Monday, August 31, 2009

Repairing the Diaspora-Africa Schism

I was a guest on one of USTalk Network’s Internet radio programs this past weekend, and the subject was the troubled relations between African Americans and Africans and people from the Caribbean nations. Raynard Jackson, host of the Internet radio program “Talking Right,” had written a column discussing the divisions existing among these three groups, especially as regards their acceptance of one other. He got quite a bit of feedback – both positive and negative – from America, Africa and the Caribbean. On the show, callers from as close to the studio as suburban Maryland and as far away as South Africa gave their views.

Accounts were shared about negative experiences Africans have received at the hands of African Americans, African American jealousies about the seemingly sudden success of African and Caribbean immigrants when they arrive in the U.S. and the general ignorance all three groups have about one another. In this day and time, such ignorance is puzzling.

There are so many Africans and Caribbean people living, working and studying n America and increasing intermarriage that suggests we should know one another better and have learned by now how to cooperate. Unfortunately, that does not appear to be the case. After an eye-opening Western Hemisphere Diaspora conference in December 2002 sponsored here in Washington by the African Union, within weeks Africa’s regional organization changed its charter to acknowledge the African Diaspora as the sixth region of Africa. Unfortunately, not much of significance has happened since that time to make this opportunity for Diaspora-African cooperation gain substance. But if we don’t acknowledge one another and learn to cooperate in the greater interest of all the descendants of Africa, that charter change becomes merely symbolism.

Over the last century, leaders such as Marcus Garvey, W.E.B. DuBois, George Padmore and Leon Sullivan have worked to unite the African Diaspora for the benefit of the continent. The process of reconciliation cannot succeed , though, when you have Africans speculate on how African black Americans are, as one writer questions in the current issue of the magazine “Focus on Africa,” or have people in the Diaspora continue to ask ignorant, insulting questions of Africans about their level of civilization on the continent or have the industriousness of Caribbean people turned into a joke like the skits about the hard-working Hedley family on the “In Living Color” television show. Too much depends on our knowing one another, embracing our differences and understanding what we each bring to joint efforts.

If they were alive today, Garvey, DuBois, Padmore and Sullivan would be bitterly disappointed at how we have squandered the opportunities they made possible. We can do better to learn each other and work cooperatively, and it is high time we did so.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Is the Darfur War Over?

General Martin Luther Agwai, the Nigerian military officer who is the outgoing commander of the United Nations – African Union peacekeeping force in Darfur, made headlines this week with his comments about the war in Darfur – the one we called genocide – being over.

“Militarily, there is not much. What you have is security issues more now. Banditry, localized issues, people trying to resolve issues over water and land at a local level,” Agwai said. “But real war as such, I think we are over that.”
Apparently, others share this surprising view of the situation in Darfur. Ambassador Susan Rice, the American representative to the United Nations, felt compelled earlier this year to criticize the departing civilian head of UN peacekeeping forces, Rodolphe Adada, who referred to the Darfur situation as a “low-intensity conflict.” In the face of these assessments by departing officials, one must ask what situation they are looking at.

An estimated 300,000 people have been killed in Darfur and nearly three million remain displaced. Just this week, 137 Senegalese police arrived in Darfur as part of a formed police union (FPU) that joins two Nigerian FPUs in El Geneina in west Darfur. There are now 11 FPUs in Darfur, with plans to reach 19 FPUs and 26,000 total military and police personnel under the joint AU-UN command known as UNAMID. If the conflict is over, why are these forces being increased instead of diminished? Why are there no reports of people being relocated to their previous homes? Why are there areas of Darfur even peacekeepers dare not enter?

The optimistic assessment seems based on the disintegration of rebel forces. The Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) apparently is the only cohesive rebel military remaining. The Sudanese Liberation Army (SLA) was the other original rebel force that began a civil war with the Sudanese government in 2003, but it is splintered into several parts. New groups and coalitions have emerged, but besides JEM, no rebel movement has of late undertaken the grandiose operation staged by JEM in May 2008, when it launched a massive attack on Khartoum.

UN officials other than Adada and military officials other than Agwai have been less willing to issue “mission accomplished” statements. Hopefully, their less sweeping comments will carry the day. Otherwise, the commitment to safeguard Darfuris could wane, leaving millions at the mercy of Janjawid and other bandits. The war in Darfur is not over; it’s just taken on a new, but still deadly, shape. Even General Agwai would agree with that.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Are African Leaders Listening to Obama?

