Monday, October 20, 2008

Agathe's Obligation

A short story

It was just after dawn, but the morning was already hot and dry. There would not be much sweating today, Agathe thought to herself, I’ll just bake in the oven. She adjusted her police cap on her short cropped curly hair, cut up to a flat top. She looked smart in uniform; a light blue shirt, dark skirt and sensible shoes. A MINURCAT arm band identified her as part of the United Nations peace keeping operation in Chad. Of medium height with a solid build, Agathe had already lost the svelteness of her girlhood, a time she remembered with fondness in the far away green hills of southern Rwanda.

Eastern Chad was a wind swept land, covered now after the rains with wispy grass. Scraggly trees dotted the plains up to the edges of the rocky hills. Agathe smiled as she looked out upon hundreds of acres of maturing millet planted by the refugees. Coming as she did from generations of farmers, she knew how gratifying it was to see food bursting from the land. A good harvest would provide a nutritional buffer above the World Food Program rations. Additionally, some earned cash would greatly improve morale and the fairly miserable quality of rural life.

Agathe was happily greeted by dozens of children as she walked through the refugee settlement. She picked up Arabic phrases, but some kids called out in French or even in English. The refugees here were Sudanese whose families and tribes had flowed easily across the nearby border until Janjaweed raiders destroyed their herds and homes causing them to seek succor in Chad and international protection. Protection was Agathe’s job. She was one of six Rwandans assigned to the peace keeping operation in Chad. She along with fifty other police personnel from African nations were scattered among the twenty or so refugee camps strung out along the dusty frontier. They were backed up by a 3,000 man military force.

Policing the camp was not so tough. It was not the urban, packed camp, seething with political and ethnic hatred that Agathe experienced as a teenager in Zaire. There was no sense of impending doom and no swaggering, often drunk, genocidaires to avoid. Yet there were issues – politics bubbled along. The evil government of Bashir and his Janaweed thugs were thoroughly despised. Internal politics manifested themselves in the quest for extra ration cards, prominence on camp committees and thus access to international aid or NGO jobs. There were police issues, too. Domestic violence and petty theft were the most common, but individual disputes too regularly needed refereeing. Although it was not as big an issue here, in the northern camps, efforts had to be made to keep Sudanese rebel groups from recruiting youngsters for their military operations.

Agathe’s duty was to be present at the health clinic, to assure that the several hundred refugees stayed in line (they almost always did) and waited their turn. Once she had calmed emotional agitation after a (natural) death and she had otherwise ensured other orderly funeral processions. The clinic was a good place to listen and Agathe was frequently approached with various complaints.

“Madame?” a young woman queried.

“Yes,” Agathe responded, “Good morning.”

The girl introduced herself as Fatima. She was slender, fine featured, dressed head to foot in the local style in an off-yellow wrap; her head carefully covered. She nervously gathered her courage and asked if they could have a private talk. Agathe assured her that confidences would be respected.

“My uncle,” Fatima said, “wants to take me for a wife and says he will force me if I do not agree. I am only seventeen. He said today was the day. He will come for me tonight. My father is dead, my brothers too young and my mother depends on the family. She cannot help me. I detest this man. Living with him would mean slavery and rape. Can you help me? Can you hide me?” She began to weep quietly.

Agathe felt the girl’s desperation, but as yet no crime had been committed. Local culture sanctioned arranged marriages that often had some element of coercion to them, especially between older men and younger women. “Tell me more about him,” she asked.

“Moussa,” Fatima replied, “serves on the camp committee. He is a big man here, but carefully hides his ties to the rebels. He compels youth to leave their families to join the rebel forces in the bush.”

“Ah ha, so he is a recruiter?”

“Yes, but he also demands money, a tax from camp residents to support the war. And now he wants me.”

Agathe mulled this over. As a policewoman she had learned not to be hasty. Fatima’s story rang true and Agathe knew from painful personal experience the power that men held in the camps. No one – policeman or woman, soldier, peace keeper or responsible adult - had been there to help her when she was savagely raped over several days by a genocidaire gang inside the refugee camp in Zaire. Rather than defeat her, that incident convinced her to be strong and ultimately to join the police. Perhaps this was her test. She concluded this abduction won’t happen in this camp on this day.

“We need a plan,” Agathe told Fatima. She asked for the location of her mother’s compound and the whereabouts of her uncle’s. They conspired. “Okay, then,” Agathe concluded, “we’ll be ready, do your part.” Agathe hurried away.

Darkness fell like clockwork. Several hours later a feeble moon shown down through the lingering haze casting a muted light on the sleeping camp. Movement and cries arose from Fatima’s compound arousing the neighbors. Shortly Moussa dragged the protesting girl through the fence into the pathway.

“Halt,” a voice rang out and four lights blazed into startled faces. “Police. Let the child go.”

Moussa explained that it was a family matter, an arranged marriage in fact. He insisted on his status as a member of the camp committee. When interview by Agathe’s police superiors, Fatima said she was being taken, she thought, as an unwilling recruit for rebel forces. She told of Moussa’s role in seizing other youths, said she was only seventeen and wanted to stay with her mother.

“Moussa,” the policeman concluded, “we’ve long had an eye out for you. You know recruiting is not allowed. The punishment for it is expulsion from the camp. You will go with us now and tomorrow will be conveyed to Sudan, never to return to this camp under threat of prison.”

Still sputtering his importance, Moussa was led away.

Agathe exchanged a knowing nod with Fatima, then followed her leader into the dark.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Book Review - A Thousand Hills

Following is a review of A Thousand Hills : Rwanda’s Rebirth and the Man Who Dreamed It by Stephen Kinzer, published by John Wiley and Sons, Hoboken, NJ, 2008. I believe that I am well placed to comment on the book. I served as U.S. Ambassador to Rwanda from 1995 to 1999, knew President Kagame well and wrote a memoir, In the Aftermath of Genocide: The U.S. Role in Rwanda (iUniverse, 2005).

Author Stephen Kinzer, a journalist by profession, has written the latest book on Rwanda and one of the best studies ever of its enigmatic leader Paul Kagame. Kinzer uses Kagame’s life story as the structure for the book: flight from Rwanda as a small child, upbringing in Ugandan refugee camps, bitterness at being at “outsider,” signing on and rising to prominence in Uganda’s revolutionary army, plotting and executing an invasion of Rwanda, then taking over command of the Rwandan Patriotic Army and leading it to victory, halting the genocide and taking political power. Kinzer describes Kagame’s vision for a re-born, prosperous and hatred-free Rwanda and his dogged determination to pursue that goal. Finally, Kinzer notes that mostly due to his fierce will, Kagame’s vision is well on its way to achievement.

While sympathetic in tone, even sycophantic and apologetic at times, Kinzer did give space to Kagame’s critics and did show some of the great man’s warts. But overall, there is no hiding the fact that Kinzer admired Kagame’s military genius and his subsequent evolution into a substantive political leader and national president. Kinzer noted that without doubt, Rwanda’s post genocide success bears the unmistakable imprint of Paul Kagame.

The structure the book took was unusual. Kinzer used quoted transcripts of recent interviews with Kagame as commentary on historical events as they unfolded in the chronological narrative. That mechanism gave an interesting perspective – looking backwards – that helped explain occurrences, but also permitted revisionism. Hindsight is always clearer, especially as regards to motives. Perhaps because of that I have several qualms with the facts and the sequence of events as told in the book. I judge, for example that claims were overreaching to having devised a master strategy ahead of time for the first Zairian war leading to the removal of Mobutu. The evolution of conflict there was driven instead very much by the opportunities presented. No doubt Rwanda took good advantage of those opportunities, even in daring fashion, but the initial intervention was intended to empty the refugee camps, not to topple Mobutu. Secondly, I reject the notion that the USG informed any foreign intelligence services about Kagame’s departure from Ft. Leavenworth. I recall keeping his decision under wraps for several days. If someone put a lookout for him in Europe or Ethiopia, it was not the USG. American interests were best served by Kagame’s taking command of the RPF. Thirdly, I believe that the RPA/RPF leadership was quite collegial during its formative years and up to its first years in power. A committee of colonels did make many decisions collectively.

Back to the structure of the book, I found the juxtaposition of quotations to buttress the narrative disconcerting. There were no footnotes as such; instead there was an annex of page notes that did allow for some verification of who really said what, but often the citation was vague or from a “confidential conversation.” At least one (credited) exchange was lifted verbatim from my book and there appeared to be a lot of that in regard to other writings. A journalist’s technique, I suppose, as many news stories are structured in a similar fashion, i.e. report the story and use suitable quotations to prove it. But still, it did not strike me as the most credible way to get to the facts. I also thought that the final chapter invoking the high esteem of religiously motivated Americans for Kagame was pandering and under cut the more effective history presented earlier in the work.

My criticisms notwithstanding, A Thousand Hills does effectively tell the story of Rwanda, especially the story of Kagame and the Rwandan Patriotic Army. It is a gripping tale as the determination, perseverance and wisdom of the principal figures, chiefly Kagame himself, are carefully delineated. In short A Thousand Hills is a must read for those who want to better understand the complexities of Rwanda’s history and the basis for political and economic decisions being taken today. Finally, it has an excellent bibliography.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Eating Dirt

A short story

“Look at this,” she chortled slapping the newspaper down before me. “They’re eating dirt and think it cures AIDS.”

Indeed the head line screamed in boldest type. “Miracle Cure in Masaka!”

