Monday, December 16, 2013

More Woe for the Central African Republic

This blog was also posted on the blog of the Woodrow Wilson Center in December 2013

Often lost in the whirl of stories about conflict and misery in Africa is the tragic situation that continues to unroll in the Central African Republic. There the state has slid downhill for a decade into ineffectiveness and turmoil. So much so that today the CAR is arguably the continent’s leading failed state.  It is a distinction that no one would seek, least of all the citizens of the nation, most all of whom are victims of ineptitude, lassitude, violence and neglect.  Rule of law is feeble in the CAR. Bandit gangs of thugs, linked to the rebel movement Seleka that put current leader Michel Djotodia in power have looted their way from east  to west, including pillaging the capital city of Bangui.  Their latest predations in the northwest, home areas both to ousted president Bozize and his predecessor Patasse, have taken an especially vicious turn resulting in massacres of entire villages.  Hundreds of  thousands of people are on the run crowding into makeshift camps where food, sanitation and security are minimal.   Violence is driven by tribalism, political hatreds, vengeance and religion.  The religious element is pernicious because when predominately Moslem Seleka fighters confront largely Christian communities and meet resistance the specter of more widespread religious conflict grows.  Indeed it is this threat that has aroused the international community to greater awareness.   In recent weeks both UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon and French Foreign Minister Fabius have each decried the growing tide of violence, which Fabius described as “on the verge of genocide.” They promised a vigorous response.

 Blame for the catastrophe can be parceled out internally, regionally and internationally. First internally, the central government has been so inept and corrupt during the past decade that citizens longed for the days of Bokassa’s empire, when at least one could travel safely and send the kids to school.  Similarly, the promise of democracy, accountability and progress generated by free elections in 1993 was never realized.  Nascent institutions never developed. New President Patasse reverted to cronyism and tribal politics to rule.   Then violence from a collapsing Democratic Republic of the Congo spilled across the border accentuating internal divisions and leading to Francois Bozize’s coup d’etat in 2003. Bozize’s hold on power was tenuous and the government’s authority continued to erode.   By the late 2000s the combination of economic decline, an ineffective, bankrupt and corrupt central government, and nationwide insecurity rendered Bozize vulnerable.   In efforts to shore up his position, Bozize appointed a prime minister from the main line opposition and cut a deal for integration into the power structure with a political/rebel coalition from the east dubbed Seleka, a deal he repeatedly reneged upon.   Thus feeling betrayed, Seleka  recruited, mobilized and marched to Bangui where it took power in March 2013.  Rebel chief Michel Djotodia, a Moslem from the northeast, became chief of state. 

Historically African leaders have adopted hands-off policies towards their neighbors, but a regional consortium of states, led by Gabon, has maintained a small military force in CAR for years.  Authorized by the OAU/AU and recognized by the UN, it was particularly helpful in quelling violence during the early 2000s in Bangui, nonetheless,  the force never had the heft  - politically or militarily - to legitimize government or referee squabbles, so essentially it just extended the crises.   Just as conflict and fighters spilled over from the Congo, troubles in Sudan and Chad (not to mention the Lord’s Resistance Army from Uganda) also impacted upon the CAR.  A portion of Seleka combatants are former Darfurian or Chadian militiamen, now mercenaries. They are Moslem and foreign and as such have little sympathy or empathy for Christian villagers.

The Central African Republic, formerly the territory of Ubangi-Chari, was a French colony. Over the years France assumed responsibilities for the land, including peace and security.  French soldiers were based in the CAR and French advisors patronizingly financed and oversaw government operations.  The French/Central African relationship began to fray, however, when Ange Patasse was elected president in 1993.  Central Africans wanted to stand on their own and France was reconsidering and reducing its responsibilities throughout Africa.  Thus during the turbulent last twenty years in the CAR, France - while always present in some form or other - exerted much less influence and exercised little control.  Other powers, especially the United States, essentially pursued policies of neglect.  They trusted neighboring governments and the United Nations to handle problems.   However, the problems were too big for the resources and the commitments available, so the CAR stagnated and slipped inevitably into the vortex of violence where it now resides.

 So what happens next?  Chief of State, Michel Djotodia is not recognized as “president” by his neighbors, but only as a caretaker pending a 2015 election (never count an incumbent out, but Djotodia, a Moslem from a minority eastern tribe could never win a free and fair election).  Meanwhile he says he has disbanded Seleka, therefore diffusing even further what control he might have over its combatants and leaving unchecked the reign of terror in the northwest.  His government, although headed by reputable lawyer Nicolas Tiangaye, is constrained by lack of resources. Its writ rarely writes.

Pursuant to United nations Security Council discussions in late November,  a bigger more powerful Peace Keeping force will be assembled for the CAR. Meanwhile France has increased its troop presence to 1200 in the capital, one hopes in anticipation of participation in the UN force. But if nothing else the increase sends a message to Djotodia, Seleka and the nation that the international community will again engage.  It is encouraging to see French leadership again regarding the CAR.  As for the U.S., its policy of minimal involvement continues apace.  Deputy Assistant Secretary for Africa, Ambassador Robert Jackson told the Congress on November 19 that the U.S. would provide assistance to the African Union force, would maintain humanitarian operations and would continue to cooperate with France, the UN and the African Union in pushing for reduction in violence and re-establishment of security.   That is diplomatic speak for not much.   Even though the U.S. has interests in protecting Americans, re-establishing regional stability and security, promoting democracy and human rights and capturing Lord’s Resistance Army chief Joseph Kony,  the U.S. embassy in Bangui is closed and not expected to re-open.

The best possible outcome in the next few months would be insertion of a French supported Chapter VII UN Peace Keeping operation with a mandate to pacify the nation.  Should security be achieved, the next step would be to revive competent government from Bangui outwards and thus begin the agonizing process of reconstruction and advancement.  Accomplishment of these objectives has to be a partnership among all the parties - domestic and international alike.  Sierra Leone and Liberia provide examples of how failed states can be resurrected.  The Central African Republic now needs that opportunity.   

Despair, Hope, Perseverance - AIDS in Uganda

Following is a piece I wrote about the impact of AIDS in Uganda during the late 1980s when I was posted there.  A version of this article appears in the December 2013 edition of the Foreign Service Journal.

AIDS cut a wide swath through Uganda in the late 1980s.  Newspapers were replete with notices advising  death  “after a short illness,” but everyone knew the code.   The disease struck down those in the prime of life, many from the burgeoning middle class. Despite the presence of dozens of medical researchers from around the globe focusing on the malady, no cure was available and there was little knowledge on how to retard the inevitably lethal progress of the disease.  There was, however, knowledge about how AIDS was hetro-sexually transmitted and a growing conviction that if peoples’ sexual practices changed then the rate of infection in society at large could be diminished. To that end President Yoweri  Museveni and his government team undertook to campaign publically about the ravages of AIDS.  They promoted condom use - there was a television clip of the minister of health in the city market demonstrating condom use by putting one on a banana.  The slogan “zero grazing” resonated with the populace who understood the metaphor of a cow tied to a post who could then only eat in a circle, a zero. The cow-to-post linkage symbolized connection to a single partner while the zero reienforced the idea of not straying into other pastures.  There were many other efforts to deal honestly and effectively with the scourge and a growing network of counseling centers for those infected and their families.  Indeed, part of Uganda’s successful endeavor to curtail the spread of AIDS was to diminish the shame attached to its sexually transmitted origins.

Still against this backdrop AIDS continued to take a toll.  Local employees of the U.S. government convinced the embassy administrative officer to rework their benefits package so that upon the death of an employee his male relatives (in accordance with tribal custom) could not seize remittances to the detriment of his spouse and children.  This change was unfortunately necessary as during the last three years of the 1980s, at least seven FSNs died along with a dozen local guards. All organizations were hard hit.  The colonel in charge of training for the army confided to me that he had to have ten soldiers tested for AIDS in order to find two non-infected and thus eligible for US  training.  While he was on leave, however, a subordinate falsified records and subsequently two Ugandan soldiers died of the disease while in the states.  Along with several embassy personnel I joined the Mountain Club of Uganda that grouped rock climbing and hiking enthusiasts.  We mounted expeditions to nearby rock faces and to the Mountains of the Moon. Over half of the members were twenty-something Makerere University graduate students.  Sadly, over the next decade virtually all of them died from AIDS.

