Monday, August 30, 2010

What To Do About Sudan?

It wasn’t that long ago that mass demonstrations and civil society lobbying provoked strong U.S. action on Sudan because of what we defined as genocide in that country’s Darfur region. However, frustration with the continuing stalemate over the punishment of those involved in the genocide and the inability of the International Criminal Court (ICC) to take action against those charged with crimes against humanity in Sudan means not much is on the table to move past the current deadlock.

United Nations Ambassador Susan Rice reportedly blew up in a principals-level meeting at the White House a few weeks ago because the Administration’s Special Envoy to Sudan, retired Major General Scott Gration, was making headway in gaining support for his gentler, more diplomatic approach to the regime in Khartoum. Rice, who previously held the posts of Senior Director for Africa at the National Security Council and Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, has had long experience in dealing with the Sudan government. Her position is that absent strong sanctions against the government of President Omar Bashir, no progress will be made in safeguarding Sudanese in Darfur or elsewhere, and the referendum on the status of South Darfur could be marred, leading to renewed violence.

General Gration has from the beginning of his tenure called for a more cooperative relationship with the Khartoum government in order to positively influence its behavior. He also supports a de-emphasis on public criticism of the regime despite its continuing violations of international law and human decency. According to Save Darfur, one of the leading civil society groups appealing for strong action to safeguard Sudanese, since April alone the Khartoum regime has:

• Restricted humanitarian aid to the internally displaced persons in Darfur,
• Expelled humanitarian aid workers and threatened to expel peacekeepers,
• Jailed members of the political opposition and human rights activists,
• Censored the Sudanese media and harassed journalists,
• Rigged national elections and
• Failed to cooperate with the United Nations Security Council and the

International Criminal Court regarding the outstanding arrest warrants against President Bashir and other accused of international criminal acts.
On that last point, Bashir and his government evidently don’t see any reason to honor the indictments. After all, the ICC has no police or military and must rely on member nations to carry out arrests. Bashir is reluctant to travel to any country that might honor those warrants, but Arab and African countries don’t seem to be among those willing to do so. The Sudanese leader has travelled to Chad, and most recently, to Kenya and has been accorded the welcome expected of any Head of State.

Despite pleas from human rights groups for the Kenyan government to bar Bashir from the celebration for its new constitution, Bashir was welcomed to the ceremony and even escorted to his seat by Kenya Minister of Tourism Najib Balala. When asked why an indicted violator of international law would be welcomed to the ceremony of Kenya’s advancing its own democracy, Kenya Minister of Foreign Affairs Moses Wetang’ula gave a telling response:

“He is here in response to our invitation to all our neighbours and the sub-region to attend this historic moment. He is a state guest. You do not harm or embarrass your guest. That is not African,” the foreign minister said.

Actually, it is becoming clear that it is not African to respect the authority of the ICC. The African Union has criticized the warrants and urged that they be suspended. While many of the AU’s members are signatories to the ICC, there is growing sentiment on the continent that only Africans are being targeted.

In fact, the record shows that the ICC is only actively investigating crimes against humanity and war crimes in northern Uganda, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Central African Republic, Kenya and Sudan. This has occurred despite the fact that as of three years ago, there were nearly 3,000 complaints of alleged crimes in at least 139 countries. African governments wonder why their past cooperation has resulted only in Africans being indicted, and an increasing number of them are likely to welcome Bashir to future meetings.

With the United States seemingly paralyzed by frustration and, it must be admitted, not much room to levy further sanctions except on gum Arabic, which is vital to our economy, at least some U.S. officials seem willing to try another approach. But as Ambassador Rice so correctly points out, we already know what the Bashir government will do. To do nothing or to take a softer approach to Sudan will only embolden an already shameless government to facilitate the killing of more Sudanese and America’s reputation in Africa as well.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Rwanda’s Extraordinarily Popular Leader

Last year, I questioned whether Equatorial Guinea’s presidential election results could be justified. Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo was reelected in November 2009 with 90% of the vote. It is beyond the ability of the international community to accept that such universal popularity was possible through legal, fair means. As I said then, even winning margins in the 70s seem suspicious to us in a competitive race anywhere. Now another African leader has won reelection with the support of more than nine out of every ten voters.