President Barack Obama and members of his Administration have been pounding home the message that African governments must build strong institutions, practice good governance, fight corruption, intervene in African crises and hold transparent elections. The President said this even before his visit this summer to Ghana, and members of his Administration, particularly Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, have repeated his message in closed-door meetings with African leaders. Apparently, they are listening.

South African President Jacob Zuma is making his first state visit to Zimbabwe this week to discuss the remaining issues hampering the full implementation of the Global Political Agreement that resulted in a national unity government there. Secretary Clinton carried the Administration’s message to Zuma recently that it was still counting on South Africa to take the lead in resolving the government stalemate in Zimbabwe. Of course, as a critic of the Mugabe government, Zuma needed little prompting to push for movement by a ruling party he has long criticized.

In Nigeria two weeks ago, Secretary Clinton remarked that the country’s Economic and Financial Crimes Commission seemed to be not as active as it had been in rooting out corruption. Suddenly this week, the agency has arrested six non-executive directors of Intercontinental Bank Plc. on charges of suspicious debt and is prosecuting others for money laundering. EFCC officials had lamented to media sources that their work has been hampered by a lack of support from the Ministry of Justice and the Attorney General. Still, the agency is moving on bank fraud cases, along with the Central Bank of Nigeria, which has removed the CEOs of five Nigerian Banks for causing financial instability.

A Supreme Court judge in Uganda has ruled that most of the election irregularities in 2001 and 2006 were conducted on behalf of or by President Yoweri Museveni. The Court has not yet annulled any election despite “significant violation of the electoral system in all forms and manner.” While the Court dismissed a petition to overturn President Museveni’s re-election by Dr. Kizza Besigye, Museveni’s opponent in 2006, it did rule that the 2006 election was not free and fair.

Finally, the Economic Community of West Africa States has established a four-member ad hoc ministerial committee to engage Niger President Mamadou Tandja on his successful effort to overturn the two-term presidential limit in his country. Representatives from Benin, Burkina Faso, Nigeria and Sierra Leone will attempt to restore the “dialogue and consensus which characterized the Nigerien political environment prior to the current crisis.” African intervention of this sort is virtually unprecedented.

All of this may be a coincidence of timing involving initiatives that were underway before the latest U.S. concentration on urging African leaders to solve their own problems. If it is, then it is a welcome coincidence, but at least some of Africa’s leaders are not repudiating the American initiative, and that is at least progress toward a new order on the continent.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Bigger, but Not Better

The announcement came last week that Africa’s population is now one billion people, is growing at a rate of 24 million a year and should double to nearly two billion by the year 2050. That puts Africa on track to be more populous than India, projected to reach 1.7 billion by 2050, or China, projected to reach 1.4 billion by the middle of this century. So why is it that Africa is not seen as a prime market for products and services the way India and China are?

First of all, the most obvious reason is that Africa is not a single country like China or India, but rather more than 50 separate countries with various tariff rules and other regulations, not to mention inadequate infrastructure to move goods in and out efficiently. Second, incomes on the continent do not give providers of products and services the feeling that a growing middle class in African nations will buy their iPods or BMWs. Certainly, cell phones are selling like water in the desert, but there is iffy potential for high-ticket items when a majority of Africans are said to be living on US$1 a day and one in three Africans are malnourished. Only 25% of Indians are below the poverty line, while only 8% of Chinese are considered poor.

Third, Africa is experiencing a brain drain in which tens of thousands of professionals are laving the continent each year to earn a more profitable living in the developed world. This puts African countries farther and farther behind the development curve, limiting advances in science, technology and innovation that would create a stimulating atmosphere for investment and an assurance of product safety. Meanwhile, expatriates are returning to India in large numbers, resulting in projected economic growth of 7-8% in 2009 and creating new economic opportunities due to the shattering of Western financial markets.

Fourth, in commerce, governance plays a critical role, especially in creating a trust factor for exports. American sanitary/phyto-sanitary regulations are often cited (including by me) as a major constraint on U.S.-Africa trade. However, truth be told, there has to be a level of trust in the quality of meats and produce for them to be found acceptable for purchase. We buy Chinese products for now, despite the more than occasional contamination issue, at least partly because the Chinese government can move quickly in the face of crisis when it has to do so. When the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) broke out in 2003, the Chinese government dealt with it rapidly and effectively. With the H1N1 flu virus still a global health issue, it is unlikely that African food products will be trusted any more than they are now in the near future because of lack of faith in government follow-up to potential serious health concerns.