Yet hope always flourished.  East African newspapers made much of the discovery of an AIDS cure dubbed Kenron by a Kenyan scientist and took the opportunity to proudly proclaim that Africa too was in the forefront of science.  Because further trials proved the remedy marginally useful, the story faded away.  Similarly one day Kampala’s New Vision newspaper headlined that a woman in Masaka - about sixty miles south of Kampala - had found that eating the clay from her backyard had cured her daughter of “slims.”  Thus began a rush to the site, hundreds of persons converged and shortly turned her yard into a deep pit.  I asked several well placed, well educated contacts about the allegation and expected to find them skeptical, but they too were believers.  “Eating it might work and if not, it’s just dirt. I am going this afternoon.”   Of course, it did not work and that story soon faded away as well.

What did work, however, was the effort to teach about AIDS, removal of the sexual stigma, the use of condoms and changed sexual behavior.  Combined, these approaches reduced the infection rate and held the line until anti-retroviral medicines were available.   Today Uganda remains afflicted by AIDS, but in the context of thirty years experience is coping with the scourge.  Now Ugandan society is thriving and its economy prospering.  Thinking back makes you wonder what might have been if those tens of thousands of citizens had not been struck down early in life?


Monday, October 14, 2013

Revelations and Confessions about Rwanda

My review of Healing a Nation - A Testimony by Dr. Theogene Rudasingwa,  Create Space Independent Publishing Platform, North Charleston, SC, 2013.

This is a difficult book to characterize.  It is in part a memoir of Rudasingwa’s life, but it also contains meditations on scripture, political and economic treatises, a scathing critique of Rwandan President Paul Kagame and  exposés of Rwandan Patriotic Front lies and fallacies.  The author, born again both religiously and politically, concludes with a program for action designed as the sub-title states for “Waging and Winning a Peaceful Revolution to Unite and Heal a Broken Rwanda”.

Rudasingwa begins by recounting his childhood and youth as a Tutsi refugee in Uganda.  His family headed by his widowed mother Coletta Bamususire, to whom the book is dedicated, was poor and barely scraped by, but Mama insisted on cleanliness, order and education.  Her kids went to school no matter what and at least two of them, Theogene and his brother Gerald, ended up with university educations.  Life for rural refugees was hard not just because of poverty, but also because being refugees they had little acceptance in Uganda at large.  They were always outsiders.

Some Rwandan Tutsi refugees, including current president Kagame, joined Ugandan firebrand Yoweri Museveni  in his struggle for power in Uganda in the mid-eighties.  However, even as they were helping Museveni succeed, Rwandan Tutsi were also organizing their own return to Rwanda.  Emboldened and empowered by their role in Uganda’s National Resistance Army, Rwandan refugees under the leadership of Fred Rwigyema deserted from Uganda and invaded Rwanda in 1990.

Rudasingwa was not yet part of that movement.  He was pursuing a medical degree at Makarere University in Kampala, but became enamored of revolutionary thinking.  He became an atheist and a self described Marxist.   His medical studies lapsed as he studied and meditated on how Africa should free itself from external bondage.  Finally, he had to choose - join the action with the Rwandan Patriotic Front or mold away as an eccentric critic.  He opted to join and became a foot soldier and a medic on the front lines.

From there he was tapped by Major General Kagame, who assumed command after General Rwigyema was killed, to undertake a series of diplomatic missions.  (Given some of the revelations later in the book I was disappointed that Rudasingwa offered no opinions on how Rwigyema, Bayingana, or Bunyenyezi died).   For Rudasingwa one thing led to another as he became more entrenched in the RPF/RPA quest, culminating as a member of the RPF team in Arusha that negotiated the peace accords. 

The most startling revelation in the book is Rudasingwa’s discussion of the shooting down of President Habyarimana’s plane by the RPA, the incident that sparked the genocide.  Rudasingwa acknowledges that he was part of the RPF conspiracy regarding this event that overtly blamed the genocidaires for the action.  The discussion of this comes late in the book when Rudasingwa is reciting the bill of particulars against Kagame.  I was disappointed that Rudasingwa offered no discussion of what Kagame expected as a result of this action, or if Kagame expressed any regret at the scale of violence that ensued. 

Chronologically, Rudasingwa describes his activities as the Secretary General of the RPF in post-genocide Rwanda, then his tour as ambassador to the United States.   In both capacities he was still a believer in the revolutionary cause of empowering the Tutsi and ending the philosophy of genocide.  As ambassador from Rwanda he found the intricacies of maneuvering in Washington to be complex. He said he shamelessly played the guilt card that blamed America for non-action while a million Rwandans died.  This had some effect in generating sympathy and support.

Returning to Rwanda in 1999 Dr. Rudasingwa resumed duties as Secretary General of the RPF and later was assigned as director general of the president’s office.   Throughout the latter phases of his career Rudasingwa admitted to growing scruples about  RPF power  and how Kagame wielded it - concerns about his predilection for violence,  real or character assassination of opponents,  sly backstabbing of anyone who differed from his narrowly defined pathway.   Rudasingwa devotes a full chapter to a description of how the Kagame government operated and maintained control through fear and intimidation. Rudasingwa reported his objections to the political path that vested all power in the RPF at the expense of opening the system to all citizens, Hutu included.  He got particularly upset with the intrigue that characterized Kagame’s style. This became more acute as his stock was falling and he tried to extricate himself from the vortex.

Finally, Rudasingwa did leave Rwanda and establish himself in the U.S.  As he acknowledges that in itself represented a complete turnabout from the Marxist convictions of his youth that equated America with evil imperialism.  He also found God.  Ultimately Rudasingwa wrote this book, both to relate what happened to him and to Rwanda, but also to put forward a program of action designed to change Rwanda.  Rudasingwa’s vision is a nation ruled by law - not fear - where all citizens are equal - not just the chosen few.  He hopes this can be achieved peacefully because he acknowledges that all government transitions in Rwanda to date have been violent. It is time to change and to change the process of change.  To this end, Rudasingwa and others have created a multi-ethnic coalition of like minded exiles called the Rwanda National Congress. The struggle continues.

Nairobi Heat

A review of Nairobi Heat by Mukoma Wa Ngugi, Melville House, Brooklyn, NY 2011. 

This book is a quick read crime/detective story along the lines of books by Dashiel Hammett. It is, however, for the most part ,set in Kenya.  The hero is a black Chicago cop who traces the perpetrators of a murder to Nairobi.  There he is befriended by a Kenyan cop and the two of them proceed to get shot at by legions of assailants as the plot unravels.  Of course, they shoot back. Bodies are lying about everywhere with apparently no consequences for shooters on either side.  The main plot is cleverly orchestrated involving Rwandan refugees, ruthless NGO personnel and conniving businessmen.  In some respects the plot is quite feasible. Additionally, there is a boy meets girl subplot. Throughout the story the Chicago cop mulls over his personal identity. How American or how African is he? (This theme probably reflects the author’s own quest as he, the author, is Kenyan, but raised in Chicago).

Although the author Mukoma Wa Ngugi, son of the famous Ngugi wa Thiongo, should know better, he manipulated climate and geography in order to suit the story.  Fiction writers can do that. In order to double entendre the title, he had the protagonist arrive at Nairobi’s airport in the early morning amidst sweltering heat.  Cognoscenti know that in the hours before dawn, Nairobi is anything but hot.  Later in the story, the cop team flees to western Kenya driving non-stop for eleven hours to a village near Busia, on the Ugandan border.  Even a country bus can make that trip in eleven hours, in a car it’s no more than six. 

The joy of this story is in the reading of it. It is fast paced and reality rarely intrudes.  The Kenyan setting is an added bonus.   

Monday, June 24, 2013

Firebrand to Politican to Statesman

Kenyan luminary Raila Odinga addressed a group at the WIlson Center in Washington, D.C. on June 18.  Coming off a lost presidential bid, Odinga took the high road.  Although he stated that he personally thought he won the elections (including the one in 2007), he said he opted not to contest the judicial confirmation of the results. He noted that such an appeal would be futile and only result in renewed violence.  Sometimes in order to foster democracy one has to accept the imperfections and move on. He noted that as AU special envoy to the Cote d’Ivoire, he had encouraged Gbagbo to do the same.

In his main address Odinga said that this century would be Africa’s.  Africa’s time had come. He foresaw better governance, more effective growth, involvement of youth, functioning democracy, some pooled sovereignty via regional associations and the acumen to manage global power shifts.  Food production, land use and health would be priorities.  AIDS and mega cities would be problems.