Times in Uganda in the mid-eighties were desperate. AIDS or “slim” in the vernacular was cutting a terrible swath through the population. Recognition of the scourge and its cause – sexual promiscuity – was beginning to crawl out from under a rock. There was growing public exposure of the malady and some very frank talk by President Museveni and other officials about the need to change irrevocably sexual behavior. Yet a deep sense of shame afflicted those who contracted the killer. They hid away and died quietly. Obituaries always referred to the cause of death as a “short illness.” And in those days before retro-virals were available, the terminal illness was usually short.

I read through the news story quickly. An elderly woman in Masaka, about eighty miles south of the capital, was telling her neighbors that her daughter, who had become skinny, weak and ill – obvious signs of AIDS – had rallied when fed a concoction of clay from her back yard. The old lady claimed traditional medical prowess and told the paper that she had used herbs and potions, including clay, for years to treat maladies. This remedy, this miracle, the paper asserted, could reverse the tide of death. It added that supplicants were beating a path to Masaka in search of the cure.

Normally, I would have joined in the chortle and recognized that sensationalism was a standard tactic to sell more papers, but I had recently lost another friend to AIDS. I saw the story more as a reflection of the desperation we all faced as this uncountable evil swept through the land. The stories of those lost were legion. As an expatriate I had no Ugandan relatives, but friends and their families were sorely afflicted. An outdoorsman, I had joined the Mountain Club of Uganda, whose members were a nice mix of foreigners and young Ugandans; all of us rock climbers and hikers. Outings included weekend trips to nearby granite outcroppings or a hike in the countryside. We mounted an annual ten-day expedition to the Ruwenzori’s and shorter trips to summit Uganda’s lesser mountains Our Ugandan colleagues were Ugandan yuppies – students and recent graduates of Makerere University. They included several medical students and others who by dint of their brains and perseverance were destined to be the next elite generation. Yet one by one our Ugandan colleagues were dying. There was nothing to chortle about.

I called Paul later in the day to ask his view of the Masaka cure. Endowed with an irrepressibly gregarious personality, he’d always been a straight shooter, although often embellishing his remarks with a twist of humor or a touch of irony. “Sure,” he said, “maybe she’s found it. An answer has to be somewhere. So far, clay from Masaka looks as good as anything from American laboratories. But,” he suggested, “let’s not guess, let’s go check it out.”

Why not, I thought. I ran the idea past the ambassador. He thought it was nuts, but told me to go if I wanted.

We set off the next morning. It was a beautiful clear day with clouds building up over the Lake. The road wove through banana plantations and small farms, and then straightened out crossing wide plains as it neared the expanses of Lake Victoria. Paul pointed out the bridges and culverts that had been battlegrounds when Museveni’s irregulars captured the capital several years earlier. Only one rusted hulk of a tank gave evidence of that struggle. Evidence of the new struggle, however, was ever present. Coffin making – and road side display of wares – was a growth industry.

Paul asked directions in Masaka. Shortly dozens of parked cars and a crowd of folks indicated we had come to the now famous shrine. It had turned into a commercial operation. For a couple of hundred shillings one could dig a basket full of backyard clay. Another couple of hundred shillings bought a consultation on the proper mixtures and dosage. The carnival air notwithstanding, there was an ardent sense of expectation. The intensity reminded me of religious pilgrims, for example, at Lourdes. Indeed it was a pilgrimage. I spoke hesitantly to several persons. Paul interpreted into Luganda as necessary. “This is our only hope.” “I believe God has blessed this place.” “My son is dying, this will save him.”

“Why not,” Paul said as he too scooped up a supply. “African magic does work. The Bible teaches that Jesus made miracles, and,” he concluded, “the worst might be clogged bowels.”

We talked a lot about faith, magic and hope on the way home. My western science told me it was all hokum, but I had undoubtedly seen a tremendous display of conviction by those in the old lady’s yard. I conceded that it was a slim straw to grasp, but what if there was some undiscovered mineral with medical properties?

Later I bounced the topic off Dr. Laura Hodge, an American epidemiologist striving to discover the true nature of the virus and how it took hold. She agreed that some old wives tales were based on solid science, but dismissed the clay as “Wishful thinking. It might improve a person’s will to live, but is essentially without medicinal merit.”

After several days on the front page, the story ran its course. A month or so later, I heard that the old lady’s daughter died after a “short illness.”

Yet hope remained an irrepressible part of an Ugandan day. Even in light of such tragedy, people pressed on, put on their best face and went out each day with a smile.

Book Review - A Farm Called Kishinev

Following is a review of A Farm Called Kishinev by Majorie Oludhe Macgoye. It was published by East African Educational Publishers, Nairobi, 2005.

Although presented in novel form, this book carefully recounts the efforts around the turn of the last century of the Zionist movement and the Imperial British government to create a Jewish settlement in what is today Kenya. The area in question was Uasin Gishu, the region surrounding Eldoret. At the time when the suggestion was under consideration, the Uasin Gishu plateau was deemed to be empty of African inhabitants and thus available for European settlement.

Arthur Marjore Macgoye, a muzungu who married into Kenya, did a superb job of research. She presents the facts, machinations and considerations - sometimes in excruciating detail - of those pushing or considering an East African option to Palestine. A commission was sent to the area, but despite its luke-warm endorsement, African was not chosen. Palestine remained the priority. As history shows there was no massive movement of European Jewry to Kenya.

From there the novel elaborates beyond the facts. Some Jews jumped a Zionist endorsement and immigrated. Their lives – arrival in Mombasa, travel to Londiani by rail, onward by ox cart, staking out a farm, becoming farmers, relations with nearby Nandi tribesmen and Boer farmers, the growth of Eldoret, and the internal challenges of remaining Jewish in a predominantly non-Jewish society – are the gist of the story. The trials and tribulations are recounted through the eyes of Benjamin, grandson of Isaac, the initial pioneer. By Benjamin’s time, Jewish families had truly become part of Kenya. This assimilation provides the opportunity for commentary on contemporary Kenyan society.

However, there is more. A second part of the book is a manuscript purportedly written by Isaac just before his death in 1943 and then finished by Benjamin that conjectures what Uasin Gishu would have been like if a Jewish homeland had been established in the region in 1898. The conjectures are an interesting bit of speculation.

A Farm Called Kishinev required dodged concentration because the narrative wandered around. Many details of the intricacies of Jewish culture escaped me, but I thought the Kenyan aspects to be accurate. This novel will appeal to those interested in Kenya’s history and in particular the role that the Jewish community played or might have played in Kenya’s development.

Monday, September 22, 2008


A short story.

“Patron,” the day guard was at the door. “Patron, the lady from next door, la Chinoise, is here to see you. Mogi killed her rabbits.”

That’s how it began. The Chinese lady, best known to the town as the “Chinese concubine” occupied the river front house just next door. The story was that she had been a gift from the government of Taiwan to the mercurial despot who ruled this small African nation. He was reputed to be ladies man of great sexual appetite who was genuinely touched by Taiwan’s gesture. By my time, however, la Chinoise was apparently largely ignored by His Excellency. She tended her garden and. kept a hutch of rabbits. I had waved or nodded to her from my yard from time to time, but she never acknowledged a greeting.

But there she was, standing on my stoop shifting nervously from foot to foot. Behind her was a soldier, one of her gate guards, his AK-47 dangled carelessly from one shoulder. He raised a bloody rabbit for my inspection.

My first thought was that the dog was still loose. Saying, “Wait, I must get the dog,” I rushed around the corner of the house where I found Mogi cowering by the back steps. He had blood on his muzzle, but appeared to have sustained a head wound that was also bleeding. Probably not from a rabbit, I thought. I hooked his rope and with him secured, hurried back to the front door.

I invited Madame in. With a wave, she dismissed the soldier and tip-toed in. I settled her on the sofa. She was a small woman, attractive with small facial features and very concise movements. Although I am not a good judge of women’s ages, especially Orientals, she was older than me. I guessed mid-thirties. I apologized profusely for my dog’s actions. I promised to set matters right, fix the fence and ensure that he was always properly confined. I regretted that children on their way down to the river frequently teased the dog by banging on the fence, but I pledged that he was not truly mechant.

“Monsieur,” she replied, “You must help me.”

“Yes,” I rejoined, “I will make restitution. I‘ll pay for your losses. We can find some new rabbits.”

“Naturally,” she responded, “but you must help me go to America. I cannot stand this awful place, my house is a prison, and that man,” she whispered, “he ignores me, then beats and humiliates me.” She began to cry.

Whoa, what’s up here! If I thought that my dog’s killing the president’s girl friend’s rabbits would get Mogi executed or me tossed out of the country, entertaining this woman’s dreams of flight would be much more dangerous. But, intrigued I wanted to hear her story.

It came out in bits and pieces. Her name was Lin. She was from a poor family in Taipei. Her father was a tailor. Unable to stay in school, she became a shop girl, but one who loved to party. From time to time, she admitted having escorted rich, lonely businessmen. One day, one of those men, a prominent government official, offered her a tidy sum to go with him to Africa. He promised a good trip and lots of fun times. She agreed. Next thing she knew, she was in this humid backwater being introduced to a big black man. Told that she must stay with him, her Taiwanese patron left. Although she did not know the language, it was clear what was expected of her. “What else could I do,” she sobbed.

Lin recounted life at the presidential palace. At first she was a favorite, showered with presents and granted deference. She learned a bit of French. Matters soon changed. Another girl came and she was shunted aside, first in the palace, and then sent to the river house. She was still summoned to service the president from time to time. She said she once asked for her freedom, but he demurred, got angry and beat her, threatening, “You belong to me alone. You can never leave. I will kill you first.” And he nearly did. With no passport, no money, no friends and twenty-four hour guards, Lin explained she had no opportunity to escape. “But I have a sister in Chicago,” she hoped. “She will take me in.”

