I was asked recently what I thought were the top Africa stories last year. The Somali pirates obviously was the most reported story involving Africa last year, but I thought the most significant stories included a couple that were not well-reported here in America. Here are my top five Africa stories in 2009:
• The land grab in Africa went largely unnoticed in the United States, but agriculture-poor countries such as Libya, Saudi Arabia, South Korea, Kuwait and Qatar made deals with African countries (as well as other developing nations) to lease land on which to grow food for their people. The lease of hundreds of thousands of hectares of land in countries such as Madagascar, Mali and Cameroon not only threatened to limit the land on which African farmers could cultivate crops, but also threatened to send tons of food from Africa during a time of food shortages on the continent. This was a factor in Madagascar’s president being forced out last year.
• Although the International Criminal Court attempted to convince African leaders that Africans were not being singled out for prosecution, the current ICC indictments and trials all deal with Africans in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Uganda, Sudan and Central African Republic. More investigations reportedly will involve Ethiopia, Chad, Rwanda and Zimbabwe. Thirty of the court’s 108 member states are African, and whereas the United States, Russia and China refuse to join, African government have been cooperative. That cooperation may wane, however, if they don’t see non-Africans prosecuted by the ICC.
• The September massacre of peaceful demonstrators in Guinea posed a challenge to the international community to take meaningful action. There have been condemnations and arms embargoes against the military junta there, but the situation seems to have been overtaken by events. Guinea’s dwindling stability is unraveling with the attempted assassination of the junta leader by a dissident military leader who may have feared being made the scapegoat for the killings. The election scheduled for this year probably won’t take place on schedule due to internal chaos.
• The election of Barack Obama gave hope to Africans and Africanists that the continent would climb higher on America’s policy agenda. However, the U.S. president has emphasized the accountability of African leaders, snubbing his own father’s Kenyan homeland for their corruption and poor governance. Meanwhile, there is a perception of an overall drift in Africa policy beyond crisis management. The Administration’s decision to cut back on HIV-AIDS funding through PEPFAR is one of the Administration’s decisions that causes worry about U.S. policy for Africa not living up to that of the Clinton and Bush Administrations.
• The wrangle over the role of Africom in U.S. policy grew louder in 2009. What has gone unnoticed is the pushback within the Administration over the Defense Department’s presumption of a lead role on Africa policy. Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Johnnie Carson made plain that State will play the lead role on Africa policy, along with the U.S. Agency for International Development carrying the load on development work. Military crises in Somalia and Sudan have focused Africom’s activities for the time being. In the long run, though, the Defense Department is far more well-funded than State, which provides the military with great leverage on Africa policy.
These stories will carry over to 2010, of course, but I will have a prediction in a subsequent blog entry on the top five stories going into 2010 beyond these five.