He then reviewed the goals established by the OAU fifty years ago:  decolonialization, liberation and peace.  Peace, he said, remains to be accomplished - not just peace from conflict, but peace from hunger, ignorance and deprivation.   However, Odinga noted an AU shortcoming as lack of commitment to social inclusiveness.  He criticized the organizations previous stance of embracing despots and non-interference in the internal affairs of states, noting that it was now moving more to a stance of “non-indifference” to internal issues. 

Turning to today’s issues, Odinga saw flickers of hope in Somalia and the Great Lakes, but was less sanguine about problems in Mali, Guinea Bissau and the Central African Republic.    

In response to questions Odinga praised parliamentary systems opining that perhaps they would serve Africa better than political systems with a heavy concentration of power in the presidency.  He stated that Kenya would be able to handle oil revenues in a positive fashion. He explained that Kenya’s success in engendering a middle class grew from its mixed economy, elimination of government marketing boards and efforts via “Kenyanization” to include more people in the modern economy.  He said that current legislation permitting indigenous NGOs to receive government funds would not inhibit their independence because no organization would be required to participate.  Finally, Odinga expressed the hope that the improving situation in Somalia would permit refugees currently in Kenya to return to their homeland, perhaps into IDP camps inside Somalia as a first step.

Comment:  Odinga was in fine form and quite comfortable in his new role as senior statesman for Africa.  Although  aware of Kenyan specific issues, he is also looking more widely at continental concerns.  He has already served the African Union as a special mediator for Cote d’Ivoire and will undoubtedly get other such assignments in the future.     

Thursday, June 20, 2013

The End of Adventure - bashing around southern Africa


Following is my review of Paul Theroux’s The Last Train to Zona Verde - My Ultimate African Safari, Houghton, Mifflin, Harcourt, NY, 2013

Paul Theroux asserts that his recent journey through southern Africa, recounted in this book, is his last.  That is probably a good idea.  Theroux’s wonder and fascination with the realities of the third world have turned sour. He has been there and done that.  Enough of being crammed into dilapidated jalopies, bad food, hovels for hotels and hearing the cynicism of fellow travelers and/or those he encounters along the way.  To his credit Theroux does not mince words. His descriptions paint vivid pictures of the squalor of contemporary Africa, particularly the vast parts of the continent that stretch out beyond the high walls of diplomatic compounds or the carefully guarded game parks.

Theroux’s journey began in Cape Town where he was struck by the gap between rich and poor.  Astonishingly, the squalid townships that ring Cape Town have become tourist destinations themselves.   Visitors simply come to experience the poverty and the hubris of those affected.  The pervasiveness of poverty and the futility of those trapped in it became a theme of the book.  Indeed Theroux offers a voyeuristic window into the lives of the dispossessed.

Throughout the journal, Theroux recalls and meditates on observations writers have made over the eons about travel - about what it is, why one does it and for what effect?   He also ruminates about his role as a traveler. How is he viewed and what impact does he have?  An elderly white man traveling on a local bus in out of the way Africa cannot just be an observer. Inevitably he is drawn into the milieu of life around him.  While Theroux fretted over this dilemma of observation versus involvement, nonetheless he readily engaged.

The second part of the journey is into Namibia where there is much commentary about the excesses and failures of German rule, contemporary racism, and some interesting encounters with the !Kung/San people.  The !Kung/San are the Kalahari bushmen, the oldest inhabitants of Africa, and traditionally peaceful  hunter gatherers.  Although Theroux cited many scholarly texts about their lifestyle and culture, those individuals he found mostly remembered some of their culture rather than lived it.  Even though well intended outsiders - and even some !Kung/San as well - seek to preserve the vanishing way of life, Theroux concluded that it is already doomed.

 In another odd stop Theroux visited the safari camp where one can ride African elephants into the bush.  The elephants used for this purpose are mostly from European and American circuses and have been browbeaten into service.  Such a safari has the advantage of uniqueness, but the whole operation smacks of exploitation - not just of the animals, but of the whole idea of exclusive tourism.  Staying consistent Theroux also derided as reverse zoos the mass tourism as exemplified in Etosha Pan Park.

He ventured across Namibia’s northern border into the war devastated regions of southern Angola.  There Theroux found little of value.  Officials were rude and people mired in nothingness.  There was no indigenous economy, only an influx of hated Chinese.  A chance encounter with a traditional tribal rite during a bus breakdown offered only a glimpse into what values the community might have possessed.  The Angolan cities were even worse; cesspools of humanity, slums surrounding a collapsing core where the corrupt rich held off the despair of the masses.  Several brave intellectuals predicted that revolution must come, but most just wanted to leave.  Theroux’s criticism of German rule was harsh, but his excoriation of Portuguese colonialism and its legacies, including the current ruling class, was scabrous. 

Finally, Theroux had enough.   He (correctly) concluded that venturing further north through the bush, the zone verda - green zone-  of the title, would provide no new experiences, nor would visits to the mega cities of Kinshasa, Lagos and elsewhere.  So he went home.

What is the value of the book?  It is well written and does provide lots of descriptions and opinions on contemporary Africa that a reader is not likely to find elsewhere.  Well reasoned outspokenness certainly adds to understanding of places and peoples.  This book makes that contribution.     

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Murder in Mombasa

This is a synopsis of my latest book Murder in Mombasa

The tale is recounted by the American Consul when in the aftermath of a riotous shore visit, a U.S. Navy seaman is accused of murdering a Kenyan girl. But did he do it? His alibi says no, but Kenya must have someone to prosecute for the crime.  The pressure is on. The police, the public and government leaders clamor for conviction, so the case goes to trial. Not only is the man’s guilt or innocence at stake, but also U.S. - Kenyan relations. Meanwhile shadowy terrorist operatives and their possible links to the crime cloud clarity. Will justice prevail or will it be trumped by political expediency?

Ripped from the headlines, this story is based on a real incident.  The Mombasa, Kenya setting is impeccable as are descriptions of police, prison and judicial procedures.  Furthermore, handling of the problem by U.S. diplomats provides insight into the operations of the consular service. 

Rather than a review as such, let’s do some q&a’s about  Murder in Mombasa.

Why did you write the book?   I enjoy writing and find fiction a fascinating diversion from non-fiction.  It is easier to make up facts rather than look them up. However, this story is based on a real event.  I was the American Consul in Mombasa in the early 1980s at the time when a U.S. sailor was accused of murdering a Kenyan prostitute.   It caused  a big brouhaha in Kenya in part because several years earlier there had been another death of a prostitute wherein the U.S. sailor had been found guilty of manslaughter, but not sentenced to prison.  That verdict scandalized the populace.    So when another death occurred, the popular cry was for punishment.  My book is a fictionalized version of what ensued.  In order to spin the tale I invented personages and added plot.

What makes the story unique?   First, a narrator of events is the U.S. consul, so the reader sees the plot unfold from his perspective.  The book paints a realistic portrait of what American diplomats do overseas when citizens get in trouble.   Additionally, the murder troubled U.S. Kenyan relations more broadly so aspects of international diplomacy are included.  Secondly, the setting of the novel in Mombasa, Kenya is impeccable and the characters realistic, so those who know Kenya will find that the tale rings true.

So what sort of book is it?  It is a murder mystery that evolves into a courtroom drama all against a backdrop of diplomatic intrigue and maneuvering.  The question is did the sailor kill the girl or not? If not, who did? and why? And even if he did not, will he be convicted of the crime anyway? 

Why did you self publish it?  The publishing world is a brutal one. Self publishing via lets me put the book out there quickly for readers to enjoy. Also it’s inexpensive at only $2.99.  Murder in Mombasa is only available in ebook format, also from the istore and nook. The kindle version is available from smashwords and will soon appear on amazon.  

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Remembering the Rwanda Genocide

April marks 19 years since the genocide. Although I was not there for the terrible events, I was there afterwards. I knew what happened intellectually, but during my first week in country I came face to face with the facts.  Following is an excerpt from my memoir entitled In the Aftermath of Genocide - the U.S. Role in Rwanda.

