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.

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