So despite having slightly less than 14% of the world’s population, Africa is not seen as a leading, attractive trading partner except for energy products, minerals and some manufactured goods. However, African poverty will not begin to be alleviated and incomes will not rise appreciably until agricultural production can increase and quality can be assured. With about two-thirds of Africans involved in agriculture, the livelihoods of hundreds of millions of people depend on progress in this critical area.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Clinton Defends African Women

More than a week after her tour of African nations, some are still questioning Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s focus on sexual and gender-based violence used as a tool of conflict in eastern Congo. Certainly, it is a viable entree to a discussion of the impact of the ongoing conflict there. However, Secretary Clinton also has a longstanding interest in the welfare of women, especially in developing countries. Given the dire situation women in eastern Congo are facing today, it is surely justifiable for her to focus on this issue in that country at this time.

As the Secretary said before her visit, women in eastern Congo and elsewhere are all too often subjected to rape as a tool of conflict. Warlords use rape to terrorize communities or as part of an overall genocidal strategy. In fact, the current military operation in eastern Congo has led to increased incidents of rape of vulnerable women by Congolese soldiers. An August 10 article in the Washington Post quotes Congolese soldiers as complaining that they are lonely and unable to afford prostitutes so they use local women to satisfy their needs. It is just this kind of callous disregard for the welfare of women that Secretary Clinton is targeting.

She is not alone in focusing on this issue. Former United Nations Under Secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs Jan Egeland told a high-level meeting on sexual violence against women in New York in June that “if sexual violence is not fully addressed in ceasefires and peace processes, there will be no peace for women.” According to the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM), since the end of the Cold War, only 10 times out of about 300 peace agreements has sexual violence been addressed: Uganda, Sudan/Darfur, Nepal, Indonesia/Aceh, Sudan/Nubia Mountains, Burundi, the Philippines, Chiapas (Mexico), Guatemala and the Democratic Republic of Congo. As we have seen in Congo, mention in an agreement doesn’t necessarily mean effective preventative action.

But rape is not the only debilitating result of conflict for women. For example, in southern Sudan, women are concerned for their fate if conflict results from the tense political process involving the February 2010 national elections and the 2011 referendum on southern Sudanese independence. Moreover, despite an agreement to reserve 25% of government posts for women, some provinces cannot identify enough literate women to fill these positions. The 22-year civil war disrupted education, especially for girls, and has resulted in women between the ages of 15-24 having an 84% illiteracy rate. Furthermore, southern Sudan has one of the world’s highest maternal mortality rates with 12,700 deaths per 100,000 live births because of the lack of adequate medical care in the emerging southern region of Sudan.

Conflict in Africa poses an extraordinarily high cost for women, who are, after all, the building block of families. If the status and conditions for women are unstable, so too will be the nation. Some people recognize that and try to address it – no matter what others may understand or not about the critical nature of this issue.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Africa’s Third Term Curse

Niger’s President Mamadou Tandja is the latest in a long line of African leaders who seem to want to be president-for-life. His rationale, like those before him, is that he is the only one who can complete his work. A decade in office, it seems, is not enough. That was the same rationale used by Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni and others.

Sometimes these African leaders succeed in getting politicians and voters to approve of their continuation in office as Tandja did in achieving the overwhelming support of his countrymen to overturn the constitutional two-term limit. Conversely, former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo was not able to convince his country’s Parliament to accept the third term.

The continent is full of leaders who have been in power for decades. In its current issue, Time magazine cites 18 African countries that have either removed or extended term limits for their presidents: Algeria, Angola, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Chad, Egypt, Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, Gambia, Lesotho, Libya, Morocco, Niger, Sudan, Swaziland, Tunisia, Uganda and Zimbabwe. Muammar Gaddafi has been in power in Libya for 40 years, Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo has ruled for 30 years and Robert Mugabe has been Zimbabwe’s president for 29 years. Can anyone state with assurance that the citizens of these countries have been better served by maintaining their leader in power beyond the original mandate?

A credible argument can be made that voters should have the right to maintain their politicians in office for as long as they are felt to be useful. There have been instances, after all, in which African voters have turned out leaders they have believed to have outlived their usefulness. In 1995, Benin became the first African country to move from a dictatorship to a popularly elected government when Nicéphore Soglo defeated longtime incumbent Mathieu Kérékou. In 2001, Kérérekou reclaimed the presidency, albeit in an election marred by irregularities.