That afternoon, Senator Kassebaum and I, accompanied by a government

protocol officer, flew in a United Nations helicopter to the church at Nyarubuye

in eastern Rwanda, near the Tanzanian border. Nyarubuye was as far off the

beaten track as one could get in Rwanda. Set in a copse of towering eucalyptus

trees, the brick church and surrounding buildings sat on the crest of a hill looking

out over the lakes and lowlands of the Akagera Park. We landed in a field of high

grass just outside the church compound, where we were received by a small delegation

composed of the new prefect, the local military commander, and a survivor

of the genocide. A dozen soldiers stood on discreet guard in a ring several

hundred yards around the church. The first thing I noticed was the complete

absence of other people. In Africa in general and in Rwanda in particular, there

are almost always crowds of people, especially at any event that draws a helicopter,

but at Nyarubuye there were none. The delegation said that the local population

had all fled to neighboring Tanzania two years earlier and had not yet


The wind whistled softly through the trees, accentuating the eerie silence. Our

guides explained that Nyarubuye had been the scene of vicious killing during the

genocide. Tutsi from the surrounding region had sought refuge in the church.
They were penned in and imprisoned there for several days until Interahamw


squads arrived. After that the massacre was methodical. Persons were led from the

church to the courtyard, where they were simply slaughtered. According to the

survivor we met, the foyer of the church was set aside as a rape room. He said

there was a lot of noise and confusion during the killings, during which he and

several others managed to climb over the compound wall and run miles down to

the swamps of Akagera.

The church itself was completely empty when we visited, and having been desecrated

by the deaths, no longer used. To the side of the church was a courtyard

enclosed by a brick wall at one end, and lined by buildings on the other two sides

whose doors and windows opened into the courtyard. Obviously, they had served

as Sunday school rooms, church offices, and the like. However, the rooms were

stacked to the ceilings with the mummifying corpses of thousands of human

beings. Near skeletal faces of men, women, and children stared blankly. A moldering

stench of death hovered in the air. The horror of what had happened there

was overwhelming, yet the quiet lent dignity to the repose of the dead. I was


In respectful tones, our guides explained how the murders occurred. They

showed us a large smoothly polished stone in the courtyard, worn down by

repeated sharpening of machete blades. We saw a bloodstained log where legs had

been chopped off, “to make the tall ones short.” The prefect said that not all bodies

had been pushed into the rooms by the killers. The courtyard and the church

itself had been waist deep in death as well. Those bodies had later been moved by

RPA soldiers, including the local commander who was present, into the nearby

rooms. A crunch underfoot in the knee-high grass revealed a human jawbone,

which we reverently added to the collection in the nearest room.

You cannot talk much on a helicopter, but on the return trip, the senator and

I were each lost in our own thoughts. Nyarubuye was to be the first of a dozen or

so preserved genocide sites that I would visit over the next three years. I never

became indifferent to them. Each one affected me deeply, but after Nyarubuye I

knew what to expect. I believe the government of Rwanda is wise to preserve

these sites, not so much for the edification of foreigners like the senator and

myself, but more for the education of Rwandans. As the genocide fades into history,

such sites will become permanent markers of the tragedy and stark reminders

that such inhumanity must never be repeated.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Africa is Changing: Is that Good News?

Following is the text of a speech that I gave in Michigan.
Africa Is Changing: Is that Good News?


Prepared for  International Affairs Forum

Traverse City, Michigan, March 21, 2013


Robert E. Gribbin

Where is Africa going? 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 stand troubled states like Zimbabwe, the Central African Republic and Mali.  Ditto for the Sudans and the Congo which are mired in never ending conflict. Yet that thumb nail sketch does not do justice to the successes and failures on the continent. This talk 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 government 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 and cell phones are everywhere. The continental economic growth rate exceeded five percent per year for the past decade. 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, the CAR and Mali are African - and in terms of economic and social progress encompassed in the Millennium Development Goals to which they have subscribed. Nations like Ghana, Uganda, Tanzania, Namibia, Botswana, Mauritius, Senegal 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 must 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:
1. - access to oil (Africa currently supplies about 20 percent of our imports. This should rise to over 25 % within five years.)
2. – fostering of democratic intuitions (It’s true that democracies are better global citizens across the board) .

3. - containment of international blights – terrorism, drugs, piracy, trafficking in persons, illegal migration, AIDS, malaria.
4. -- reduction of conflict (Africa currently has three active wars – Sudan, Mali and Congo. Plus hot spots in Chad, CAR and Nigeria. Violence elsewhere, Somalia for example, has tapered off.)

5. -- humanitarian aid to the vulnerable (usually victims of conflict, natural disaster or pervasive poverty).
6. -- Economic development, trade and investment opportunities (American know-how and capital are competitive. African markets are growing).
7. -- African support internationally (In UN institutions, Africa holds swing votes, but often casts them in unhelpful ways).

African interests:


To give Africa equal time, let me sum up their interests vis a vis the United States:


-- Responsible global leadership, solution to problems

-- Economic assistance, trade and investment

-- Respect for their sovereignty


The Record


During the first four years of the Obama administration – and despite Africa’s strong hopes for new vibrant attention from a son of Africa sitting in the White House – it was business as usual. Certainly, policies and programs persisted and were strengthened.  Many programs registered incremental successes, but there was no great new initiative.  The challenge now before the U.S. and Africa is to build on progress to date.  Let’s look at some of the challenges.


Climate Change


While we worry about and are ravaged by extreme weather in America, our system – by and large – can handle it. Africa is much more fragile.  Climate change that results in drought generates enormous problems for the hundreds of millions of subsistence farmers.  As a result some starve, others become malnourished, children die, disease flourishes. Pastoralists move herds into alien areas where they are not welcome exacerbating conflict over land and water.  The Sahara creeps southward. Most of the current conflicts in Africa: Darfur, Somalia, South Sudan, Congo and Mali have roots in land issues.   Meanwhile, the lack of opportunities in rural areas reinforces the process of urbanization. Youths flock to the cities, but unfortunately, newly arrived migrants find little hope in Africa’s now teeming cities.  Lagos, Kinshasa, Nairobi and Johanesburg are melting pots for millions, but smaller cities like Ndjamena, Bangui, Bamako and Dakar are also bursting at the seams. Surprisingly, despite the poverty and crime that characterizes them, these cities have struck an equilibrium that permits daily life to proceed fairly normally.  


Indeed the social fabric of Africa has changed dramatically over the past twenty years. African institutions are evolving a bit as a consequence.




Prior to gaining independence in the 1960s African states were subjected to the tyranny of colonialism.  It was an exploitative system designed to extract resources to the benefit of the colonial power. There was minimal focus on the development of indigenous governing institutions.  So after independence it was not surprising to find that new rulers mimicked the harsh reality of colonial rule by instituting one man single party systems.  Despite the rationale that such systems reflected the African cultural value of consensus, the systems were exploitative and benefited only a chosen few.  The fragility of these new governments led to dozens, if not a hundred military coups d’etat continent wide.  By the end of the cold war in the late 1980s, stymied by poor growth and unresponsive governments, Africans had come to realize that there were better methods for exercising political rule.  So a new wave of multi-party constitutions swept the continent.  Thus began the process of democratic growth that characterizes many African nations today.  


The first step was to adopt a constitution that provided for multiple parties, elections and constraints on presidential powers.  Dozens of nations did so in the late 1980s early 1990s.  Ideas of accountability and a loyal opposition were new and difficult to respect.  Accountability because up until then few leaders had had their power limited or had been called to answer for their corruption, nepotism or brutality.  The concept of a loyal opposition, the idea that disagreements could be civil rather than violent, and that you could have opponents rather than enemies was difficult to absorb and remains a stumbling block today.  Even so, free and fair elections were an important first step.


When I was ambassador in the Central African Republic in 1993, the nation held its first free election.  The revised constitution was in place, some 15 individuals contested for the presidency.  For most it was an ego trip, but four of them represented substantial ethnic blocks.  Tribalism is the currency of politics in most of Africa. So the issue was which candidate could cobble together enough cross tribal support to win.  Incumbent president Andre Kolingba, a former general who came to power via a coup d’etat, was among the contestants, but he was from a small riverine tribe.  As the election drew near, the people began to realize that they really had power and that their vote mattered.  Emotions heated up.  Election day however, was calm.  Citizens stood in lines – sometimes for hours in order to cast their vote.  I visited a dozen polling places and remember sitting in a hot school room observing a team of poll officials and poll watchers count votes via the light of a single kerosene lantern late into the night.  As votes were tabulated nationwide it became clear that President Kolingba would lose. His team then sought to disrupt the finally tallying but with no success.  Ange Patasse was elected.  He did not turn out to be a very good president and was overthrown by the current president Francois Bozize in a coup several years later.  But the electoral process left an indelible mark on the citizenry and when again they will be empowered to chose, they’ll be ready.