Rwandan President Paul Kagame of the ruling Rwandan Patriotic Front received 93% of the vote last week in his bid for a second term. The three leading contenders – Jean Damascene Ntawuhkulirayo (Social Democratic Party), Prosper Higiro (Liberal Party) and Alvera Mukabatramba (Party for Peace and Concord) – all conceded defeat. However, none of them were considered Kagame’s most competitive rival.

That would have been Victoire Ingabire Umuhoza of the Unified Democratic Forces (UDF) a coalition of Rwandan opposition parties with a large base of active members in Rwanda, Europe, the United States and Canada. Unfortunately, she was unable to run for president as her coalition wanted because she was placed under house arrest earlier in the year on charges of funding rebels in the neighboring Democratic Republic of Congo and espousing a genocidal philosophy.

Despite giving a speech upon her return to Rwanda in January criticizing the largely-Tutsi directed genocide and condemning war crimes, she was accused of minimizing it instead. Ingabire questioned the ethnic makeup of the government, which is considered dangerous in a nation in which hundreds of thousands were killed in genocide in 1994.

If Ingabire’s detention were the only action limiting the opposition’s chances in the election, that might be explainable under the circumstances. But it wasn’t. AndrĂ© Kagwa Rwisereka, vice-president of the Democratic Green Party was murdered. Jean Leonard Rugambage, deputy editor of the newspaper Umuvugizi, was shot dead. Bernard Ntaganda, a potential presidential candidate was arrested and held in detention. Theogene Muhayeyezu, Ingabire’s attorney, was arrested and held in detention. Hundreds of other opposition party members were arrested and detained weeks before the election. Given that the campaign period was only 20 days, these killings and arrests prevented much of the opposition from effectively organizing and contesting the election.

The Economist magazine recently accused Kagame of allowing “less political space and press freedom at home than Robert Mugabe does in Zimbabwe.” That view is confirmed by various human rights reports. According to the U.S. Department of State’s current human rights report on Rwanda, “Citizens' right to change their government was effectively restricted. Violence against genocide survivors and witnesses by unknown assailants resulted in deaths. There were reports of abuse of suspects by security forces and local defense members, and prison and detention center conditions remained generally harsh. Security forces arbitrarily arrested and detained persons. Prolonged pretrial detention was a problem.”

Human Rights Watch noted that over the six months leading up to the August elections, they found “a worrying pattern of intimidation, harassment and other abuses - ranging from killings and arrests to restrictive administrative measures - against opposition parties, journalists, members of civil society and other critics.”

American attorney Peter Erlinder was held in jail in Rwanda for three weeks in connection with his defense of an opposition politician. He has accused Rwanda of being a “police state” supported by the United States, which has provided Rwanda with approximately US$1 billion in aid over the past decade.

Indeed, Kagame was once considered one of Africa’s up-and-coming young leaders, and he has been supported by the U.S. and other Western nations for leading the fight against genocide in 1994. His increasingly authoritarian rule has been tolerated because he has been considered a strategic ally. However, the strains on the relationship seem to be fraying it. The National Security Council (NSC), in a somewhat unusual step, expressed concern over “a series of disturbing events prior to the election, including the suspension of two newspapers, the expulsion of a human rights researcher, the barring of two opposition parties from taking part in the election, and the arrest of journalists.”

In Equatorial Guinea, Botswana and some other African countries, the ruling party wins largely because of the weakness of the opposition, albeit with some help from ruling party fiddling. In the case of Rwanda, the fiddling seems to be a greater reason for the Kagame landslide.

So what is to be done in this situation? To be fair, even critics acknowledge the progress made in Rwanda since the 1994 genocide. Transparency International has ranked Rwanda as the least corrupt country in East Africa. The World Bank describes Rwanda as a one of Africa’s top economic reformers. Rwanda has already achieved some of the United Nations Millennium Development goals for 2015.

