not in their interest. This has been and continues to be an obstacle to successful U.S. policy toward Africa. A "Do as I say, not as I do" style of policy no longer works, and we must take that into consideration in our relations with African countries.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

GSP and African Business

When Rev. Leon H. Sullivan created the original Sullivan Principles in South Africa in 1977 to define appropriate corporate behavior under apartheid, it was a controversial move. Many wanted U.S. businesses to simply pull out of South Africa and not try to make apartheid more livable. What these critics failed to take into account, however, was that business would go on, and if black workers didn't get a hand up, they would never be ready for eventual majority rule. This is what happened in far too many African nations; blacks were not prepared to take the reins of government or modern commerce in a deliberate attempt to sabotage their chance to succeed. Rev. Sullivan wanted to avoid that in South Africa, and he succeeded.

When majority rule finally came to South Africa in 1994, there were many black managers ready to assume leadership positions in South Africa's economy. Because white South Africans didn't have a complete economic choke hold, government was able to deal with business in a more secure position. South Africa's economy - so important to not only Africa but the world at large - continued to thrive. That likely would not have been the case if all foreign firms had pulled out and if blacks had not been able to move up the corporate ladder, acquiring vital skills along the way.

Twenty-two years after create his original principles, Rev. Sullivan stood beside then-UN Secretary -General Kofi Annan to announce his Global Sullivan Principles for Corporate Social Responsibility (GSP). These principles define not only corporate responsibility for fair labor practices, safe working environments and appropriate environmental practices, but also a mutually beneficial relationship between the corporation and the community in which it operates.

Hundreds of companies in America, Africa, Asia, Europe and other parts of the world have endorsed these principles and pledged to abide by them. In those countries in which such practices are observed, companies prosper, their workers advance and communities benefit. Nine African presidents are signatories to the GSP, and the Sullivan foundation is working to expand the reach of GSP throughout Africa. We believe these principles will help boost African economies and raise the living standards of its people. We also see GSP as providing the basis for successful public-private partnerships between African governments and their private sectors.

In short, GSP is a win-win for government and the private sector.