After this exchange I sent her home. I told her I would have to check with my ambassador. Meanwhile, she should send me her sister’s name and address. An envelope with that information was slipped through the fence that same night. Taped to the corner was a rough diamond, a potential gemstone of perhaps three carats

Objectively, she was a trafficked person and a victim of continued abuse. On the other hand moral turpitude seemed applicable. She all but admitted to being a prostitute. What to do? Her sister checked out. She was real, married to a marine, and ready to welcome and sponsor her sibling. The diamond would pay the way. Washington too liked the case, the rescue of a victim of sexual trafficking. The ambassador wasn’t so sure. He saw the downside of the president’s ire, should his prized Chinese trophy be spirited away. There was a downside for me too, should she leave, I would probably be fingered as her accomplice; expulsion loomed or worse given the unpredictable violent nature of the president and his thugs.

Finally, it was decided. We’d give her a refugee visa. It was up to me to figure how to get her out. I tossed it around with the clandestine guys. Clearly an exit strategy through the airport was out. That left road or river, both were viable, but road meant at least two days still in country. River was a thirty minute exit, but then a thousand miles to an international airport. Even though the woman had no intelligence value, the chief of station was intrigued; mostly it seemed by the sheer challenge of it. So, that is how it went down – a night pirogue to Zaire, missionary flight to Kisangani, connection to Kinshasa and on to New York.

Toting a box of rabbits, I carried the plan to Lin. She was scared, but readily agreed. I bid her good bye on the banks of the Oubangui one overcast night. She apologized for opening the fence, temping Mogi with a dead rabbit and cutting him. “It was my only way out.”

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Book Review - Chief of Station, Congo

Following is a review of Larry Devlin's memoir entitled Chief of Station, Congo, published by Public Affairs, NY, 2007.

For all Americans overseas who have been wrongly accused of being CIA agents, and who often wondered just what a CIA agent might do, this book provides the answer. It is a tell-all memoir by Larry Devlin, head of CIA operations in the Congo in the early 1960s.

Devlin unashamedly blows his own horn in recounting narrow escapes from drunken soldiers, armed burglars and blowhard ideologues. Perhaps some of these stories aren’t too embellished as the Congo was, in its early independent days, truly a wild and wooly place. Yet the heart of the memoir is a serious defense of – and an attempt to explain to contemporary readers – America’s cold war motivations, i.e. our conviction that Africa in general and the Congo in particular risked sliding irrevocably into the embrace of the Soviet Union. Such an eventuality would threaten the United States by loss of access to the Congo’s mineral wealth, including uranium, but more importantly would strengthen the Soviet Union’s standing world wide. Consequently if the Soviets rose, the U.S. would fall. Even though archaic by current standards and a bit foolish in hindsight, Devlin does accurately portray the intensity that policy makers – including presidents Eisenhower and Kennedy and CIA chief Dulles – felt about the global contest with Khrushchev.

With that as a backdrop, Devlin immerses the reader in the minutia of Congolese politics: President Kasavubu, his squabbles with enigmatic Patrice Lumumba, the danger posed by Katangan secessionist Tshombe, and the behind the scenes role of the Binza group, especially that of Joseph Desire Mobutu. Their machinations played out against a nation in turmoil unprepared for independence where a UN peacekeeping force was a recalcitrant western presence. Devlin used the power, i.e. money, of his position to recruit a number of influential agents. In retrospect this was not difficult as his agents - of course, names are fudged - shared the U.S. objective of keeping Lumumba and fellow “communists” out of power; plus the added benefit of putting themselves in. Devlin recounts how he and the ambassadors he reported to used their entrè and contacts to influence developments.

Devlin takes pains to note that he deliberately stonewalled an instruction to assassinate Lumumba, instead believing that isolating him politically was sufficiently effective. Secondly, he denied any role in planning or abetting Mobutu’s 1965 coup d’etat, even though he readily admitted using his relationship with Mobutu afterwards to forward U.S. goals.

This memoir is an interesting read, especially for those aficionados of Congolese history or of clandestine operations.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Where is Africa Going?

Opinion by Robert E. Gribbin

I get asked this question a lot. My usual response is that some parts of Africa are doing quite well. They are vaguely democratic, politically stable, socially at peace and making satisfactory economic progress. A number of wars have ended in recent years. However, at the other end of the spectrum stands Zimbabwe, which is going to hell in a hand basket. Sudan is mired in never ending conflict; ditto for Somalia and the Congo. Yet that thumb nail sketch does not do justice to the successes and failures on the continent. This piece probably won’t either, but it is intended to provoke thought about the current situation, what might transpire in the next five years or so, and what the U.S. could be doing about it.


In looking critically at the last decade, one must conclude that Africa is better off. There is less conflict, more democratic governments and more wide-spread economic growth. More kids are in school, roads have improved, there is better water and sanitation, communications have evolved, for example independent FM radio stations cell phones are everywhere. The continental economic growth rate exceeded five percent in 2007 and is above six percent in 2008. Economies are better managed, private sectors freer and trade more widespread. African nations as a group are taking more responsibility for the continent, both in terms of regional security – peace keeping forces in Sudan, Somalia and Ivory Coast are African - and in terms of economic and social progress encompassed in the Millennium Development Goals to which they have subscribed. A few nations like Ghana, Uganda, Tanzania, Namibia, Botswana, Mauritius, Mali and Rwanda have made dramatic economic progress and many others now have economic growth exceeding population growth.

American Interests

At the outset, let’s enumerate American priorities so we can keep them in mind as we dissect the issues. First, we recognize that it is not our sole responsibility to “rescue” Africa from its ills, but we do have an obligation to help. Furthermore we have interests in Africa that we want to protect

I would sum up our interests as follows:
-- access to oil (Africa currently supplies about 20 percent of our imports. This should rise to over 25 % within five years.)
-- containment of international blights – terrorism, drugs, trafficking in persons, illegal migration, AIDS, malaria.
-- reduction of conflict (Africa currently has four active wars – Sudan, Somalia, Ethiopia/Eritrea, and Congo. Plus hot spots in Chad, CAR, Ivory Coast, Uganda and Zimbabwe.)
-- humanitarian aid to the vulnerable (usually victims of conflict, natural disaster or pervasive poverty).
-- trade and investment opportunities (American know-how and capital ought to be competitive).
-- African support in international fora (In UN institutions, Africa often holds the swing votes, but casts them in unhelpful ways).

Global Issues

First global issues hit Africa hard. Climate change that results in unpredictable weather, especially drought, generates enormous problems for the several dozen nations of the Sahael, southern and eastern Africa that fall into the crescent of dryness that circles the center of Africa. With poor rains food production becomes more seasonally precarious. Obvious life for a hundred million subsistence farmers becomes more uncertain as well. Some will starve. Many will be less well nourished. Since the west is committed to helping to alleviate food deficits, the west will be expected to pony up hundreds of millions more tons of food – and that when our production costs are sky rocketing. One bright spot in the nutritional picture is the innovation of a peanut butter condensed milk concoction, which when fed to malnourished children turns them into healthy active youngsters within weeks.

Climate change will exacerbate the existing tendency for urban migration. Millions more people will move to towns and cities seeking alternatives to hard scrabble farms. Pastoralists too will move with their animals into areas erstwhile inhabited by farmers thus exacerbating conflict over land and water. Such tensions already under pin the Darfur crisis and have been felt across the Sahael for decades.

Water is a key resource in Africa; not only in the dry lands but elsewhere when used for irrigation, hydropower and most importantly for better health. Improved management of water and the provision of potable water is the essential environmental/health issue for the continent.

Sustained high fuel costs could cripple the modern sectors of Africa’s economy. These are the sectors that market cash crops, organize small to medium businesses and create jobs. They are, in fact, the sectors where broad national economic growth occurs, but instead of turning a profit, entrepreneurs risk finding themselves looking at deficits. For example, many bus and truck companies will fail and among other victims will be the burgeoning number of private airlines.

National treasuries will run up extra debt. Normally they have to foot the bills for regular governmental operations, but since most are overcommitted to existing bare bones operations, higher costs will result in increased debt. Thus in five to ten years, the world community will certainly need to re-engage in another round of massive debt relief for Africa. Meanwhile, any excess capacity in national budgets that might have been used for economic development will simply have disappeared along with the anticipated projects. Government generated growth will stall.

Yet there are always silver linings and unintended consequences. Higher fuel costs will have marginally less impact on subsistence farmers, so life at the bottom of the pyramid won’t get much worse. Similarly, higher fuel costs should slow the (often illegal) exploitation of timber along the western coast and in the Congo basin. Higher oil costs are speeding up development of more effective solar and wind energy alternatives. Since all of Africa is blessed with sunshine and wind in abundance, improved technology will have positive consequences.

On the other hand oil producing nations will accrue windfall profits. While all this black ink will look good from afar, few of these nations have done credible jobs in using wealth for the benefit of their citizens. Even though with greatly enhanced revenues there will probably be a better stream of government resources trickling down, the scope of corruption these societies are likely to experience boggles the mind.

A Little List

Let’s look at several countries and speculate how they might fare in coming years.