Rwanda poses one of those foreign policy conundrums governments constantly face. An ally has some obvious problems, but has much to commend it. The country’s strategic value remains the same this week as it did before the election. Quiet diplomacy would seem to be the answer, but that has often been lost on a government that continues to use the genocide card to explain away opposition and its overreactions. The NSC statement may be the first in a louder display of diplomacy aimed at preventing a valued ally from going completely off the rails. Let’s hope it is not too late already.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

The Father of African Nationalism

On this date, 123 years ago, a great world leader was born in St. Ann’s Bay, Jamaica. At one time, he was the most talked-about Black man on the planet, but he died in 1940 a largely forgotten figure on the world scene. Nevertheless, Marcus Mosiah Garvey, the “Father of African Nationalism,” remains one of the most influential sons of Africa in all history.

His influence can be seen in the organization of the Nation of Islam; the inspiration for leaders such as Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana, Jomo Kenyatta of Kenya (as well as the colors of their nations’ flags); the African-African American Summits and self-help philosophy of Reverend Leon H. Sullivan, and even non-African leaders such as Ho Chi Mihn of Vietnam, who observed Garveyism during his time in New York City.

Marcus Garvey arrived in America in 1916 at a critical time in our history. The post-civil War freedoms won had been eroded by racist government officials who created laws limiting the rights of Black Americans and vicious white mobs that lynched and otherwise killed thousands of Black people. There was an effort to win the freedom of Black people, but it was split among those who wanted to play down political rights to concentrate on economic self-sufficiency and those who believed a “talented tenth” could be the vanguard of a resurgence of Black political power.

Like Prince Hall, Martin Delaney, Edward Wilmot Blyden and Henry Highland Garnet before him, Garvey advocated the involvement of the entire African Diaspora in the affairs of Africa, most of which was under European colonial rule at that point. However, Garvey took that view further, espousing a Pan-African mass movement to free Africa and create a universal Black nation. “Africa for the Africans…those at home and those abroad,” he said.

Like the Hebrew patriarch Moses, Garvey would lead his people to the Promised Land, but not get there himself. He died in 1940, more than a decade before the wave of freedom that swept across Africa and saw all of its nations become independent. In this year in which we celebrate the 50th anniversary of the independence of 17 African nations, how many of us give due credit to the man who stimulated both Africans and the Diaspora to seek freedom?

He had come to America to raise money for a Jamaican school to be modeled after Tuskegee Institute. However, America and its Black crisis attracted him. He began a series of speeches on the race problem that started slowly in New York, but by the time he had gone down the Atlantic seaboard and over to New Orleans, he had created a legend. In 1920, his Universal Negro Improvement Association claimed four million members. Garvey’s International Congresses in New York drew tens of thousands of delegates from across America, the Caribbean, Central and South America and Africa.
While some focused on the educated, professional class, Garvey spoke to the average Black man and woman. His economic ventures, including a shipping company, factories, restaurants and other businesses were initially well-received and successful among Black people. In fact, he was the first Black leader to get our people to invest in their own future. Unfortunately, there were those among us who saw him as dangerous.

The focus among the existing Black leaders of America was on incrementally gaining rights and fighting the hated Jim Crow laws. While this was a laudable goal, the established leaders considered this Jamaican interloper presumptuous and criticized what some would consider his “folderol and glitter.” The grandiosity of the Garvey trappings at his mass meetings was part of what attracted his many supporters. They wanted to be part of something larger than themselves, something that spoke of the grand history of the African people. They responded to his credo: “Up, you mighty race, accomplish what you will.” Garveyism resonated then with Black people and continues to do so today, even if many of us don’t realize it.

There is a misconception that the entire focus of Garveyism was on a “back to Africa” movement, but he said he never intended for all Black people to return to their ancestral home. Garvey believed the Black nation should know no boundaries and should embrace the Diaspora worldwide. Still, he supported those who wanted to return to Africa and help build the continent.