In theory, voters should have the freedom to select the leader of their choice for as many times as they choose. However, all too often in Africa, leaders use various tactics to prevent their opponents from having a genuine chance to contest an election. Opposition parties have found themselves prevented from effectively campaigning, candidates have been jailed or tried for trumped-up crimes or vote counts have been manipulated. Consequently, the third term movements have been more about allowing leaders to get around the need to pass on power than it has been to provide choice to voters.

When he spoke in Ghana a few weeks ago, President Barack Obama said what Africa needs is strong institutions and not strong men. Truer words were never spoken.

Monday, August 17, 2009

The Shadow of AGOA Pessimism

Shortly after what had seemed to be a positive AGOA Forum in Nairobi, reports are surfacing that the view of the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) held by participants was not as hopeful as it seemed. In fact, a sort of AGOA pessimism seems to be settling in that could endanger efforts to fully realize this U.S.-Africa trade process.

African government officials and private sector representatives reportedly were bitterly disappointed that the U.S. government would not agree to the requests to commit to extending AGOA beyond 2015 or expand the product lines allowed duty free, quota free treatment. U.S. officials made the point that only about 50 of more than 6,400 product lines are now being taken advantage of by African exporters and that there are six years left under the current extension of AGOA. The point American government and private sector representatives often made in Nairobi was the Africans could do better to use what they currently have rather than asking for more.

The point is well taken, but one hopes the Americans heard the African response. For example, Namibians were lamenting the difficulty they have had for the past several years in getting their beef and grapes approved for export to the United States. There are cumbersome procedures that prevent African agricultural and farm products from reaching America despite their being imported into Europe. It is certainly frustrating to hear so much about American intentions to help Africans trade their way into prosperity and then find so many non-tariff barriers making a mockery of that promise.

That is not to say that Africans bear no blame for this situation. Infrastructure on the continent has for too long been ignored. It is not the responsibility of Americans or Europeans or Chinese to build and maintain roads or refurbish airports and seaports. While it is true that sanitary/phyto-sanitary regulations are not being properly transmitted to African producers, it is also true that African governments and private sectors could do more to find out the details on their own. These details are not secret, after all. Sometimes one has to seek out and pay for the knowledge you need.

Since the passage of AGOA, African exports to the United States have increased by more than tenfold. AGOA has fundamentally changed the nature of the U.S.-African economic relationship. However, both sides must do more to fully realize the still largely-untapped benefits of AGOA. This is a job for both parties to undertake, but that’s what genuine partnership calls for.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Nigerian Corruption Has Broad Impact

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, in the continuation of her tour of African countries, continues to hit on the theme of corruption’s negative impact, telling Nigerian leaders this week that corruption has “eroded the legitimacy of the government and contributed to the rise of groups that embrace violence and reject the authority of the state.” Certainly that is true, because corruption in Nigeria has had wide-ranging impacts.

For example, Nigeria has been the target of counterfeiters peddling fake or poor quality drugs for nearly 30 years, endangering the health of untold number of citizens. According to an article written by Roger Bate and Thompson Ayodele entitled “Is War Against Bad Medicine Paying Off?”, healthcare workers in Nigeria have been reluctant to report fake drugs to the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) or even refuse to sell them in many cases for fear of retaliation from the counterfeiters. Fortunately, NAFDAC has been able to reduce the incidence of fake drugs in Nigeria from 70% in 2002 to 41% currently.

Secretary Clinton said the record of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission has not been so exemplary of late, which is stimulating disrespect for the government – such as in the oil industry. A team of accountants and tax experts assembled by the Nigerian newspaper THISDAY found a discrepancy of more than US$1.09 billion in the 2005 oil and gas industry report released under the Nigerian Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative. The team found oil company reports of payments that were not recorded by government agencies. The reporting by the Petroleum Products Marketing Company was found to be especially problematic with reporting measures inconsistent with accepted international standards.

Nigeria’s corruption has led to the rise and empowerment of armed groups such as the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta, which have disrupted the supply of Nigerian oil by as much as 900,000 barrels a day. A June attack by a small group of militants on a Royal Dutch Shell export terminal led to an immediate increase in the price of oil worldwide by 3.4% or US$2.33 a barrel the next day.