West Africa

First, Liberia. The reality is that Liberia has surprisingly emerged from several decades of strife. At the moment it has an effective president in Ellen Sirleaf Johnson as well as the attention and support of the donor community. Liberians are breathing sighs of relief, but their nation remains on life support. Should either of the supporting pillars be knocked away, the slide back to degradation and violence will be quick. Part of the solution in Liberia (as is true for all nations of the continent) lies in institutional development. The nation needs a viable constitution, a functioning judicial system and an effective police force. It does not need more warlords, or even much of an army (which in some fashion or another caused most past woes). It needs a better educated public (much of Liberia’s human capital remains in exile), better health systems, improved roads, a resurgence of rubber planting and effective exploitation of iron and timber. For the time being the U.S. is invested heavily in Liberia’s future, but should Liberia’s leadership change or progress deteriorate, American commitment might well waiver.

Ghana earns strong economic and political marks for achievements of the past two decades. It seems to have a broad based viable economic and political system, but Ghana’s trading economy will be hard hit by higher fuel prices. Because much of the stability is due to the effective stewardship of President John Kufor, the test for Ghana will be a successful transition to the next generation of leaders.

Sahaelean nations – Senegal, Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger – have done surprisingly well over the past several decades. They were most impacted by the terrible droughts and famines of the seventies and eighties and yet have survived and thrived. So perhaps, my consternation about climate change is overstated. For the most part – except for uranium in Niger – these are agriculturally based economies where issues of arable land and water/rain availability are crucial.

Nigeria is Africa’s largest, most populous, richest and most politically complex country. Money has made all the difference. Nigeria is a vibrant energetic place where schemes legal and illegal are the staff of daily life. Once a major food producer, Nigeria now uses its oil wealth to import food. That sort of describes how the economy has shifted away from self sufficiency to living off the fat of black gold. Nigerians’ sense of entitlement is strong. Direct oil related business is good, indirect oil financed business – banking, real estate, trading goods – is also good. Finally, all government revenues both at the federal and state level are oil generated and very good for whoever has the political clout to access them. Oil is both a blessing and a curse. Unfortunately the blessing has not been well used; in particular little economic or social development has occurred in oil producing states. This has engendered ongoing anti-government, anti-oil company violence that shows no signs of dissipating. Lagos, probably Africa’s largest urban melting pot seethes with poverty and crime, some of the latter now tied to international drug trafficking. Even in the northern regions that once benefited from southern wealth, factories lie abandoned on account of the collapse of the national electrical grid and rail system. Many ask where did the money go?

Naturally oil under pins politics where religion and tribalism also count. Heretofore, Nigeria has shifted the presidency (both via election and coup d’etat) between Yorubaland in the west and the Islamic north. Iboland in the east had its one unsuccessful president in the beginning, but since the mid-sixties civil war has been excluded from national sweepstakes. Current chief of state Yar’Adua came to power via a fraudulent election in 2007, but once ensconced in power has proven to be fairly effective. Should he not live out his term(s), it is unlikely that ineffective Vice President Goodluck Johnson would be permitted to succeed him. A military takeover, pending election (probably fraudulent) of another northern president would be likely. Meanwhile, economic chaos in overdrive will keep Nigeria from reaching its potential.

Conflict in Central Africa

Chad located smack dab in the center of the continent is the meeting place for every woe. Its history of civil strife pits southerners against northerners, blacks versus Arabs, pastoralists versus farmers, tribe against tribe and even internal violence within tribes. Zaghawa chief of state Idress Deby rode Sudanese support and French acquiescence to power ten years ago. Failing in health, he is now pressed from all sides: his Zaghawa brothers believe he has not sufficiently supported the Zaghawa component of the neighboring Darfurian rebels, the government of Sudan who believes he is supporting them, indigenous Arab tribesmen who want their turn at the trough, majority southerners who want the newly found oil resources from the south used in the south. All this against the back drop of spreading drought and the presence of over half a million Sudanese refugees. Meanwhile Qaddafi continues to meddle, but the French monitor and step in from time to time to preserve the status quo. Could it get worse? Yes, and it probably will as Dafurian issues will continue to overflow and will compound and complicate this troubled hot spot.

Is there hope for the Sudan? Only cockeyed optimists see matters falling into place. This will require full observance of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement, the southern peace treaty that provides for power sharing between the north and south. Secondly, provisions regarding the future of the oil province of Abyei must be adhered to (this means letting the province join the south); third, separation of the south (that will undoubtedly be chosen by southern voters via referendum scheduled for 2011) must be permitted. Fourth, the government in Khartoum must begin to deal responsibly with Darfurian rebels and the international community. Finally, the onus is also on Darfurian rebel leaders to forego internal bickering, posturing and war lording and truly seek peace – a stance that they have thus far eschewed. Achievement of this rosy scenario probably means a change of regime in Khartoum. The problem there is that the current leadership of hard liners is well dug in. There will be no democratic evolution and any sort of a palace coup would just be a change of faces.

The prognosis for Sudan is bleak, but the looming separation of the south is key. Should that happen with only a little violence, rather than a return to full scale warfare, then the Sudan will probably begin a breakup into component parts – an independent south, an autonomous west and a rump state in Khartoum. Because the Bashir regime in Khartoum has much to lose when/if the nation divides, it will be predictably violent and very dangerous vis a vis its opponents, both internal and external, i.e. those nations, including the U.S., that are pressing for evolution.

Change, but not dramatic change will come to several central African states. Long term Presidents Bongo of Gabon and Biya of Cameroon will pass on, but the leadership of each nation is likely to find suitable replacements. Tiny Equatorial Guinea that sits on an enormous pool of oil will create dozens of billionaires (from the President’s family) but violent repression that is the hallmark of politics there will not change. Finally, the Central African Republic will remain politically unstable and economically deprived no matter who comes to power.

The Democratic Republic of the Congo is currently hailed by some as a success story, a nation that is retreating from the abyss of total chaos. True, with UN help the Congolese government of Joseph Kabila achieved elected legitimacy. Plus, a new constitution decentralizing government was adopted and relative peace prevails throughout much of the land. The Kivu provinces in the east, however, remain quagmires of violence, mistrust and tribal antagonisms. More than half a million citizens are internally displaced and even then threatened daily by a mish mash of a genocidaires, Mai Mai, vigilante forces and Tutsi militias – not to mention the newly reconstituted national army. To the extent the east is being held together it is by virtue of the UN peacekeeping operation. Elsewhere in this vast nation, the writ of government rarely writes. Education and health systems are rudimentary, there are few roads and no functioning judicial systems. As in years past, corruption remains the motor of politics and business. Exploitation of natural resources – diamonds, copper, cobalt, coltan, rubber, timber – continues apace. The faces of the exploiters have changed over the years from white to black, and now include Rwandans, Ugandans and Zimbabweans, but their disrespect for legal convention remains steadfast.

I suspect a more viable peace will gradually emerge in the Kivus. As that occurs, external attention to the Congo will again wane and the nation will be left to struggle with its overwhelming problems. The devolution of authority to the provinces holds some hope for more accountable government locally, but the success of this venture has yet to be registered. So far, regional parliaments have just brought the practice of corruption closer to home. Without the UN’s money, expertise and MONUC’s (the UN Peacekeeping Force) transportation assets, Congo is not likely have another “free and fair” election.

East Africa Rebounding

In the fourteen years since genocide, Rwanda has rebounded nicely. Today the nation enjoys peace, social stability, ostensible democracy and growing economic prosperity. Given where it has been, Rwanda is indeed a success. Yet, issues remain. It is still a very poor overcrowded nation with no land to spare for younger generations. These folks will have to be absorbed into the economy in ways other than subsistence farming. More unsettling is the fact that political power rests in the hands of a small oligarchy that has foregone opportunities to widen the participatory envelope. Instead they have closed it. Even though this group headed by President Paul Kagame certainly means well and is operating with the nation’s best interests in mind, the fact remains that it is a minority, albeit with the veneer of majority endorsement. That being said, although hard hit by higher fuel prices (Rwanda is the only African state two borders from the sea) Rwanda will do well over the medium term. Over the longer term, however, some mechanisms to foster greater political inclusion and to permit wider latitude for dissent will need to be devised in order to keep the nation on a positive path.

Despite all its woes, neighboring Burundi appears to have found that path. The end of civil war brought multi-party, multi-ethnic democracy to Burundi in 2005. This was a true social revolution as power realistically transferred to the majority Hutu group, but with protections and inclusions for the Tutsi minority. While welcoming this dramatic change, the international community has paid mostly lip service to it. Hoped for support has not materialized. The peace divided has been low. For the most part Burundi is being left to forge its own way. So far, Burundians are doing well. One note for the future is that as was the case in Congo and Liberia, Burundi’s last election was conducted with considerable assistance from the UN. Such help is not likely to be available in the future.

Other nations in East Africa have been doing their own elections for a while. Tanzania has the best record in having changed presidents now three times. Enlightened policies have revived its once moribund economy as well.

Kenya’s 2008 elections were properly done. Challenger Odinga probably won, but a cadre around the loser, President Kibaki, hijacked the results. The resulting crisis tore the tribal fabric of Kenya asunder. Days of violence resulted in hundreds dead and tens of thousands chased from their homes. Civil war loomed. Fortunately, heads were knocked together and a compromise cobbled out of the debacle. In a decidedly African manner, the protagonists joined together in a unity government. Political squabbling returned to the halls of Parliament and the cabinet room rather than being fought out in the streets. This boded well for resumption of economic activity. Kenya will adhere to this compromise political structure with two big men on top – President Kibaki and Prime Minister Odinga - pending a revised constitution that implants an independent neutral electoral commission. During the next scheduled election Kenyans and the world will insist that shenanigans be absent.