In Garvey’s day, Black people didn’t normally work in concert across organizations, regions or social status. That is not the case today. African nations are working slowly, but surely, on a plan to create a United States of Africa. Here in America, the Black Leadership Forum was created in the 1970s as a clearinghouse for Black organizations and continues to join the strength of dozens of Black organizations to press for solutions to issues of concern to our people. In the 21st century, the African American Unity Caucus was established to join dozens of Black-led organizations focusing on Africa and the nations of the Diaspora. Cooperation, not competition, has become the byword of the African Diaspora.

“Look for me in the whirlwind or the storm,” Garvey said. Indeed, the winds of change are blowing ever stronger, as the Black world Garvey foresaw nearly a century ago is now taking shape. It is the mark of a great leader that his vision carries on after he is gone and resonates with those who never knew him. To borrow a portion of a great speech by the late Senator Ted Kennedy, for Garvey “the work goes on, the cause endures, the hope still lives, and the dream shall never die.”

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Taylor’s Celebrity Enabler

The war crimes trial of former Liberian President Charles Taylor has dragged on since July of 2009, nearly forgotten by all but his many victims and supporters until a burst of celebrity brought the trial back into the spotlight.

Supermodel Naomi Campbell had tried her best to avoid testifying at Taylor’s trial about a troublesome gift Taylor allegedly gave her, but in the end, the Special Court for Sierra Leone at The Hague issued a subpoena she couldn’t ignore. This trial is intended to bring justice to a man who had brought turmoil to the entire West African region. He is charged with numerous crimes – from enslavement to rape to torture to murder. Yet Campbell had no desire to provide testimony that could help bring Taylor to justice.

Taylor had reportedly given Campbell what are called “blood diamonds” because they are mined with the blood, sweat and tears of those who were forced to locate them and give them to the Revolutionary United Front of Sierra Leone, which Taylor is accused of funding and from which he reportedly profited. Linking him to the transfer of uncut diamonds helps to connect the inhumanity of the forced diamond mining to his ability to bestow these gems to whomever he fancied or wanted to reward.

Now one might have concluded before the trial that Campbell had nothing pertinent to add and that she wanted to avoid any damaging linkage to Taylor for the sake of her career. However, the testimony proves otherwise.

Campbell, actress-activist Mia Farrow and Campbell’s former agent Carole White all testified and gave conflicting accounts of Taylor giving diamonds to Campbell through his emissaries. Yet they all agree that Campbell was given rough stones or a stone that she knew had value.

Campbell and Farrow testified that Campbell was awakened by a knock on her door from men who gave her a pouch with something of value. Campbell said they were “very small dirty-looking stones,” while Farrow recalls Campbell bragging the next morning at breakfast about being given a huge diamond by Taylor. White said Campbell had been expecting the diamonds and was excited.

Campbell said there were two or three stones, and White said there were five or six. Farrow said Campbell told her she received a diamond, not stones.
Campbell said she didn’t know the stones were diamonds because she was used to seeing them “shiny in a box.” White said Campbell was disappointed that the diamonds were neither shiny nor large.

Campbell acknowledged at her breakfast the next day that the stones were from Charles Taylor after Farrow and White said that’s who they were from. Farrow and White both say Campbell already knew who gave her the stones.

Campbell said she didn’t want to keep the stones so she gave them to the Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund, which is corroborated by both Farrow and White, although White said Campbell had to be talked into the donation. Jeremy Ractliffe, head of the Fund was said to be reluctant to take the diamonds.

Clearly, Campbell knew this gift valuable, and she certainly would not have opened her door to strangers at night nor taken something from them. She certainly must have known what the gift was and who it was from. Being charitable, you could assume that she was ignorant of world events and was unaware of how such diamonds were obtained. Nevertheless, by now she would have known the importance of what she was given, and one would think she would want to bring to justice a man who had caused the misery of so many people for those “small dirty-looking stones.”