Unlike in the CAR elections elsewhere have not always gone according to plan, but the aftermaths have been better.  Nigeria’s selection of Yar Adua as president in 2007 was deeply flawed from a procedural point of view, but being the best they could do at the time was accepted by the populace and reluctantly endorsed by the U.S. On a better note after Yar Adua died in office in 2010, Nigeria successfully adhered to constitutional succession and swore in Vice President Goodluck Johnson as chief of state.  He was freely and properly elected to his own term in 2011.


Similarly, Kenya’s 2007 election was marred by tribal violence and widespread irregularities.   Only implementation of a carefully negotiated power sharing agreement averted continued violence. However, the Kenyans learned a lesson. Subsequently they revised their constitution and prepared carefully for the election held two weeks ago.  Despite glitches, and only several incidents of violence, the process was fair and the results will ultimately be accepted by all.


These are only several examples.  Elections and peaceful transitions tend to occur again once you have done it a couple of times.  Tanzania has an exemplary record of three such transitions. Botswana, Ghana, Senegal, Benin stand out in that regard as well and now Malawi, Burundi and Liberia have joined in.


Besides the aspect of allowing competition , key elements underpinning the strengthening of democracy in Africa are freer medias and access to them  – newspapers, radio stations, internet, cell phones;  increasingly literate populations,  growing economies and expanding civil society.  By civil society I mean church groups, service clubs, bar associations, women’s rights groups, human rights associations, journalist associations, student forums, political parties, labor unions – in short any and all such organizations that are not creatures of or dependent upon government.  The more there are and the more independent they feel they are, the stronger the democratic fabric of the nation.  Part of America’s policy approach to fostering democracy in Africa includes support to civil society organizations.


One of the modern responsibilities of governments is to grant, observe and protect the human rights of its citizens.  Virtually every African government has such clauses in its constitution. Additionally all African states are parties to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights as well as the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights.   Problems are in the details.  Impoverishment and neglect are the basic causes of rights violations in Africa, but there have been many cases of deliberate violations.   In almost every African state the judiciary is a weak institution.  It is inadequately funded and staffed. Thus the rule of law and rectification of wrongs through the courts is rarely satisfactory.  Concomitantly, prisons are almost always inadequate.  Conditions are uniformly poor.   Even in peaceful countries soldiers, police and bureaucrats are often violators rather than protectors of human dignity. In conflict zones such as eastern Congo and Darfur intimidation, brutality and rape are all too common. 


In 1996 when I arrived as ambassador in Rwanda there was no legal system. What had existed before the genocide had collapsed.  Judges, prosecutors and clerks had fled, court rooms were looted and abandoned. And importantly there was no statute in the legal code governing genocide.  Meanwhile there were 100,000 people jailed for genocide related crimes in prisons built for 15,000.  Obviously there was a crisis, but how to deal with it?  How to balance the deaths of a million people against the rights of those accused of killing them?  First was to cooperate with the new authorities in the drafting of a genocide statute that would pass international muster; second was to rebuild the judicial system; third was to try to improve conditions in the prisons.  We, the United States, did all three.  Experts aided in the drafting of new laws. We provided funding to refurbish courtrooms and to train lawyers and judges; and working with the International Committee of the Red Cross we helped alleviate some of the worst prison conditions. 


In looking at modern Africa, you cannot helped but to be impressed by economic progress.  By no means is Africa out of the woods or off the dole, but still by registering growth rates of  5 percent per year and better over the last decade, it is catching up.  Reality, however, is that the overwhelming number of people are rural subsistence farmers or urban poor.  So where is Africa’s growth coming from?  First, resources - almost a dozen African states are petroleum producers. Nigeria and Angola lead the way, but Gabon, Equatorial Guinea, Chad, Congo and South Sudan are producers. Newcomers along the West African littoral including Cote d’Ivoire and Liberia are now in the game as is Uganda in the east.  Oil, or diamonds, gold, timber, copper, bauxite and coltan can be a curse as well as a blessing.  Governments of countries endowed with such wealth have not necessarily used it wisely.  Funds have been spent lavishly or siphoned away into personal coffers. Often there is an extremely wealthy governing class, but only a little trickle down to the people.  That is beginning to change, albeit slowly, with the rise of more politically astute populations that demand accountability.


Nations such as Ghana, Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, Ethiopia, Namibia, Rwanda, Mauritius and Senegal that are not endowed with ground wealth have developed mixed economies that are diverse and resilient.  They have banked not only on improving agricultural production via modern inputs and free markets, but also have supported industry such as manufacturing, textile production and even off shore banking and call centers. The policy breakthrough that has enabled much of this growth was reformed economic policies that dismantled state controls and freed the private sector. Better education and more economic opportunities result in an emerging middle class.  This in turn is politically stabilizing in that when a society offers multiple roads to success, there is much less pressure on elites to contest for political power and the largess that control of government traditionally provided.


Despite improving prospects African states are hampered by woefully inadequate infrastructure, limited access to finance, restricted markets, unresponsive governments and an uneducated labor force.  Donor states and institutions including the United States, China, the European Union and the World Bank all have various programs to help Africa along, but the need is much greater than the resources available.  So progress is slow.    


From the American side, for example, our assistance program for Africa last year totaled 6.9 billion.  But of that only 1 billion went to development objectives. The remainder was humanitarian aid for health issues, disaster relief, refugees and internally displaced persons; plus military aid, much of it to support peace keeping operations. Given the economic imbroglio currently Washington, it is unrealistic to expect dramatic movement in these figures at any time in the near future.       



A major focus for the United States in Africa, both from our government but also from American philanthropists, has been in the health sector.  Africa has long been the incubator of terrifying diseases like Ebola and other hemorrhagic fevers that kill within days, but traditionally other maladies - malaria, measles, cholera, malnutrition, tuberculosis and smallpox have taken toll of millions of human lives. The latest of the scourges is, of course, HIV AIDS.  AIDS started in Africa, probably in the Congo, and it is in Africa where its toll has been the greatest.  When I was in Uganda in 1988-91 I was a member of the Mountain Club of Uganda. We went rock climbing, hiking and climbing in the Ruwenzoris, the fabled mountains of the moon. About twenty of the club members were graduate or medical students at Makerere University. They were Uganda’s brightest and best, but they all subsequently died of AIDS.


Thankfully today, death’s scythe does not cut such a clear swath.  President Bush initiated PEPFAR (President’s Emergency Plan for Aids Relief) a program designed to improve health services specifically with the objective of providing retro-viral medicines.  This anti-AIDS effort was joined by the Gates Foundation, the UN and others.  Today about five million people in Africa are benefiting from retro-viral medicines.  Death rates are lower and because of education, infection rates too are lower.  Even so, AIDS sufferers fill half of the hospital beds in Africa. This, of course, complicates already overburdened health systems. 



Security issues loom high on lists of concerns in Africa. Obviously security is prerequisite for domestic harmony, economic growth and political evolution, all of which are in our interest.  Yet the threats to peace are many. Most are homegrown relating to who is going to control the political/economic pie. While the U.S. does not want to dictate outcomes per se, we do seek an end to internal conflict and cross border violence. To this end we cajole, negotiate, and strive to convince all concerned to sort out difficulties in a peaceful fashion.

Conflict, based essentially on a quest for power, has plagued Africa for generations.  The good news today is that conflict has subsided.  Proxy cold wars have ceased, the liberation of southern Africa zeroed out race based wars. The Rwandan genocide, civil wars in Burundi, Liberia, Chad, Sierra Leone and Cote d’Ivoire are over.  Even long running conflict in Somalia has abated as a legitimate government spreads its authority.  Yet alongside the recent conflagration in Mali, strife continues in Sudan and the Congo.


I suggest that conflict has receded because of better politics - that is more accountable government and via democracy greater opportunities to redress wrongs within the system.  I also attribute reduction of conflict to improved international mediation, negotiation and peace keeping mechanisms. African leaders are in the forefront of efforts to solve conflict while African troops constitute the bulk of peacekeepers on the continent.   At home more professional militaries tend to discourage coups d’etat - although as last year’s coup in Mali indicates - these things still happen.


Sudan is the locus of two conflicts: one in Darfur and the other the continuing struggle between the north and the south - now two separate nations that teeter on the brink of open war.  The Darfur situation has stalemated, a million folks are displaced either internally or as refugees in Chad where help is provided by the international community. Violence still occurs, but is mitigated by a UN Peace Keeping presence. Sadly, no resolution is in sight.


Regarding the north south conflict, the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement settled many issues leading to the plebiscite that resulted in South Sudan’s independence in 2011, but it did not resolve the question of oil revenues - oil is pumped in the south but pipelines transit the north- or the status of southerners who dwell in border provinces.  African presidents have compelled Presidents Bashir of Sudan and Kir of South Sudan to talk and it appears that oil may flow again and that a demilitarized zone will be established along the border.  I am not confident, however, that either side will honor its commitments, so predict that violence will continue.