Uganda under President Yoweri Museveni’s leadership since 1986 achieved status as a dynamic, forward looking, and progressive nation. However, as he has gotten older Museveni has become inflexible, especially with regard to the termination of his stewardship, but his time will come. Uganda has matured from the bloodletting and divisive politics of the Obote and Amin eras and is poised to make a transition from Museveni to an elected successor. This risks being a noisy, even nasty process, but should occur in accordance with the constitution.

Southern Africa Imbroglios

Further south in Zimbabwe, Robert Mugabe has proven himself incapable of seeing that his time has come and gone. Now nothing more than a vindictive irascible old man, Mugabe’s cling to power is both his choice and that ordained by a vicious set of thugs determined to keep ZANU-FP on top - and their fortunes with it. Consequences for the people of Zimbabwe be damned. And they are damned, damned to needless poverty and hardship in a land that once flowed with prosperity. It could again, but will now await God’s decision on Mugabe’s earthly tenure. Sadly, a military coup will most likely follow bringing more of the same misery.

South Africa lays claim to predominance in southern Africa and rightly so. Compared to other states it is an economic giant. South Africa’s economic might will continue. It’s economy is diverse and as some sectors flourish – mining for example – others commercial farming for example, might stagnate, but a balance will ensue.

President Mbeki has been reluctant to use South Africa’s political prominence in positive ways. He has not demonstrated leadership in confronting Mugabe – despite the fact that hundreds of thousands of Zimbabweans illegally migrated to South Africa to escape hopelessness at home. Mbeki’s rejection of universally accepted truths about how AIDS spreads caused consternation about his reasoning abilities. Although claiming a mantle of liberation and thus new approaches to problems, in international institutions South Africa rarely deviates from tired third world formulas dating from the cold war era designed to thwart and antagonize rather than to solve problems. Thus, the west does not find South Africa and the African states it influences reasonable interlocutors on the issues of the day ranging from human rights to nuclear proliferation.

Mbeki will pass the baton to the next ANC president, Jacob Zuma in 2009. Zuma is a bit more modern, but it remains to be seen if he has the moxie to be a real regional leader. Observers more attuned to internal South African issues than I judge that keeping the multi-racial/tribal political and economic coalition intact will become increasingly difficult in future years. The consensus that fostered post-apartheid South Africa is fraying as under pressures from all sides. The honeymoon is definitely over and harder, more divisive issues – sharing wealth, land tenure, job creation, tribalism, immigrants, government intrusion into business, etc. – will be the grist of politics in years to come.

Always Trouble in the Horn

The Horn of Africa will for the foreseeable future remain mired in problems of its own making. The stalemated war between Eritrea and Ethiopia will go nowhere because the two bull headed chiefs of state have too much of their personal egos on the line. This has consequences, especially for Eritrea because this small state has never really had the time to grow into its own. Now its populace adheres to a war footing where hardship will not abate.

In Ethiopia Prime Minister Meles has become increasingly autocratic and rules from an even narrower base of minority Tigrean support. The cost of war and antipathy of the majority of Amharic citizens conspire to keep economic growth low and a wave of out migration strong. Meles has seized opportunities - to wit the invasion of Somalia - to burnish his standing with the United States. For the time being that strong anti-terrorism stance has deflected anti-democracy criticism, but Ethiopia’s deteriorating record bears careful scrutiny.

Somalia will make little or no progress during coming years. Ethiopian forces will leave, but inept Ugandan and Burundian troops that under African Union command don’t have a fighting mandate won’t be able to enforce peace. Insecurity will continue. Somalis, however, operate with long time frames and over time indigenous structures, such as negotiations among clan elders, will help restore some semblance of daily order. Nonetheless, a functioning national state is unlikely to emerge.

In addition to the progressive states noted earlier, Cape Verde, Benin, Mozambique and Madagascar are also doing well. At the opposite extreme; Guinea Bissau, the province of Nigerian and South American drug lords, is struggling. Ivory Coast has not yet emerged from internal conflict and Guinea risks collapse into anarchy. Comoros has recently begun a slow climb out of anarchy. Finally, citizens in all African states suffer from poverty, inequities, poor social services and unresponsive governments. Those after all are the characteristics of the developing world.

Advancing American Interests and Policies

To recapitulate our interests are:

-- access to oil.
-- containment of international blights.
-- reduction of conflict.
-- humanitarian aid to the vulnerable.
-- trade and investment opportunities.
-- African support in international organizations.

Protection and advancement of American national interests is best accomplished by helping to create stable democratic nations with viable growing economies. Such a community of states would not be warring, would respect the rule of law, would create jobs and opportunities at home, would be responsible international partners and would not be breeding grounds for international terrorists. We have existing programs designed to do some of this, but many are sort of scatter shot. For example, our anti-AIDS activities accomplished via the PEPFAR program are very effective. However, PEPFAR is only active in 12 (out of 53) states. Similarly with USAID that unfortunately retrenched about fifteen years ago and eliminated dozens of worthy states from direct bilateral assistance. The Africa Growth Opportunities Act (AGOA) has provided limited trade benefits to textile producers and the Millennium Challenge Account (MCA) has usefully financed a limited number of infrastructure projects. The Department of Defense via newly created Africa Command apparently intends to build on military assistance programs to dramatically expand military aid to Africa on a selective basis. Finally, Peace Corps remains a highly successful people-to-people program as intended, but expansion in eastern Europe and Central Asia has left Africa (again) holding the short straw.


The new Congress and the new president should look carefully at the dichotomies of American efforts in Africa and seek to bring consistency and logic to policy efforts. On a global basis the U.S. needs to fully fund the Department of State so that it might field the number of diplomats needed to advance our interests. (Currently the Department is about one thousand persons short in a planned total staff of 7,500 diplomats because of administration/Congressional decisions not to meet funding requests. That coupled with requirements to staff Iraq and Afghanistan has robbed embassies worldwide of personnel, Africa being no exception).

For Africa, I recommend:

• A broad policy discussion internally within the USG to clarify democracy policies and how we intend to pursue them. Case by case circumstances do differ as do U.S. interests at stake, but we should not disavow or neglect free and fair elections as criteria for bilateral relations.

• Reinvigorate USAID so that it will have the leadership, the mandate and the resources to be America’s chief provider of development assistance. Poverty alleviation and democracy programs are sound investments, but a revamped agency needs to look also at infrastructure – water, dams, irrigation, electrical grids, ports, railroads, roads - and other larger projects, especially in the agricultural sector, that have multiplier effects on economic growth. Part of a revised mandate would be greater geographic coverage. Logically MCA should be subsumed into a new USAID.

• Rein-in AFRICOM. Our military/security interests are minimal. We are not going to war in Africa. We ought not to be in the business of strengthening armies whose chief responsibility is to maintain oppressive governments in power. Civic tranquility should be the responsibility of police forces (there we can help). Development and humanitarian relief are best (and more cheaply) done by civilian experts, so why create a war fighting $300 million, two thousand person headquarters entity whose real function will be management of about $150 million in bilateral training and a few exercises? - a job that heretofore was done by a dozen people. Congress should walk this horse back to the barn. (As an aside, it would be hard to think of a more inappropriate name than Africa Command, a sobriquet which implies both American paternalism and imperialism.) As a second part of this retrenchment, American troops should be withdrawn from Djibouti.

• Although recognizing that global terrorism rears its head in Africa – to wit bombing of U.S. embassies in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam, we must refrain from letting anti-terrorism become the pretext for supporting otherwise unsavory regimes. Striking the necessary balance will require carefully vetted intelligence, sound perspective, good judgment and good communication between Washington policy makers and Ambassadors in the field.

• We have a proven record of gaining friends in Africa and helping them understand us via cultural exchange and civic education programs. Consistent with other neglect, funding for these activities has sunk in the last decade. Let’s re-engage and revitalize these people-to-people contacts.

• Maintain support for Peacekeeping. Operations in Sudan, Congo, Somalia, Ivory Coast and Burundi merit full U.S. support. Besides training, supplying and transporting African contingents for deployment, we could do more. Supplying fifteen helicopters for UNAMID in Darfur, Sudan would be a start.

• Prepare for an even greater food crisis in Africa as its population grows and arable land decreases on account of climate change. This should be double tracked: expanded assistance for local production coupled with plans for greater export of food surpluses from the U.S.


Obviously the topic is larger than can be dealt with satisfactorily in this article, but the change of administrations offers an opportunity to assess, study, modify and change as necessary. We can and should do a better job of helping African nations and peoples better their circumstances, enjoy peace, participate in pluralistic political systems and become more fully integrated into the wider community of the planet.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Book Review - Say You're One of Them

Following is a review of Uwem Akpan's collection of stories entitled Say You’re One of Them. It was published by Little, Brown and Co., New York 2008

This collection of stories – two long and three short – received rave reviews in the major media. The attention was well deserved because the collection is unique. It consists of recitations from the child’s perspective of very adult themes – abject poverty, child prostitution, religious intolerance, trafficking in persons and genocide. There are no happy endings. Although it was never explained, I suppose the odd title is designed to encourage the reader to identify with the victims.

The author Uwem Akpan is Nigerian born, obviously an author, but also a Catholic priest. Even though religious themes figure in several of the stories, he certainly was not dogmatic. All organized religious systems came in for criticism. However, getting to the kernel of the matter is what Akpan did best. Because his narrators are innocents, the horrors they uncover or elicit are all the more revolting. Indeed Akpan’s children live in terrible worlds – worlds not of their own making.

The five stories are set in Kenya, Nigeria, Ethiopia and Rwanda. By and large Akpan has the locales and settings nailed. Dialogue between characters strikes chords of realism, even though sometimes it becomes a bit wearisome and difficult for those of us not attuned to Nigerian muttering. Akpan tosses Swahili into the Kenyan story, Kinyarwanda into the Rwandan one, a couple of words of Amharic for Ethiopia, good French alongside Pidgin English in one Nigerian story and a variety of uttering in the other. As with any good dialogue the language compliments the narrative and gives instant reality to the characters.