At best, she came off looking like a vapid airhead who would accept bling from anyone willing to gift her, and at worst, she looks like a greedy, jewelry-hungry woman who only cares for what she can get no matter how it was obtained. Either way, she is not a woman who has any apparent care for the misery fellow members of the African Diaspora have suffered, and even at this late date, cares more for her own image than for what she could do to help those whose lives have been destroyed by Charles Taylor and his compatriots.

In the end, if her image is damaged and she is no longer the darling of the fashion world, it will be her own fault. No one could blame her for Taylor giving her a gift she did not solicit, but she failed to seize the opportunity to give the gift of justice to those Taylor has harmed. As the saying goes: to whom much is given, much is expected. Too bad no one implanted that concept firmly in her mind and heart along the way to stardom.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Obama’s Africa Outreach

When Barack Obama became President, he inherited two wars and a global economic meltdown. He also inherited an Africa Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) that has stagnated in terms of broadening the benefits of trade for buyers and sellers in African countries, as well as in the United States. The AGOA Ministerial was held last week, but President Obama “flipped the script” so to speak by importing two delegations of Africans who may play a major role in helping to achieve the promise AGOA has always held.

The Obama Administration brought in 35 women business people from AGOA-eligible countries. They own and/or manage agriculture companies, communications companies, textile manufacturers and firms in other sectors. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has long championed the concept of empowering women, which is critical in the African economic sphere.

“Economic marginalization of women across Africa has left a void in this continent that undermines progress and prosperity every day,” Clinton said while in Kenya during a 2009 visit.

Indeed, it is a widely accepted fact that African women comprise two thirds-of the economies in their countries and that genuine economic development cannot be achieved without taking into account the welfare of women entrepreneurs. So the Administration’s plan was to encourage their involvement and that of their networks as part of their national and the global supplier systems and to challenge the AGOA ministers to promote more inclusive legislation and practices for women by next year’s Ministerial. This is why they were made a part of this year’s Ministerial so that these ministers would be confronted with the need to move on enhancing the role of women in the AGOA process in their countries.

Similarly, though the young African leaders from about 50 countries were not brought in specifically for the AGOA Ministerial, their visit did coincide with this event, as well as the advent of the United Nations International Year of the Youth. Africa’s younger generation is less ethnically divided, better educated and more aware of Africa’s position on the global stage. They provide yet another nudge to the African officials that we are not entirely dependent upon them to make the reforms necessary to enable African progress, as President Obama told the young leaders prior to the start of his ground-breaking town hall meeting with them last week.

“You reflect the extraordinary history and diversity of the continent. You’ve already distinguished yourselves as leaders – in civil society and development and business and faith communities – and you’ve got an extraordinary future before you,” the President said.

The potential for change represented by both the women entrepreneurs and the young leaders is tremendous. That was clear to anyone who had the privilege of speaking with them over the two-week, overlapping period in which they were in the United States. Their respective programs allowed them to meet and learn from various government agencies, business people and civil society organizations. However, if these innovative contacts are to be maximized, there will have to be substantial follow-up activities that build on what must be acknowledged as a good start. This is why members of the African American Unity Caucus (AAUC), a coalition of dozens of Diaspora organizations focusing on American policy toward Africa, have accepted this challenge.

Members of the AAUC made a presentation to the women entrepreneurs about accessing the American consumer market through AGOA. As impressive as these women business people are, many of them had not understood what AGOA was or how to utilize it prior to that presentation. Given the prominence of African women in the continent’s economic sphere, such a lack of knowledge about the premier U.S. trade process cannot be continued. Furthermore, a better understanding of the specific limits faced by these business women regarding access to land, credit and education can only help in the effort to remove them. So programming is now being developed to enhance their ability to take full advantage of AGOA to access the world’s largest consumer market.

The AAUC as a coalition participated in the networking session with the young African leaders and is itself developing a project to provide either mentoring or peer-to-peer engagement for those leaders contacted. This AAUC project is being developed in partnership with the Black Leadership Forum, an alliance of Diaspora organizations focusing on advocating for the legislative and policy interests of the Diaspora nationally and internationally. This unprecedented coalition of coalitions provides resources across a broad spectrum of dozens of American organizations.