Right now the eastern Congo seems to be quieting down somewhat following the latest agreement by neighboring presidents to refrain from meddling across the border in the Congo.  There after decades of conflict - again mostly tribally based - normal life has collapsed.   But the central government in far off Kinshasa has little ability to rule; the UN Peace Keeping Operation has proven to be only marginally effective and national security issues are at stake for Rwanda and Uganda as well as access to Kivu’s mineral wealth.  So my prognosis for Congo is that conflict will continue, albeit hopefully at a lower level.


Mali is the embodiment of the maxim that if something can go wrong, it will.  Mali’s fragile and corrupt democracy succumbed to a military coup d’etat in early 2012.  On account of confusion and weakness in the capital, the Tuareg people of the northern desert seized the occasion to declare their own state dubbed Azawad. They in turn were co-opted by regional terrorists, led by a group called Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, who imposed a harsh Islamic rule.   Undoing this chain of events requires several reverse steps.  First, the terrorists must be defanged and destroyed. The French led mission is accomplishing this and the deployment of African troops there will help stabilize this area.  Secondly, democratic civilian government must be restored in Bamako.  Thirdly, the new central government must arrive at some accommodation with the Tuaregs regarding the status of the north. It is not guaranteed that any of these steps will cure Mali’s ills, but they will get it back on the right track. 


In addition to moral suasion, our latest big stick is AFRICOM, the relatively new U.S. military command for Africa.  Although AFRICOM is logical from the U.S. perspective as it is designed for more efficient military thinking and operations, it is somewhat a puzzle and even an affront to African nations.  They fear it as a hegemonic statement of America’s imperial ambitions on the continent.  To an extent that fear is well founded. The American military is a huge hammer and the nails in Africa are usually quite small.  Despite an initial pledge not to go to war in Africa, activities in Libya, Somalia and now the Sahara belie that promise.  Additionally military resources overshadow development oriented monies available from USAID or the Millennium Challenge Corporation.  The expansion of American military activities on one hand and the reduction of civilian on the other results in the militarization of American diplomacy. This is the last thing that Africa needs. It is up to the State Department and ambassadors in the field to find and strike the proper balance.    


As if poverty, drought, disease, poor government, tribalism, civil conflict and religious tension were not enough, Africa is also a venue for terrorism, both of international and local varieties. International terrorism is opportunistic. In Africa it has glommed onto those with pre-existing grievances.  That is not to say that it is less dangerous for having done so. To the contrary having a local host probably makes it more dangerous.


Africa has shown itself to be vulnerable to international terrorists.  Most incidents, the assassination of diplomatic personnel in Khartoum, bombings of embassies in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam, attacks in Abuja, the massacres in Benghazi, the takeover of northern Mali and the attack at the Algerian gas installation occurred because the opportunity arose and no one was prepared or ready to challenge the perpetrators.


The groups that pose the greatest threat now in that regard are Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb and its affiliates who are being challenged in the Sahara; Al Shabaat, the Somali organization that is reeling from military pressure in Somalia; and Boko Harum,  a fundamentalist Islamic organization in northern Nigeria.  So far, none of these groups have shown an ability to operate out of their home regions.  The anti-terrorist effort must be to first contain them there even as undertakings are made to defang and destroy them. 


The first line of defense is to strengthen the abilities of African security services to identify and destroy such challenges.  Most are willing to do so.  In East Africa, fifteen years after the embassy bombing, Kenyan anti-terrorist abilities are more robust. In Somalia the joint African Union force has pushed Al Shabaat back. In Nigeria, the government is fully aware of Boko Harum that it correctly views as threatening Nigeria first.  In Mali, France in conjunction with several West African states as well as the Malian military has retaken the north.


America’s role in these undertaking has been suitably restrained.  We help train and support the AU force in Somali and have not shied away from some specific anti-terrorist actions.  We will help finance, train and support the intervention force in Mali as well.  In Nigeria we will remain in contact and share information with Nigerian security services, but a more expanded role is unlikely.  However, you can bet that there is already underway a rather intense dialogue between the Departments of State and Defense as to what else the U.S. might or ought to do.  State, I would hope is arguing for restraint while the military with more gadgets, men and money than current wars, is looking to expand its footprint. 





America’s interest in a peaceful, prosperous, democratic Africa is undiminished.  Such a state of affairs would suit us best. We would have reliable partners capable of administering their own affairs in a responsible fashion.  This would enable us all to work the problems of poverty and development in the most productive fashion.  The bright note is that overall Africa seems aimed in this direction.  Our record in pursuit of these objectives is spotty, especially as our rhetoric usually outpaces our actions.  Since more money, except perhaps for military expansion, is unlikely, the Obama administration in its second term is going to have to work these same issues in a more effective fashion.  That’s called diplomacy.  


Thank you.




Friday, March 15, 2013

Conflict and Terrorism in Africa

Following is the text of a speech I gave in February, 2013.
Conflict and Terrorism in Africa

Prepared for Angelo State University, February 2013

Robert E. Gribbin

Americans often think of Africa as a locus of violence.  A place where conflict and warfare are common; where strange politics brings barbarous men like Idi Amin, Jean Bedel Bokassa and Charles Taylor to power; where atrocities like starvation, rape and genocide are all too common as is the plunder of villages and the theft of resources.  More recently Africa has also been the site of international terrorism – specifically the killings of American diplomatic personnel in Libya and the occupation of northern Mali.   Unfortunately the stereotypes of violence in Africa are true or at least were true for parts of Africa.  In this talk I propose to look at the nature of conflicts and terrorism to see if we can better understand and find ways to deal with them.

First, I believe it import to know that conflict occurs over something.  The something might be land for grazing or agricultural rights; another might be people – slavery engendered lots of conflict; a third, religion – Nigerians, for example, still engage in religious based fighting between Christians and Moslems and of course international terrorism has its roots in Islamic fundamentalism; a fourth, ideology – war in the Congo, Angola and Ethiopia all contained cold war rationales. and a fifth, the liberation wars for southern Africa  were fought in opposition to the ideology of white rule. Whatever the accompanying reasons, basically conflict comes down to power – challengers seeking to control the government and its resources and defenders seeking to preserve dominance.

A second factor that is always in play in Africa is that of identity.  Although it has become politically incorrect to speak of tribalism, ethnic identity is precisely the factor involved.  Anthropologists define a tribe as a group with a common language, culture and myths of origin.  Tribal identity is integral to individual identity. When I was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Kenya, for example, and employing young men for a water project; their letters seeking employment would begin “Dear Sir, my name is James, I am Luo”  or  “I am Nandi by tribe.”  In modern Africa adherence to the larger tribal family provides a ready network for education, places to stay in the cities and jobs.  Those who have succeeded in life are inclined to look after their brothers first. It is expected of them and they expect to do it. In the post independence years after 1960 tribalism flourished as the building block of politics wherein each tribal group contested for power and the spoils of government.  This remains true today. African states are artificially constructed geographical entities and as such have forced tribes together that prior to the modern era by and large maintained their own systems of government, society and economy.  It is not surprising that tribal contesting for the control of government is the hallmark of African politics.

The African nations that have avoided being swept up in tribal based jockeying and conflict, either have one numerically overwhelming tribe in charge like Botswana or have too many tribes like Tanzania so that no single group can hope to prevail.  I have to footnote here that there are always exceptions. Somalia has but one tribe, the Somali, yet it has been riven by internal factions based on clans. Rwanda’s terrible genocide in 1994 that left about one million dead was based not on tribal differences, but on ethnic differences between Hutu and Tutsi, both ethnicities fall within the broader tribe of Kinyarwanda speaking people.  However, the basis for conflict both in Somalia and in Rwanda was the quest for power. 

In addition to the indigenous social pressures of tribalism, conflict in Africa has been historically exacerbated by other factors.  First, let’s go way back to slavery. Even though prior to the Atlantic slave trade slavery existed on the continent, it was a local phenomena.  However, the opening of the New World market beginning with the Portuguese in the 16th century and continuing on into the 19th  century played havoc with peaceful society. Slavers ushered in an era of suspicion and violence that undoubtedly infected attitudes for generations that followed.  Neighbors could not trust neighbors.  The colonialism that came afterward was exploitation of people and resources by European powers.  Tribes were lumped together without considerations for differences and order was maintained by firepower.   Unfortunately, the system of colonial rule – that is an arbitrary system controlled through a rigid hierarchical structure for the benefit of European overlords was replicated in newly independent governments.  The tribe that was well placed to take over at independence did so to the detriment of others.  Even as they kept the strict autocratic colonial administrative system in place, new African governments justified their one man one party rule as being grounded in the traditional African value of consensus.  Everyone had to go along.  No opposition was permitted.