The book opens with a disturbing Christmas story set in Nairobi’s slums wherein the breadwinner for her family is a twelve year old prostitute. Yet amidst the squalor of her family’s life, there is family and some semblance of hope. How it plays out is the gist of the tale. The book closes with a Rwandan tragedy wherein a little girl must watch how her ethnically mixed family decides who lives or dies.

The two longer stories - one about human trafficking and the other dealing with religious violence - are set in Nigeria. Because of their length more transpires and we learn more about the people involved. They are victims of poverty, greed, ignorance and fear. I liked the story entitled “Luxurious Hearses” best. It seemed to shed light not only on religious intolerance, but on how peoples’ beliefs motivate them and how easily they get caught up in mob violence. Additionally, there was telling commentary regarding the absurdity of Nigerian politics from the perspective of those at the bottom of the pyramid. Finally, construction of the story was intriguing because it occurred on a bus in a bus park waiting to carry refugees from northern violence southward towards home. I was not sure how the author would pull it off. But he did.

In sum, innocent children are caught up in vortices of violence and vice, of which they only grasp the barest outlines. Readers, on the other hand, clearly see the evil at play. By design the book tugs your heartstrings; you pity the children, denounce the adults and deplore the circumstances.

Monday, June 30, 2008

The Eye of the Leopard - a book review

The Eye of the Leopard by Henning Mankell was published by The New Press, NY, 2008.

This novel by Swedish author Mankell was first published in 1990 in Swedish. The English translation came out earlier this year.

The story bounces back and forth between the Sweden of protagonist Hans’ youth and his later days as a farmer in Zambia from 1969 to 1987. It is a complex novel that takes American readers into two different cultural worlds, both of which are not easy to understand.

Hans comes from a broken home where he was raised by a drunken father. Mostly an observer in his home village, he had but two friends: a boy his own age who was injured in a tragic accident and a disfigured woman Janine about ten years his senior. Theirs was a weird ménage, but out of the destructive force of their friendship came the impetus for Hans to abandon Sweden to seek his fortunes in Africa.

Initially Hans only aspired to visit a missionary hill station to honor Janine, who had always wanted to go there, but circumstances got complicated and rootless Hans was drawn progressively into a continent and culture that he was poorly equipped to fathom and never really understood. Befriended by European farmers, at the behest of a widow, he took over a chicken farm that he ran for nearly twenty years.

Hans’ Africa education allows author Mankell to investigate many aspects of Europeans’ encounters with Zambians. The thrust of the story puts Hans in league with the small community of post-independence European farmers. Although critical of their attitudes, he comes to understand their fears, if not their love-hate relationship with Africa and with Zambians. Despite trying to be more modern in his relationships with Africans, Hans increasingly faces the conundrum of not belonging. Betrayal, violence and political intrigue bring matters to a head.

In the course of the novel author Mankell touches on racism, witchcraft, missionary zeal, sex, work ethic, foreign assistance, corruption and politics - all in compelling fashion.

“Superstition I can understand, but how can one convert someone from poverty?”

“It isn’t normal to live a life surrounded by hate.”

“The poverty of the whites is their vulnerability.”

“Aid work would be easy if we did not have to deal with Africans.”

“A white man in Africa is someone who takes part in a play he knows nothing about.”

Neither Europeans nor Africans come off well in this novel. No one breaks out of the stereotype assigned by the author, but their interactions do provide a solid background for the drama of the plot. There is considerable introspection by Hans about what life is or means, mostly when in a malarial fever, but this provides the mechanism to jump back and forth in time and between countries.

Although set in Zambia (and authentic in regard to geography), every part time visitor to anywhere in Africa will recognize the cultural dissonance that provides the grist for the book. It is an intriguing read that works slowly to one of two possible predictable ends.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Prime Minister Raila Odinga in Washington

I attended this talk and wrote the following report.

The Honorable Raila Odinga, Prime Minister of Kenya, spoke at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington on June 17 on the topic of “Kenya: A Way Forward.” The Prime Minister thanked the U.S. and high ranking officials for their support during Kenya’s recent difficulties. He commended foreign partners led by former UN Secretary General Anan and retired President Mkapa from Tanzania for helping to achieve internal peace. He noted that the transition government was now 60 days old. He admitted that the process of establishing the “grand coalition” had required soul searching, sacrifice and compromise, but that the Orange Democratic Movement was determined to make it work. He later added that he and President Kibaki have a viable partnership.

Reflecting on post election violence, Odinga said that Kenya “had lived a lie” in thinking it was immune from such disturbances. It was not an island of peace, but its façade had hidden disparities, inequalities and anger. Some issues dated from colonial times, others came later; all should have been addressed earlier. However, now was the time. A first step would be a new constitution. He also pledged investigations into election irregularities and human rights violations. He supported the creation of a truth, justice and reconciliation process.

The Prime Minister noted that Kenya now faces enormous economic difficulties. The chaos stalled the economy and the rains have been poor. Growth has tumbled. The new cabinet – bloated he said by necessity – will work through committees to redress the nation’s ills. Reviving the economy is a major task. Kenya will count on its friends and outside investors to help.

During his talk Odinga also strongly criticized President Mugabe of Zimbabwe saying that elections there were a “sham” and an “embarrassment” to the continent. He called on African leaders, especially President Mbeki to step up and help resolve the crisis.

In answering a question about how to restore the social fabric, the Prime Minister said that Kenya would draw on the experience of others such as South Africa to help salve wounds. Proposals for a truth and reconciliation commission were being studied. Those persons involved in mob violence would face no sanctions, but perpetrators of crimes would be prosecuted. Abuses by security forces would be investigated. Issues of compensation for victims have not been decided. Odinga noted that in the aftermath of violence, Kenyans themselves discovered their interdependence. Matatus needed passengers, just as passengers needed matatus; similarly for shops and shoppers, farmers and markets. He implied that these interconnections boded well for reestablishment of societal trust.

The Prime Minister acknowledged that land issues remain troublesome. He said that many internally displaced persons - not just Kikuyus, but Luos too - had long been settled outside of their traditional homelands. Generations later these folk have little knowledge of where their ancestors came from, so they have no “homes” to return to. He stated that land reform would be a priority and opined that the breaking up of large European farms into small plots that were increasingly sub-divided had not served the nation well. He suggested that agricultural advantages of scale could be achieved and better services provided to citizens if farms were managed cooperatively.

Comment: Prime Minister Odinga made an impressive presentation to the effect that Kenya is on the way back and on a thoughtful track. Clearly, he knows the issues and appears determined to treat them straight forwardly. Whether or not the governing coalition will permit this to occur, remains to be seen. That notwithstanding, Odinga’s visit to Washington and contacts with policy makers in the administration, the Congress and the World Bank was designed to raise Kenya’s (and Odinga’s) image and to assure interlocutors that serious efforts – that merit American support – are underway. Without doubt, that message is being heard.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Book Review - The Zanzibar Chest

Following is a book review:

The Zanzibar Chest: A Story of Life, Love, and Death in Foreign Lands
By Aidan Hartley; Atlantic Monthly Press, NY, 2003

This book is half memoir and half biography. The Kenyan connection comes via the memoir. Author Aidan Hartley was born to a British family in Nairobi. His childhood was spent in Tanganyika, at school in England and at the family home in Malindi. Scion of a family of empire builders, Hartley’s father was a colonial official, rancher, aid agricultural advisor and humanitarian worker. Rarely at home, Hartley’s father was constantly seeking adventure on the dusty plains of the continent. Thus, the son mythologized his father and imbued himself too in the call of Africa. Aidan followed the family path, but in the ways open to him in the 1980s and 1990s. He became a foreign correspondent for Reuters.

In the book Hartley reflects nostalgically on the Africa he knew as a child, an Africa that passed away due to independence, corruption and population pressures. Yet Hartley does not criticize much, he just reports. As a young adult Hartley signed on as a journalist and was soon smothered in the adrenalin of the profession caught up in a never ending series of wars, famines and disasters. He recounted marching for months with Tigrean rebels as they toppled Mengistu in Ethiopia. He was there in Somalia off-and-on for years as warlords – Hartley claims to have coined the term for Somalia – battled each other, looted the nation and ravaged humanitarian assistance. Hartley was also there in Rwanda as genocide swept the land. He walked into Kigali with rebel forces, bunkered down as fighting raged about and chronicled in very human terms the unfolding catastrophe.

The memoir gives an inside look at foreign correspondents. Home based in Nairobi, they were a colorful lot, fueled not just by the constant flow of new horror, but also by liquor, drugs and sex. They called the impetus of needing vibrant new copy every day, “feeding the beast.” And they did their best to comply.

Hartley’s talent as a writer is clear. His taunt prose paints vivid pictures of violence, death and famine. The details – for example, rescuing a still twitching child from a mass grave or a conversation with an abandoned stringer in the ruins of his Mogadishu home - provide the realism that makes the narrative compelling. Additionally, Hartley’s honesty, reflections on his actions, motives and feelings provide credible depth to his journal.

Juxtaposed among the journalistic memoir is another story - that of Peter Davey, a colonial era friend of his father who died in 1947 in Aden. Burned out from war, Hartley found Davey’s diaries carefully stashed in a Zanzibar chest in the family home in Malindi. Hartley then tells Davey’s tale of intrigue and mystery on the Arab peninsula filling in connections to his own family and even his name – the Irish spelling of Aden. Strangely enough, the mix of stories works. As did Hartley, the reader too needs respite from the flow of degradation, misery and violence of the reporter’s memoir.