Corrupt practices and oil supply disruptions have prevented the Nigerian government from reaping the benefit of recent oil price increases. Therefore, both the Nigerians and the U.S. have a direct interest in cooperating through their bi-national commission to find a way to end the negative impact of corruption. Clinton’s warning about the consequences of corruption can no longer be ignored.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Kenya and U.S. Policy

The African Growth and Opportunity Act Forum in Kenya last week was a tremendous stage for Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to launch her tour of Africa to promote a new partnership between the United States and the nations of the continent to replace the prescriptive nature of our previous engagement. However, as the Secretary’s visit demonstrates, it is not possible to completely transform American engagement.

Secretary Clinton consistently hit the key points of American policy toward Kenya: 1) reform that will effectively tackle the scourge of corruption, 2) cooperation within the Government of National Unity that will eliminate the threat of resumed violence like that which followed the disputed 2007 elections and 3) either a tribunal or cooperation with international judicial authorities leading to the prosecution of those responsible for the serious human rights violations following the 2007 elections.

Certainly, there is nothing untoward about what Secretary Clinton, Assistant Secretary for African Affairs Johnny Carson or U.S. Ambassador to Kenya Michael Ranneberger have said or are saying about Kenya. I would suggest that partnership requires straight talk and does not mean that one should only point to “blue skies” in a genuine relationship. If your friend is about to step in a hole, you are required to tell them so, and make no mistake, Kenya remains in a very precarious situation absent some significant movement on the reform and governance agendas.

Nevertheless, the more we public scold Kenyan officials, the more they dig in their heels against our prescriptions. Of course, Kenyans generally do not share this view of U.S. heavy-handedness. Nine out of 10 Kenyans view the United States favorably, according to a new Pew Research Center survey. Kenyan civil society has been America’s biggest cheerleader on pushing the Kenyan government to make the changes championed by the Obama administration. So while Kenyan Prime Minister Raila Odinga wants America to “Quit lecturing Africa on politics,” as one Daily Nation headline asserted, his people don’t appear to share his view.

What Secretary Clinton will find is that telling our African allies what we think should be done is part of being a good ally. Consequently, U.S. policy will continue to be at least partially prescriptive so long as the countries we engage have serious issues that we believe need to be addressed. After all, they don’t hesitate to tell us what we need to do, now do they?

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Civil Society and U.S.-Africa Trade

It has been clear for a long time that both government and much of the business community has little idea of the role civil society plays in international trade despite abundant evidence that civil society organizations (CSOs) have made a tremendous contribution to the creation and implementation of the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA). That view was confirmed by the way civil society was treated as an afterthought at the eighth AGOA Forum.

Kenyan Prime Minister Raila Odinga and members of the Kenyan cabinet decided without notice to mandate a joint opening for the one-day business and civil society forums, providing notice to civil society organizers only moments before their forum was to begin. Apparently, the business sector had been informed in advance because the opening included business forum videos obviously prepared prior to the opening. Without consultation, civil society was supposedly represented by a government official in the office that registers CSOs, who proceeded to describe civil society as “finger-pointers” who ask for transparency without providing it themselves. In all, nearly three hours was lost of the civil society forum.

However, the CSOs recovered and even got back on schedule, offering considered recommendations that confirmed what many of the government and private sector speakers themselves separately suggested as policy to enhance U.S.-Africa trade. During the civil society report to the AGOA Ministerial, it was made clear that civil society has always played a significant role in AGOA and continues to be a valuable asset to the effort to stimulate trans-Atlantic trade. In addition to the role CSOs played in informing members of Congress about the development benefits of expanded U.S.-Africa trade, civil society has played an ongoing beneficial role.

They are the think tanks who provide critical economic analysis. They are the faith-based organizations who help provide entrepreneurs their first chance to start a business. They are the business associations who safeguard the interests of our members. They are the conveners of local, national and international conferences examining the effectiveness of AGOA and other efforts to enhance the benefits of free trade. Some present in the audience seemed surprised to consider that CSOs, who are non-profits, could have such a significant role in a business process. However, at the end of the report, many reported having a better understanding of the matter.

The formation of a U.S. collaboration of civil society organizations, named the U.S. Civil Society Coalition for African Trade and Investment, should remedy that once and for all. The coalition has not bound itself solely to examining the AGOA process, but also aims to engage in efforts to envision new ways to make trade work for all stakeholders more efficiently and effectively. The coalition will be an ongoing actor in this process, and its efforts will be enhanced by reinforcing and expanding the existing AGOA Civil Society Network of African civil society organizations. The Network is a founding member of the coalition.

With U.S. and African CSOs working together, civil society should no longer be seen as only an observer of trans-Atlantic trade issues.