The Administration has offered a follow-up one-day conference in multiple regions in Africa, but the AAUC believes ongoing sharing of information and mutual advocacy on an individual basis would be more beneficial to both sides in the long run.

It was inventive of the Administration to create connections with women and young people in Africa. The old guard has not broadly distinguished itself in empowering the continent to realize its destiny. Better integrating women and youth to create a more productive future is critical. However, the AGOA Ministerial has become a talk shop with no plan to remove obstacles that continue to be identified each year. Creating new talk shops for women and youth will serve no useful purpose. Those of us who can help the Administration achieve its stated goals through plans for action should step up and make a way for this to happen.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Enhancing African Commercial Environments

In opening the African Growth and Opportunity Act Forum this week, U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk listed several elements that comprise a positive commercial environment that would attract foreign investment. The one most misunderstood is the sanctity of contracts.

According to the World Bank, African countries collectively have made progress in improving their business climates. For the first time ever, an African nation leads the rest of the world as the “top global reformer.” Rwanda ranked number one in the 2010 Doing Business Indicators, while Liberia finished at number 10 and Mauritius moved into the top 20 reformers. Still, Africa’s private investment rate collectively is below 15% of Gross Domestic Product, and eight of the ten countries judged as having the most difficult environment for starting a business in the world are African.

Despite the problems in some countries, much of Africa remains increasingly attractive to foreign investors, not only because of the reforms so many African countries have accomplished, but also because African investments have provided higher returns on investment than most other parts of the world at around 30% annually before the current economic crisis. Global emerging giants such as the so-called BRIC countries – Brazil, Russia, India and China – increasingly seek Africa’s resources, which increases commodity prices. China last year became Africa’s largest investor. Nevertheless, the sanctity of contracts and reasonable negotiations will always remain critical elements to foreign companies doing ongoing business in Africa no matter what their resource base is.

In a free market, there are economic calculations that determine for companies whether it is viable to do business in an environment or not. When you change those calculations, it may no longer be possible to make a profit doing what you have done previously. Such financial decisions have nothing to do with how a multinational company feels about a government or the country in which it operates. The business math is either favorable or it isn’t, and when the latter is the case, the foreign company may have to cease operations. No one – not even the smallest vendor on the corner – can afford to pay higher production costs than the price for which he or she can sell the product.

In difficult negotiations with a foreign government, American firms appeal to our government for assistance. It is the policy of the U.S. government to safeguard American investment abroad because of the positive impact it has on our economy. According to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, nearly half of all revenue earned by the 200 top U.S. companies comes from their foreign subsidiaries and provides the funding for innovation and creation of better jobs here in America. U.S. companies that invest abroad create an estimated 2.3 jobs in America for every one they create overseas. Consequently, the profitability of American firms abroad is vital to the economic interests of U.S. companies and the United States itself.

This is why U.S. government agencies such as the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC), which makes loans and loan guarantees to support U.S. business abroad will become involved in business disputes and may, as they have in more than one situation, put a hold on such activities in a country. It is not merely to pressure a government to yield its national interests, but rather a matter of fulfilling its mandate to protect U.S. interests. The American government and the U.S. companies it is required to protect have an abiding interest in investing in Africa, but the cost must be calculated and found to be worthwhile.

In the real world of commerce, decisions about where to do business and under what circumstances business is conducted can be difficult ones for both sides. African countries possess much of the world’s valuable natural resources, but in many cases, these resources have not been tapped because the economic calculations are not favorable for doing so. Either the transportation costs are too high, or there is insufficient electric power to conduct manufacturing or the political risk is too great due to conflict. Or perhaps some other complication makes the cost of doing business too much to operate there.

American companies increasingly believe that corporate social responsibility projects benefiting the communities in which they operate are good business, but the cost of doing business there in the first place may be too high to operate. Such costs can change when contracts are renegotiated without regard to the bottom line of the foreign investor. That is a factor that African governments must consider as they engage in negotiations to attract or hold onto foreign investment.