Monday, June 29, 2009

No Cap and Trade for Africa?

The U.S. House of Representatives late last week approved a global warming measure by a narrow margin of 219-212 that President Barack Obama has called “a bold and necessary step” to bring the United States into the forefront of diminishing the heat trapping gasses believe to accelerate climate change. Now the U.S. Senate must follow after the current Congressional recess. However, there are doubts about whether the legislation will survive in its current form or whether further compromises will make it unrecognizable.

At the heart of the bill is a cap-and-trade system that provides for limits on the amount of emissions of heat-trapping gasses such as carbon dioxide and the trading of pollution permits among utilities, manufacturers and other emitters. Unlike the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, however, this legislation does not allow for a system that would cause American emitters to offset their pollution by supporting foreign carbon reduction projects. More than 20 African countries have such projects – from Kenya to Liberia to South Africa to Niger. Unfortunately, the United States is not a part of Kyoto’s Clean Development Mechanism projects because America is not a signatory to Kyoto.

Although then-Vice President Al Gore signed the Kyoto Protocol in 1998, it was largely symbolic because the Senate never ratified the treaty due to concerns about its impact on the U.S. economy. Neither President Clinton nor President Bush submitted the treaty for ratification.

Now the Senate is considering legislation of more than 1000 pages with 300 pages added in the last week. While it is not completely clear what all the provisions are, without signing onto the Kyoto treaty, the Green Belt Movement’s carbon sequestration project for small farmers in Kenya and the new landfill gas recovery project in Liberia won’t be part of this global warming project.

Although there are remaining American concerns about a Kyoto Protocol that allows growing carbon emitters such as China and India to escape stringent restrictions that would be imposed on the United States, the U.S. government could bilaterally allow American emitters to trade credits with African projects that could help mitigate the impact of global warming on Africa. As the world’s leading emitter of carbon gasses, we should at least try to help the continent making the least contribution to global warming, but which faces the gravest danger from its impact.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Africom’s Real Role

When the merger of the American military’s European Command, Central Command and Pacific Command responsibilities for Africa into a single Africa Command was announced in 2007, the Department of Defense made the same mistakes it made more than a decade ago in the announcement of an African Crisis Response Force. The plan was conceived without broad discussion, stakeholders in the U.S. and Africa were not fully informed and the atmospherics were ignored.

The United States has a history of engaging in a long Cold War with the Soviet Union that resulted n proxy wars on the continent, most notably in Angola. Almost simultaneous with the announcement was word of U.S. bombing and other military operations in Somalia. Aside from the airlifting of African peacekeepers and the evacuation of foreign nationals, Africans, as well as many Americans, have little background for automatically assuming a positive role for the U.S. military in Africa without new information. While there are solid reasons for Africom to exist, there has been too much assumption of goodwill for American military involvement in Africa and too little information sharing.

At the time of its announcement, the Defense Department was receiving generous funding, while the Department of State and the U.S. Agency for International Development were struggling to obtain the funding they requested. When Defense officials jumped ahead and talked about the consolidation of military, diplomatic and humanitarian functions in Africa, it looked to some like a military takeover of Africa policy. State and USAID seemed to stand by and let Defense hang itself with its own words.

Now a State Department official is being forthright about the limitations of military involvement in America’s Africa policy. Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Johnnie Carson told an audience at a Constituency for Africa-African American Unity Caucus event this week that the military role in Africa will be limited to training and other military-to-military functions. “The only corps involved in humanitarian activities in Africa will be the Peace Corps and not the (U.S. Army) Corps of Engineers,” Carson said.

In reasserting the diplomatic role of State and the humanitarian role of USAID, Carson is attempting to dispel the wild rumors of American plans to contest China’s role in Africa. As the Sullivan Foundation-sponsored Trilateral dialogue involving American, Chinese and African representatives demonstrated in recent years, China and America are more likely to eventually be allies in Africa than adversaries in the Cold War style. One hopes Ambassador Carson’s definitive statement begins to set the record straight on that score.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Nigeria’s Impact on Oil Prices

Summer has begun in the United States, and those planning on driving over the next few weeks have seen gasoline prices increase daily since May. While the volatility of the world oil market is not as great as a year ago, there are concerns that foreign issues – especially in America’s leading Africa supplier – could lead to a spike in gasoline prices soon if troubling trends continue.

Thus far, the massive demonstrations and unrest in Iran have not caused oil prices to skyrocket as they might have in recent years, nor has the prediction of 2009 hurricanes causing the shut-in of an estimated 4.5 million barrels of crude oil refining. An explosion this past weekend at Sunoco’s Marcus Hook, PA, plant briefly caused concern, but there is optimism since the fire was brought under control relatively quickly. Currently, there is a great deal of spare global oil production capacity available to cover deficits from some locations.

However, Nigeria is Africa’s largest supplier of crude oil, and more than half its oil production is exported to the United States. Nigeria’s light, sweet quality crude is the preferred oil for American refineries, and an increase in shut-in oil could exacerbate the anticipated slowdown due to hurricanes during the current season (June – November). Consequently, the attacks this past weekend by the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) that blew up two oil and gas pipelines in Nigeria’s southern oil-producing region and their threat to block waterways to disrupt exports is causing growing concern for the possibility of higher oil prices.

