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.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Book review - Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight

Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight – an African Childhood, by Alexandra Fuller,  Random House, NY 2001. 

Although published first, I read this book after I read Cocktails under the Tree of Forgetfulness, a biography of her mother,  by the same author (reviewed in June 2012).  Accordingly the thrust of the story was already known to me. Nonetheless, this autobiography was entertaining and revealing in its own right.

The author, called Bobo as a child, was born in England, but grew up in Africa – in Zimbabwe, Malawi and Zambia.  Her family was quite self contained. Her parents had the bad luck to end up on every out-of- the- way run- down farm or plantation out there.  Bobo’s mother, Nicola, was an alcoholic whose problems were compounded by mental instability.  Depression at least partially attributed to the fact that she lost three babies resulted in Nicola often neglected her daughters - omissions that taught them self reliance. Throughout, Bobo and her older sister Vanessa coped.

Life was not easy on the Zimbabwe farm tucked up against the border of Mozambique during Zimbabwe’s civil war.  “Terrorists” as the African insurgents were called posed an ever present threat.  Bobo’s parents always had automatic weapons at their sides, even while they slept.   The house was full of dogs, who accompanied Bobo and her mother on their daily horse rides.  Bobo’s early memories are of this house, the servants, the problems, the travels and the adventures.  Independence came. The whites lost the war, so the situation for them changed dramatically; not just politically, but economically and socially.  For example, Bobo’s whites only school was inundated by African children.  Furthermore the racial superiority practiced by white settlers was no longer tolerated. Children like Bobo handled these changes better than adults.

Yet, the Fullers stayed on.  They adapted and survived. They moved successively to an abandoned ranch, then on to a tobacco plantation in Malawi and finally to a farm in Zambia. 

Bobo’s memoir is replete with candid anecdotes of daily life and familial interactions; often told via dialogue.  The author has a keen memory of how they spoke. She vividly constructs a picture of what her life was like.  Given the oddness of her upbringing and her eccentric parents, it is a bit amazing that she turned out normal.  But apparently, she did.

For those who want a glimpse of another time and place, this is an interesting memoir.