The Zanzibar Chest is gripping read and highly recommended. The book is a couple of years old. Copies are available from on-line bookstores, but also check out your local library.

Friday, May 2, 2008

Implementing AFRICOM: Tread Carefully

Following is an expanded version of an article I posted on this website earlier. The previous version has been removed. This version appeared in the May, 2008 edition of the Foreign Service Journal.


On Oct. 1, 2007, the United States Africa Command was established as a sub-unified command, still subordinate to the European Command, which covers most of Africa. (The Central Command is responsible for U.S. military relations with the Horn, Egypt, Sudan and Kenya, while the Pacific Command covers activities in the Indian Ocean islands.) Headquartered in Stuttgart, Germany, AFRICOM will become fully responsible for U.S. military relations with all 53 countries in Sub-Saharan Africa by the end of the current fiscal year (Sept. 30, 2008). The command is led by General William E. Ward, whose deputies are Ambassador Mary Carlin Yates (a Foreign Service officer) and Admiral Robert T. Moeller. The FY 2008 transition year budget is $75 million. $392 is requested for FY 2009.

The rationale for the new command is that it will improve the U.S. military focus on Africa and enhance American interagency support for the development of African military establishments. AFRICOM’s mission is to build African capacity so that African states can manage their own security issues. It is also intended to stimulate professionalization, enhance civilian control and inculcate respect for human rights.

While many African governments embrace the idea of more attention to their military needs, they are concerned about possible great-power militarization of the continent. And they are apprehensive about the perception (as much as the reality) of undermining continental neutrality enshrined in the charter of the African Union (formerly the Organization of African Unity). Others are generally skeptical of America’s intentions, fearing a hidden agenda of hegemony.

Even though the Bush administration has articulated a credible explanation for the evolution to the new command, many – at home and abroad - remain skeptical. Details are scarce about how AFRICOM’s civil and economic objectives will be pursued. President John Kufor of Ghana, for example, seized the occasion of President Bush’s recent stop to ask point blank about real U.S. intentions. Clearly, doubts regarding U.S. intentions, coupled with concerns arising from our military posture in Iraq and Afghanistan, have tended to excite and feed fodder to critics. They variously decry the initiative as representing the extension of a global war on Islam, a preparation to annex African oil fields, and U.S. military interference in politics, including the threat of regime change for nations that run afoul of Washington’s capricious whims. Of course, those conclusions are balderdash, to be blunt, but they do contain kernels of truth. American policy does combat terrorism and much of the global variety does have Islamic connections. We want the world’s oil supplies to be secure and we do criticize autocratic regimes, especially those like Robert Mugabe’s in Zimbabwe that egregiously abuse the rights of their people.

Reaching out to African Militaries

Shibboleths aside, it is worth examining the premise that African military establishments merit American support at all. Even though national defense is regularly cited as their primary task, African armies rarely need to repel foreign invaders. Most African conflicts – e.g., Sudan, Chad, the Central African Republic, Cote d’Ivoire, Burundi, Liberia and Sierra Leone -- arise from domestic issues. Only the unresolved Ethiopia-Eritrea border war, the recent Congolese wars and the Ethiopian presence in Somalia fit the mode of external aggression.

So instead of defense, the primary job of African armies is to protect the ruling regime by keeping the life president in power (by informal count some 15 current leaders initially came to power via military means) and to thwart threats to the status quo mounted by the opposition, democratic or otherwise. To this end, militaries or special units thereof become tribal fiefdoms loyal to the president and dedicated to his well-being.

Despite this objective, history shows that this sort of Praetorian Guard has had mixed results in protecting the incumbent. In fact many, if not most, coups were organized by those closest to the president. The list of chiefs of staff who mounted coups is lengthy: Amin, Bokassa, Kolingba, Deby, Buyoya, Bagaza, Habyarimana, Barre, Mobutu, Ironsi, Obasanjo, Babangida, Eyadema, Kountche, Bashir and more.

Perhaps recognizing this fact of political life, many presidents – including military men -- have been only reluctant supporters of the national army. This hesitancy, reinforced by the impecunity of most states and the fact of underdevelopment, has kept African military establishments in the last rank. Even so, there is great diversity across the continent. Some are a mere hodgepodge of ill-equipped, untrained thugs who are more of a threat to society than an asset (e.g., the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Chad, Sudan). Others are a repository of political support for a regime, either because of ethnic affiliation or because of largess handed out to military leaders (Nigeria, Gabon). In some countries, army personnel are politically astute revolutionary fighters who learned their craft prior to becoming part of the ruling apparatus (Rwanda, Eritrea). And a few military establishments are impartial, professional and fairly competent, with limited objectives and responsibilities (South Africa, Botswana, Senegal).

In any case, almost all African institutions suffer from a lack of resources and equipment. Their leadership structure is often internally incoherent and subjected to political interference. Still, compared with other national institutions in most of those countries, the military is well organized and adequately funded. Few nations have the wherewithal to operate tanks or fly jet aircraft, but they regularly cough up salaries for the troops. The challenge is sorting out the regime maintenance function and the brutality that occasionally accompanies that from other defense responsibilities, and judging when and where to draw the line regarding militaries that merit support and those that don’t.

Over the years, former colonial powers like Britain, France and Belgium, as well as the U.S. and Russia during the Cold War, and now China have sought to modernize and professionalize African militaries, seeking to develop them into smaller replicas of their own establishments. In contrast to earlier years when revolutionary ideology (Tanzania, Zambia, Namibia, Zimbabwe) provided the basis for military cooperation, China today is flogging a full range of military assets, weaponry and aircraft to all buyers. At least in part, this broader approach reflects Beijing’s perception that Africa constitutes a growing market, as well as a source of sympathetic partners in the non-Western world.

Washington continues to provide training and some equipment, such as basic troop kits, communications gear and night-vision devices, but little in the way of sophisticated weapons systems. Such limited access to the African military market is unlikely to change, for our offerings are simply too complex, expensive and unsuitable for the main tasks confronting the continent’s armed forces.

So what can we do? On a case-by-case basis, we already evaluate each country’s military forces and offer the sort of help we believe realistic for its situation. This ranges from zero assistance for the egregious, abusive nondemocratic regimes of the continent to various types of individual or unit training, to communications gear, electronic equipment, transportation assets and a full range of support for peacekeeping units for more respectable nations. Such aid is predicated on a political assessment that such assistance to the military supports rather than contradicts broader U.S. policy in support of democracy, development and respect for human rights.

The nexus of two competing objectives is where the hard calls arise. For example, an African nation’s commitment to counterterrorism might entice U.S. policymakers to seek closer ties to further such activism. However, recognition that the forces in question are blatant abusers of the rights of a struggling democratic opposition ought to dampen the prospects for American support. Which side do we want to be on in such cases?

The current crises in Chad and Kenya pose policy questions that might be answered differently in a robust AFRICOM era. We have not meddled in Chad (leave it to the French!), but would we do so if we were focusing greater attention on its army? And in Kenya, except for one brief foray into Naivasha, the army has thus far stayed in the barracks – in part because it, too, is riven by tribal divisions, so any deployment might well result in intra-army violence. While we can applaud this restraint, it raises the question: What use is a national military in such a crisis? And what is the value of our investment in training it?

Both situations certainly fall under the rubric of maintaining continental security, one of AFRICOM’s stated objectives. Yet it is hard to see how any direct U.S. involvement, via our military or theirs, could be productive in resolving these crises. Although U.S. policy eschews direct military involvement in such situations, American attacks against purported terrorist elements in Somalia, for example, do raise the issue of if-you-have-the-assets how will you use them?

Thus, observers are correct in asking questions because DOD and State intend AFRICOM to be different from other combatant commands (e.g., EUCOM, CENTCOM and PACOM). It has still-undefined responsibilities and tasks beyond the purely military sphere. For example, staffing plans call for an FSO as lead deputy (Amb. Yates is already in place) and up to a hundred or more interagency personnel. If nothing else, this demonstrates a clear intent for programs that focus on humanitarian and development issues.

Some American advocates of paying more attention to Africa, particularly in the NGO community, dismiss AFRICOM as a mechanism to do that without really providing more resources. But the assumption is that once the command is in place, more resources will flow to it. Undoubtedly, they will. Pentagon cynics would add that one more four-star billet and all the accompanying support translates into more advancement opportunities within the system.

Do Something Dramatic!

U.S. spokesmen have said that the new command will be oriented toward humanitarian issues and military improvements. It will respond to catastrophes, help build competent national militaries, sustain nascent regional organizations, support economic development and political democracy. What appears to be missing in all the hoopla is an unequivocal response to Africa’s pressing security needs, which include elimination of warlords, reduction of tribal strife, achievement of internal peace and the need to live in a safer regional neighborhood. More tangible support for the continent’s armed forces, including training and some equipment, is indeed desirable, both for its own sake and to facilitate effective participation in African peacekeeping operations – to wit: Sudan, Somalia, Liberia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. While this is a laudable objective, the U.S. contribution has a long time line. Meanwhile, dangerous situations fester. Why not move faster?

Three opportunities come to mind. Fortunately, the first is already under way: using the U.S. Navy to combat piracy in the Red Sea and off the Horn of Africa. A broader effort to patrol the sea lanes off West Africa in order to halt illegal oil bunkering would be similarly aimed at restoring the rule of law. Clearly, this would entail enlisting the support of littoral states.