As the economic engine of West Africa and the largest single market on the continent, not to mention a major political player in Africa, Nigeria is always a major part of U.S. foreign policy. Even if President Obama does not visit Nigeria during his first visit to sub-Saharan Africa, that country has to be among the policy questions discussed in Ghana. Moreover, it must be a major part of the Africa policy formation. Millions of drivers watching the price at the pump slowly, but steadily creep ever higher, most don’t make the connection between Nigerian unrest and higher gasoline prices, but American policymakers must not only make that connection, but do something about it before higher gasoline prices derail the gradual improvement in the U.S. economy.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Justifying Zimbabwe’s Aid

When Zimbabwe Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai returns home from his Western tour to drum up aid for the recovery of his southern African nation, there are reforms that are expected to be achieved in short order. Promises of action will no longer be acceptable.

On the early parts of his trip, Tsvangirai was told, first by the Dutch, that there would be no aid without reform. The U.S. government made the same point, although US$73 million is being provided, most of it is HIV-AIDS and other health care funds and the rest goes to social services and programs, with all of it to be administered by contractors or civil society organizations. The consistent message to Tsvangirai is that there is little trust in even the coalition government.

The reason is that the part of the government run by the Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) party still controls the security forces and continues to deny guarantees of basic rights to assembly, association and speech. Opposition political officials are still being jailed – their human rights completely disregarded. While the African Union and the Southern African Development Community have called for an end to Western “smart sanctions” targeting ZANU-PF leaders and their families, the Western governments continue to demand progress on a long list of concerns, including full and equitable access to humanitarian assistance, a resumption of rule of law, an end to political violence and the release of political prisoners.

While in the States, Tsvangirai was asked by one prominent member of Congress how he could join a government headed by a tyrant, and the Prime Minister said: “We don’t have to fall in love with Mugabe, but there is a necessary relationship during this interim period.” Tsvangirai explained that he was interested in saving his country. He has trumpeted his party’s majority in Parliament and has assured the U.S. government officials and others with whom he met that there is a spirit of cooperation among his Movement for Democratic Change party members in Parliament and many of their ZANU-PF colleagues.

This is heartening news and seems to justify the optimism by some on Zimbabwe’s prospects going forward. At the same time, however, it puts pressure on Tsvangirai’s party to use their majority and collaborative relationship with ZANU-PF members to repeal the legislation limiting the freedom of political parties, the media and civil society organizations. Only then will Western governments like the United States consider working directly with the Zimbabwe government to begin the road back to economic health. All eyes are now on the Zimbabwe Parliament, which got back to work this week.

Friday, June 12, 2009

ICC Bull’s Eye on Africa

Sang-Hyun Song, President of the International Criminal Court (ICC), visited four African nations last week to assure African leaders that his court was not singling out Africans. However, that is a tough case to make, and it does not appear he was able to change minds on this trip.

The current ICC indictments and trials all involve Africans: Democratic Republic of Congo, Uganda, Sudan and the Central African Republic. In DRC, there are three cases. Germain Katanga, chief of staff for the Patriotic Force of Resistance, and Mathieu Ngudjolo, chief of staff for the Front for National Integration, are about to go on trial by September for the killing of UN peacekeepers and other war crimes. Two other cases are pending.

Uganda’s Lord’s Resistance Army leader Joseph Kony, his deputy Vincent Oti and three other rebel group members were indicted by the ICC. Investigations of war crimes in the Central African Republic are underway. However, the most talked-about case involves Sudan, where the ICC indicted President Omar Bashir, government official Ahmed Harun and Janjawid leader Ali Kushayb; rebel commander Bahar Idriss Abu Garda turned himself in.

While Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni and Central African Republic President Fran├žois Bozize cooperated in the indictments and investigations in their countries, the inability of the ICC to arrest indicted persons or quickly withdraw charges to help peace negotiations makes the ICC a blunt weapon in the eyes of some Africans. Moreover, there are rumors of investigations of Ethiopia, Chad, Rwanda and Zimbabwe, and the ICC acknowledges looking into Cote d’Ivoire and Kenya. Even considering current ICC investigations into Columbia, Georgia and Afghanistan, clearly the focus is on African wrongdoing.

That is not to say that those indicted or investigated don’t deserve the international community’s attention in this way, but Africans ask why so many atrocities elsewhere are not being addressed as diligently as in Africa. Surely Africa is not the only place in which people are being killed or abused. Of course, likely indictees like Pol Pot of Cambodia or Slobodan Milosevic of Serbia either died before being brought to justice by the ICC or were dealt with by other courts. Still, the apparent emphasis on Africa makes Africans regret their initial support for the ICC. Thirty of the court’s 108 member states are African, and except for Sudan, the leaders of the countries now involved in ICC cases have cooperated with the court, whereas UN Security Council members China, Russia and the United States refuse to join the ICC.