Political change came via death of the leader, an occurrence that frequently happened as part of a military take-over.   This was the usual method of succession for many years.  It engendered understandable paranoia in presidents. They needed protection for their regime, so they wanted a competent security apparatus, yet frequently it was the head of the military who ousted them, so leaders did not want the military to be too competent.

The Biafran civil war in Nigeria in 1968 was Africa’s most hotly contested issue of secession. In short the Igbo people of the south sought to secede from the larger entity of Nigeria. The horrors of that war were well publicized and certainly gave substance to the perception that Africa was a violent, dangerous place. Yet resolution of the conflict via unconditional surrender of Biafra reaffirmed the continent wide tenet that no changes to colonial delimited borders would be tolerated.  This basic premise, with exceptions for Eritrea and South Sudan, has stymied secessionist movements elsewhere on the continent.   

The cold war was in full roar when Africa became independent. The west, the east and China choose sides.  The impact of the cold war on what might have otherwise been manageable internal conflicts was to magnify them especially by the provision of vast amounts of weaponry.  Thus, struggles in Congo, Angola, Ethiopia, Mozambique and Namibia were intensified and prolonged by cold war factors. Additionally, the over lapping liberation struggles in southern Africa including Zimbabwe and South Africa, with the added elements of combating white rule contributed to an era of widespread conflict.  


In the last decade we have actually seen a remarkable amount of progress in reducing the level of conflict in Africa.  I think this is due to several factors:

With the end of the cold war the amount of weaponry available and the cross border support that characterized those wars ceased. The end of the cold war also meant that western nations, including the U.S. no longer had reasons to prop up autocratic rulers like Mobutu in Zaire or Doe in Liberia and to ignore their corruption and human rights abuses.  

The liberation of southern Africa and the end of apartheid in South Africa, zeroed out race based conflict.

The wave of multi-party constitutions that swept across Africa in the 1990s changed the nature of contesting for political power throughout the continent. Today there is much less of a winner take all syndrome and a better understanding of accountability.  Whenever peaceful change occurs successfully the prospects for its repeating increase.   

Better political systems, clearly improved economics, more open communications and the rise of a middle class all tend to favor continuity and progress over conflict.  

Better militaries. Remember as I indicated above that African militaries have as their first responsibility protection of the regime.  The number of real out-and-out wars between African states are few – Tanzania/Uganda, Ethiopia/Eritrea, Somalia/Ethiopia and the second Congolese war are the only ones that come to mind.  Thus African states find it difficult to justify large military establishments.  But for what they do have, donor states including the U.S. have been willing to help “professionalize”.  This indeed has worked to some extent as it has resulted in better leadership, planning, financing and accountability. A better local military means that an insurgent group is less likely to challenge it.  Although impossible to measure we believe this sort of professionalization also helps keep the military out of politics.  Again, however, a footnote: Captain Sanogo who led the coup in Mali last year was U.S. trained.

The world, including certainly African leaders, has put into place and has employed much improved mechanisms for resolving disputes and thus ending or mitigating conflict.  Generally this involves mediation between contesting parties under the aegis of senior statesmen.  Examples of successful negotiations include: the Lusaka Accords for Congo, Arusha Accords for Burundi, the Liberian Constitution hammered out in Accra, Nairobi discussions on Somalia, talks for the Cote d’Ivoire and the Comprehensive Peace Agreement for Sudan.  Again a footnote: the Arusha Agreements for Rwanda in 1993 did not work and probably hastened the onset of genocide. Why? Because the hard liners that later instigated the genocide were not part of the process. The lesson learned was that all parties to conflict had to be at the mediation table.

As with negotiations, over the years we have learned lessons from peace keeping operations in Africa. For example, troops today are better equipped, trained and have clear mandates. Additionally, Africans are out in front.  Formerly in Liberia and Sierra Leone, now in Somalia and CAR and soon in Mali, Africans take the lead in running Peace Keeping Operations. African troops are likewise essential to UN Peace Keeping efforts in Sudan, South Sudan, Ethiopia and Eritrea. 

Cool Spots 

Before I get to the hot spots, let me briefly review the successes of the last ten years or so. These nations are pretty much out of the woods in terms of slipping back into anarchy and violence.

Liberia – Although personally an optimist, when I was in Liberia in 2003 while megalomaniac Charles Taylor ran the place I had no hope for the nation.  But that has all completely changed. Liberia is well started on the road back under dynamic democratically elected president, Ellen Sirleaf Johnson.

Neighboring Sierra Leone too is stable and progressing.

Rwanda has recovered remarkably from the impact of genocide. It has visionary leadership under President Paul Kagame who is striving to complement Rwanda’s agricultural riches with a high tech industrial sector. Rwanda has now judged those guilty of genocide and is attempting to move ahead into a society where ethnicity is not a factor.

Burundi’s civil war ended in 2005 with the inauguration of Pierre Nkurazizi and the implementation of an ethnically inclusive political system.

After much maneuvering and years of strife Cote d’Ivoire too has cobbled together a political compromise that provides for stability. Its economic leadership in West Africa may also recover as the benefits of peace are re-established.

Now for the hot spots.

Let’s take Mali first since it is so much in the news and look at three issues. First the descent of Mali into the current maelstrom began with the military take over last year by Captain Sanogo and his team.  Part of the dispute that led to this was a disagreement over the government’s role in the north.  Whatever the basis for the action, the takeover indicated that Mali’s democracy was fragile. It was corrupt and unresponsive and simply did not stand up to the coup makers.  So one item to be fixed in Mali is the restoration of healthy democratic government.  Even though the coup leaders have ceded some authority to an appointed civilian government, the key issue here – at least for the U.S. – is the seating of an elected government.  As a point of law, the U.S. ceases bilateral assistance whenever a legally constituted government is illegally overthrown.  Plans are underway for elections next summer.

A second issue in Mali is the exclusion of the Tuareg people of the Sahara from government.  This is the tribal issue at play.  Tuaregs have been in rebellion in some fashion or another since colonial times. Current difficulties began when leaders took advantage of the coup in Bamako to assert their independence in the north. They dubbed their breakaway nation Azwad. Some of the Tuaregs gained the weaponry needed to substantiate their break from having served in Qadafi’s military. When he fell, they came home with the guns.

The third part of the problem lies with terrorists. Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb is a successor organization to a Salafist group from southern Algeria. Over the years its grievances have essentially been aimed at Algeria, even as its actions centered on smuggling and kidnapping for ransom.  At some point AQIM was acknowledged to be a “franchise” of AL Qaeda but analysts differ on how close contacts might be.  In any case in addition to Algerians, AQIM boasts fighters and adherents from Mali and several surrounding African states as well as from the Middle East.  Another outfit identified as Ansar Dine, which appears to be Libyan oriented also joined in.  In sum, these organizations, composed mostly of outsiders, coopted and took over the Tuareg secessionist movement. Their vision is one of Islamic extremism. One of anti-western jihad with careful adherence to the Koran and implementation of Sharia law. This is a much more rigid interpretation of Islam than the Tuaregs or other residents of the north practice.   

 The French led intervention has restored Malian control to most of the north.  The towns of Gao and Timbuktu are back in government hands.  I am confident that the French will stay involved to assure military success even after an African force is in place.  The terrorists have been chased back into the desert where small groups of them may remain active for some time.

The key to pacification of the north is some sort of viable agreement between the central government and the Tuaregs. Let it be said that Bamako governments have historically not been willing to make the concessions necessary for resolution.  We’ll have to see if a new government is more accommodating. Absent that you’ll have a military occupation and political stalemate that might endure for years to come.


Although Mali appears to be a solvable problem, Sudan may not be.  There are two conflicts outstanding in Sudan – one in Darfur and the other between Sudan and South Sudan.