The most dramatic initiative would be the provision of U.S. helicopters to UNAMIS, the United Nations peacekeeping operation in Sudan. The United Nations is seeking a squadron of several dozen choppers, most for lift, as well as several gunships. Efforts to find helicopters have so far come up empty, posing the risk that the whole operation will be scuttled.

Offering up such support would indeed reinforce our intent to help Africa. But howls and arguments against the idea would be loud: we cannot bleed Iraq for Sudan; the U.S. should never participate in U.N. peacekeeping operations; Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir would never accept American forces. Undoubtedly, these are legitimate issues, but if AFRICOM wants to respond to legitimate security needs in Africa, no better task awaits. And the mere willingness to fight the policy battle within the U.S. government, with the U.N. and with Sudan to implement such assistance would show solid commitment to Africa and underscore the legitimacy of the new command.

Ambassadorial Responsibility

From the State Department perspective, we need not fear AFRICOM’s advent. Not only does it have positive elements that should advance U.S. interests in various African nations, but seconding FSOs to the command will help ensure that DOD has broader thematic perspectives. However, AFRICOM does pose some issues that, if not sorted out early, might become irksome.

Existing chief-of-mission authority is adequate for AFRICOM, so long as serving and future ambassadors exercise their responsibilities pursuant to the presidential letter of authority and under National Security Decision Directive 38, and the military components follow their own chain of command. In short the ambassador has absolute authority over personnel and operations in his or her country of assignment. We should think about and treat non-resident AFRICOM personnel exactly as we considered previous command elements. To wit:

All visitors, military and civilian, will still require country clearances. All programs, whether involving JCET (exercises), IMET and ACOTA (training), FMS (sales) or TSCTP (counterterrorism), are subject to ambassadorial approval. The only exception is the forces of the Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa, some 1,500 troops stationed at Camp Lemonier, Djibouti, who currently fall under the operational control of CENTCOM (but will eventually shift to AFRICOM). In accordance with existing practice, such combat elements enjoy a separate chain of command, but their in-country, non-combat activities – drilling wells in Djibouti, for example – all remain subject to ambassadorial oversight. Because the new Africa Command does not anticipate stationing any additional combat personnel on the continent or setting up other bases, there should be no other exceptions to chief-of-mission authority.

As an aside, let me note that Africa Contingency Operations Training Assistance, the program that provides training and equipment to African units scheduled for deployment as multilateral peacekeepers, will not -- at least initially -- become an AFRICOM responsibility. ACOTA (formerly known as the African Crisis Response Initiative) is America’s most successful and useful military program in Africa, one that has helped prepare contingents from Nigeria, Rwanda, Uganda, Burundi, Ghana and other countries for service in Darfur, Somalia, Liberia and Congo. ACOTA is funded via the peacekeeping account administered by the State Department, and State does not intend to relinquish control.

Where to Set up Shop?

Various soundings around the continent have shown that the time is not ripe for the establishment of a large military headquarters in Africa. The issue is apparently too emotional and too tied up in the uncertainties of what AFRICOM is all about. Logistic issues also constrain a move. When or if a relocation from Germany is approved, facilities for it will have to be built from the ground up. Only Liberia, perhaps understanding the positive economic impact of such an installation, has stepped forward to seek the emplacement of the headquarters on its soil.

Even though the headquarters will remain in Germany, AFRICOM anticipates standing up about three or four sub-headquarters. The intent is to get at least some personnel into the theater of operations. About 30 personnel on standard tours of duty would be assigned to each sub-headquarters unit. Although locales have yet to be determined, logically they would correspond to the geographic regions of Africa. Djibouti takes care of eastern Africa, so sites will be needed in the west (Ghana or Liberia are leading candidates), the south (probably Botswana) and the north (Tunisia or Morocco, although this idea has less traction in the north). While the structure will be important for the countries concerned, what is most crucial from an interagency perspective will be the interaction between the regional headquarters elements and the host embassy.

Note that such regional offices will be a new global element to be invented in Africa. Sub-commands of other combatant commands – Diego Garcia, Okinawa, Korea, etc. -- include operational forces that are exempted from chief-of-mission authority.

On the whole, we should consider such offices similar to USAID’s Regional Economic Development Services Offices: i.e., they and their personnel fall under COM authority. Thus, when they operate in a particular country, the U.S. ambassador there is in charge. And when personnel travel regionally, personnel and projects remain the purview of the ambassador of the nation being visited.

It is worth noting that both USAID and DOD already deal separately with African regional organizations, such as the Southern African Development Community or the Economic Community of West African States. For instance, what if ECOWAS wants to conduct a military exercise in Togo with U.S. input, with the planning, logistical support, etc. coming from its headquarters in Abuja? Which ambassador has authority? The answer is both, but this will require coordination on the U.S. side. Such multi-country coordination will loom even larger and become more complex as AFRICOM expands its cooperation with the African Union and its security programs around the continent.

Practical Constraints

According to Pentagon sources, each AFRICOM regional office should consist of about 30 personnel; some uniformed, some not. These staffers will need a lot of office space that is clearly not available inside any existing embassy. Thus, pending expansion of chancelleries or building annexes, facilities will have to be leased. These personnel and their families will also need substantial administrative support: housing, health care, shipping, transportation, contracting, cashiering, and educational opportunities for dependents. Virtually all these services will place an immense burden on receiving embassies. Although initially many AFRICOM personnel might be assigned on a TDY basis, except perhaps for housing, the required logistical support package is just as intimidating as for those on longer tours.

While all concerned will do their utmost to make this work, it won’t be easy. A key principle at stake is equity, keeping the playing field even so that no one gets more, better or different services at post than anyone else. The new influx of staff -- particularly military personnel who are accustomed to a global standard of support -- will challenge that approach, but adherence to that principle will be key to making AFRICOM offices and personnel part of the country team.

An augmented in-country military presence also raises thorny operational issues like communications. Initially, AFRICOM offices can utilize existing embassy networks, but they will soon want their own separate systems. How can this be accommodated? Similarly, AFRICOM will want its own security force, which will have an impact on the regional security office. Who will do the hiring? How will State and DOD practices be melded? Will there be military police alongside Marine security guard detachments? And then there is the question of weapons, an operational issue related to force protection in the wake of terrorist threats. Who in the country team can bear arms and under what circumstances?

Then we come to responsibilities for reporting, intelligence collection and analysis. Most ambassadors have existing understandings with defense attachés as to which DAO messages need clearance by the political-economic section and the front office. But a larger military element at post will necessarily intrude upon such understandings. It will be incumbent upon the ambassador and the AFRICOM chief to work out these parameters. In order to ensure consistency, written guidelines should be developed.

Striking a Balance

With the Africa Command’s advent, turf issues will intensify -- and not just in the countries hosting those personnel. Already, U.S. military resources and projects are crossing ministerial lines across the continent. While the key local client for AFRICOM remains the host-country ministry of defense, U.S. military resources already go toward projects in various civilian ministries, including water development, women’s affairs, health, interior, aviation and so forth. Undertakings include a full gamut of activities ranging from humanitarian succor and HIV/AIDS prevention to democracy promotion and public diplomacy.

Obviously, military programming risks duplication where USAID, the Centers for Disease Control, Peace Corps Volunteers and others are already engaged. That said, host governments are quick to realize where the money is, so they will increasingly focus requests on U.S. military elements.

The proposed interagency structure of AFRICOM recognizes this issue. Although the number and type of interagency billets has yet to be finalized, it is clear that the command will have a significant civilian element, including experts in economic development and complex humanitarian emergencies. Initially, AFRICOM wants several dozen FSOs for a range of political/military and economic jobs. Although assigning personnel would certainly affirm the interagency character of the new command, in light of service demands for Iraq including the elimination of jobs in Africa, it is unlikely that the Department of State can spare many personnel for such excursion tours.

Also still at stake is what AFRICOM’s non-military tasks will be. The U.S. already does a pretty competent job of economic development and humanitarian relief. What additional benefits – besides money – can AFRICOM bring to those tasks?

Washington policymakers, as well as ambassadors in the field, need to decide how much militarization of non-military assistance is wise and ensure that such undertakings are properly vetted. Such discussions will become increasingly important when (not if) AFRICOM gets more resources to play with.

In conclusion, AFRICOM is initially a reorientation of American bureaucratic responsibilities that will probably work well for us, but remain confusing to African governments. Having nothing else to distract it, the new command will undoubtedly focus on Africa and follow through on programs. This augurs well for a more consistent partnership with the continent, but how it evolves remains to be seen.

I suspect that African governments will adjust to progress and that press-stoked fears of hegemony will diminish. However, the temptation on the American side will be to try to do too much. Even a small AFRICOM looms large compared to host country military establishments. Furthermore, the command’s initial budget of $392 million will dwarf a number of national budgets. We should recognize that Africa’s absorptive capacity is limited and, as noted above, few of its leaders really want competent generals commanding capable forces.

To misquote Teddy Roosevelt, we don’t need a big stick in Africa, but we do need to tread carefully. Although Washington (as usual) will have the ultimate say, it will be up to U.S. ambassadors in the field to guide all these new boots into careful paths.


Retired Ambassador Robert Gribbin spent many years in Africa posted to the Central African Republic, Rwanda, Kenya and Uganda. He also served on delegations to the United Nations General Assembly and the U.N. Human Rights Commission. Since retiring from the Foreign Service, he has undertaken When Actually Employed assignments to Liberia, DRC, Djibouti, Ghana, Chad, Burundi, Mauritius and Nigeria. He is the author of In the Aftermath of Genocide: The U.S. Role in Rwanda (2005).