According to the Institute for Security Studies in South Africa, the ICC “is helping to inhibit potential conflicts because war lords as well as state actors who engage and use non-conventional methods in prosecuting their war objectives know that it will only be a matter of time before they are brought before an appropriate court.” That may be true, but even the innocent in Africa might feel a bit better if more non-Africans were also brought before an appropriate court.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Ghana Trip Continues to Chafe

President Barack Obama’s decision to make Ghana his first stop in sub-Saharan Africa continues to roil the political waters in Africa. Although the governments most likely to be unhappy with his decision have been low-key in their comments about not being included on the first Africa-American U.S. President’s initial Africa visit, their media and opposition figures have not been so quiet.

Technically, Egypt was the first Africa stop by President Obama this month, but that was seen as more of a Middle East stop for him to address Muslims, especially Arab Muslims. In competition for a single stop, there are only a few sub-Saharan African nations that could legitimately complain about not being the first stop: Kenya, his father’s homeland; Nigeria, the continent’s most populous nation and a major oil producer, and South Africa, the most advanced economy on the continent. Ghana could have complained about being left off, but probably wouldn’t if one of the other three had been selected.

As a nation that recently had its second peaceful handover to an elected civilian government and has been a successful free market economy in recent years, Ghana was ideal for a single-country African stop for President Obama. During his visit and one-night layover, the President will have the opportunity to speak with the leader of one of Africa’s successes about a variety of issues – none of which negatively impact Ghana.

Besides being a major African economy, Nigeria too has experienced multiple handovers of power to elected civilian governments. However, after two questionable elections, numerous internal investigations and corruption indictments of elected officials and continuing unrest that threatens oil supplies, Nigeria was seen as a risky visit. Nigerian Nobel Laureate Wole Soyinka riled his country’s leaders by promising to “stone” President Obama if he visited Nigeria.

South Africa’s newly elected government is preoccupied with settling in and balancing the demands of the business community to assure investors of economic policy continuity, while labor calls for more social spending to ease the impact of the global recession. President Jacob Zuma undoubtedly realizes that the U.S. and the rest of the world are taking a wait-and-see stance on his government at the moment.

Kenyans appear to understand that the Obama Administration is sending a message for the unity government to deal with its political unrest so that social divisions don’t explode again as they did following the contentious December 2007 elections. President Obama has put the ball in their court on political reform. Still, security issues, such as the one that caused the cancellation of the inaugural Atlanta-Nairobi Delta Airlines flight last week, will have to be handled jointly. As Kenyans would point out, they are a target of terrorists because of their friendship with America.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Meeting Africa’s Housing Needs

When Amnesty International released its 2009 State of the World’s Human Rights report recently, one issue surfaced that Amnesty obviously takes seriously, but which many others might not have thought about previously: the lack of housing in Africa.

The United Nations Population Fund two years ago projected that Africa’s urban population would more than double from 294 million persons in 2000 to nearly 750 million by 2030. Last year, UN-Habitat projected that a dozen African cities would be among the world’s largest by 2025, with Kinshasa of the Democratic Republic of Congo expected to have a population of 17 million persons.

UN-Habitat states that Africa has the highest proportion of people classified as slum dweller at 71.9%. The region with the second largest percentage of slum dwellers is South-Central Asia at 58%. The agency defines a slum household as “a group of individuals living under the same roof that lack one or more of the following conditions: access to safe water, access to sanitation, secure tenure, durability of housing and sufficient living area.”

I have seen slums in African countries ranging from Zimbabwe to Kenya. In Zimbabwe, I was present during what the government called “Operation Murambatsvina” (Take Out the Trash in Shona). The operation was ostensibly to clean up unlicensed houses and get rids of slums. However, hundreds of thousands of people were left homeless in a matter of days. My colleagues and I saw a baby that had been born outside without shelter during the southern African winter and others left guarding their belongings in now-open fields. This was not thoughtful urban renewal; it was official cruelty, capped by the government’s intervention to prevent assistance to those who had been displaced.

In the Kibera slums in Nairobi, Kenya, people live in horrible conditions, but the government has not moved to destroy their dwellings as in Zimbabwe, and there is an effort underway to upgrade dwelings and improve sanitation. The people I met when I went into the slums lived a hard life, and many worked long hours just to hold onto the meager housing they could find and afford.

Karol Boudreaux, a Senior Research Fellow at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University, last year wrote a paper in which she listed regulatory burdens, high costs associated with regulatory compliance, high interest rates on home loans, land tenure problems and administrative barriers as factors limiting the ability of the poor in Africa to obtain acceptable housing. As waves of new rural people move to the cities seeking work, this situation will only worsen.

Amnesty International has started a new global “Demand Dignity" campaign to fight human rights abuses that drive and deepen poverty, and number one on their list of focus areas is slums and forced evictions. All those who care about Africa’s people – inside and outside government – are going to have to take more seriously the growing lack of housing for Africa’s people. It is not only a socio-economic issue, but also a security issue and a human rights issue.