First, Darfur.   Conflict in Darfur is a mélange of tribalism, regionalism, desertification, secessionist sentiment, Khartoum politics and opportunism. Essentially in the early 2000s Darfur saw the South getting an acceptable deal – including oil - from Khartoum. It too wanted autonomy and reversion to the independence it enjoyed in the 19th century.  Additionally, African tribes correctly felt that Khartoum favored Arab tribes whenever issues -  such as disputes over land or grazing rights arose.  Droughts in the eighties and nineties exacerbated such tensions.  So Darfur rebelled.  Khartoum’s response was harsh.  It unleashed the superior firepower of the air force and the army.  It authorized and equipped Arab militia units to terrorize, destroy and loot.  The international community characterized this violence as genocide. Over a million people fled to internal camps and across the border to Chad.  Throughout the central government denied any involvement in any atrocities, but it adamantly refused to let the humanitarian community care for victims.  The worst of the violence was in 2003 and 2004. The conflict has since settled into a standoff. There has been no resolution and efforts to negotiate a settlement have gone nowhere, but a UN peacekeeping presence has lessened the number of violent incidents and, as grudgingly permitted, humanitarian assistance has helped the afflicted.  I do not see anything new happening in Darfur until there is regime change in Khartoum and a willingness on the central government’s part to accommodate some autonomy for Darfur.

Southern issues are more intractable and inflammable.  The Comprehensive Peace Agreement signed in 2005 was a successful effort that ended 40 years of civil war; a war that in simplistic terms pitted black African Christian or animist southerners against Arab Muslim northerners. The key provision was that in six years the South would hold a plebiscite on whether to remain with Sudan or not.  Since in the interim period neither side did much to encourage unity, it was not surprising that the South voted for independence. Thus in 2011 South Sudan was born.  Despite the term comprehensive, the agreement punted on several difficult issues.  They included oil revenue, the status of Abyei, the oil producing area, and the future of southerners in Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile provinces, areas that were left under northern sovereignty.         

Eighty percent of oil production occurs in the south, but the pipe lines to export it transit the north.  Oil revenues were a major source of financing for the government in Khartoum – especially for its war efforts -  and, after independence, virtually the sole source of revenue for the new government in Juba.  During the interim period prior to the plebiscite the parties could not agree on a formula for dividing revenues.  Additionally, even though the CPA ordained a separate referendum to decide the status of Abyei, the parties have been unable to agree on the terms for that process. So last year, as tensions heightened and the two nations approached the brink of renewed war, the South declared a moratorium on oil exports.   This had an obviously catastrophic effect on southern revenues, but underlined how determined the new government was to assert its sovereignty and to use the money lever to extract a workable formula and better behavior from the regime in Khartoum.   So far, it has not worked.

Without further definition the CPA stated that suitable arrangements would have to be decided vis a vis ethnic southerners and sympathizers in South Kordofan and Blue Nile. Black Africans in those areas, especially the Juba Mountains, were part and parcel of the Southern Peoples Liberation Movement for which they fought and died, but they were not included in the new state.  Afterwards as they continued to agitate against Khartoum, they were subjected to brutal and indiscriminate suppression, essentially a policy of annihilation.   

Intervention by African presidents last year in compelling talks between presidents Bashir and Kir have avoided open warfare between the two states, yet despite a UN Peace Keeping Presence, meddling by each side across the border and conflict along the border continues apace.   

Although the money issue will ultimately force the parties to some workable agreement – oil production may resume in several months – other issues are stalemated.  As with Darfur, if any real progress is to be made it will probably come after a regime change in Khartoum.

Meanwhile, the international community having helped create a failed state in South Sudan must shoulder some enormous responsibilities in fostering progress.


The current imbroglio in the Congo has many roots, but conflict there is clearly tied to power. Power over the land, the people and the resources.  Parties to violence have exploited tribalism, local, national and regional politics.  Outside powers have intervened, ostensibly to protect their national security interests.  Various negotiation efforts produced sparse results. The result has been a region in anarchy. Estimates are that up to five million people have perished during the past twenty years – some directly from warfare, most from the collapse of social infrastructure – markets, agriculture, roads, heath services, schools, food and medicine distribution systems and so forth. A million people are displaced and the economy has suffered grievously.

Dissecting the ins and outs of the chaos is complicated.   I’ll give a thumb nail sketch.  In the last decade or so of Mobutu’s Zaire, central government control of eastern Zaire slipped away.  So when the Rwandan genocide occurred in 1994 the lands across the border were lightly regulated.  The influx of a million Hutu refugees who remained under the control of those who organized genocide augmented existing tribal hatreds.  Shortly, the new Rwanda leadership allying with Tutsi citizens of Zaire and under cover of a Zairian organization compelled the return of most refugees from the border camps. However, genocidaire forces accompanied by several tens of thousands of refugees fled westward into the jungle.  Ultimately fighting led to Mobutu’s departure and Laurent Kabila’s installation as chief of state.  Several years later, Kabila in turn betrayed his sponsors and that led to a second Congolese war.  That war ended when in accordance with the provisions of the Lusaka Accords foreign forces withdrew, a UN Peace Keeping operation began and internal dialogue ensued leading finally to the establishment of a legitimate government in Kinshasa, now headed by Joseph Kabila.   Yet the anarchy in the east continued.  Rwandan and Ugandan surrogates battled each other. Genocidaire forces, local militia and warlords ran amok. Tribal and ethnic issues became even more contentious. The UN operation proved inadequate.  Political solutions did not stick. External actors – mostly Rwandan and Ugandan – plundered natural resources.   Iterations of violence continued. 

The central government has not proven able to control the east. Its reconstituted several times military forces remain as much a problem as they are a solution.  The UN PKO, the largest in the world, remains marginally effective.  In the round of violence beginning last year a Tutsi militia group called M23 renewed independent operations claiming that the March 23rd agreement of 2009 that should have included them in the Congolese army had not been honored.  Subsequently, presidents of Congo, Rwanda and Uganda hammered out yet another deal designed to calm the east.

I think we have been on the right track towards solutions for some time.  Key is to hold governments and organizations to their commitments. External meddling is not helpful, but the fecklessness of Kinshasa’s approach to the east is also counterproductive.   More widespread peace is clearly the principal requirement for progress.


I have to talk about Somalia in any discussion of conflict in Africa.  I won’t do a blow by blow, but will observe that the situation there after decades of conflict has improved.  This is due to several factors: years of political discussions and maneuvering – mostly among Somali leaders themselves -  finally led to a process and establishment of a legitimate government.  Thanks to an African Union military intervention force dubbed AMISOM, that new government has the space to operate and consolidate its authority.  Much remains to be accomplished.  International terrorist linked forces of Al Shabaab while now in retreat are nonetheless formidable adversaries.  The U.S. keeps a careful eye out for them and has acted unilaterally on several occasions to impede them.  Outsiders including the US and African contributors to AMISOM will have a role to play in promoting pacification in Somalia for years to come.


Let me close with a few observations about terrorism.  Although acts of terrorism can and have been employed by disgruntled elements for years, we are most concerned today with terrorists who link their cause to an Islamic fundamentalist jihad aimed at the west, aimed at America.  Blowing up U.S. embassies in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam, bombing the USS Cole and of course the 9/11 attacks are examples of their work.  Defeating such terrorists requires intelligence about them and their plans as well as the ability to interdict and defeat them.

African states share our abhorrence with international terrorism and within their means are supportive of efforts to deny it footholds, root it out and destroy it. With the exceptions of when Sudan hosted terrorists, including Ben Laiden, in the early nineties, and the ungoverned spaces of Somalia and Mali, African governments deny sanctuary to terrorists. Terrorists have to operate clandestinely.

U.S. policy is to encourage and support African efforts to more robustly combat international terrorism. To this end we cooperate on intelligence matters and on the military side we train and equip African units for interdiction operations.  Much of the justification for U.S. involvement in Somalia, the presence of our military task force in the horn of Africa based in Djibouti and certainly our support to operations in Mali and elsewhere in the Sahara are based on anti-terrorist criteria.

From a policy perspective of an ambassador I think the necessity here is to be cautious and to strike a proper balance.  We must not let anti-terrorism considerations become the sole wherewithal for American relations with African nations. 

Let me conclude by reiterating that the trends regarding conflict in Africa are encouraging.  Today there are fewer volatile situations and better mechanisms for avoiding violence than was true in the past.  But until African political systems are fully resilient and mature, disgruntlement can easily morph into violence.  Meanwhile hot spots – especially Sudan, Congo and Somalia - will remain combustible and others may flare up.  Finally, terrorists will continue to probe for targets of opportunity.  

So while, the overall situation is much improved, vigilance and action are still necessary.  In that regard the United States will remain a viable partner in helping to quell conflict and squash terrorism.     

Well I have said a lot. Let me stop here and listen to your comments and questions.
Thank you.