Abramoff’s Africa and “Obama’s America”

We of a certain age, born in the early 60’s at the tail end of the baby boom, grew up in the Ford and Carter era and went to college in the Reagan years–young enough to avoid being fully confronted by Vietnam and Watergate and young enough, if we didn’t live in the Deep South at least, to take the basics of “civil rights” for “black” Americans somewhat for granted.

Jack Abramoff grew up in Beverly Hills.   He poured his energies into powerlifting and then went off to Brandeis and became a leader in the “conservative movement” youth insurgency through the College Republicans.   Barack Obama grew up primarily in Honolulu, went to an elite prep school and found his rebellion through embracing the “black” and to some extent “third world” sides of his identify.   He started at Occidental and then transferred to Columbia where he first discovered his taste for participation in politics in speaking to activist students in support of divestment in South Africa in opposition to apartheid.

For Abramoff, however, South Africa was about the Cold War and he played aggressively on the other side of the divestment issue as national College Republican chairman.   Access to expenses-paid junkets to South Africa, sponsored by the apartheid government, were a part of the “coinage of the realm” of the Abramoff political operation in maintaining loyalty and control within the national level of the College Republicans in the middle Reagan years.   Those of us who were College Republican state chairmen would be sent lots of papers and materials about the alleged communist nature of the African National Congress, Winnie Mandela and “necklacing”, and such–as well as supporting the Reagan Administration’s “constructive engagement” policy and opposing divestment.

This is not to say that supporting the “Contras” in Nicaragua wasn’t perhaps Jack’s first policy priority, along with supporting the the administration on El Salvador–or that there wasn’t greater romance with the Mujahadeen fighting an assertedly religious “good war” against the Soviets and their allies in Afghanistan–but South Africa was treated as an important issue–and the inter-related effort of backing Jonas Savimbi and UNITA in Angola had special resonance.

In 1986, Congress overrode Reagan’s veto to impose sanctions on the South African regime, rejecting the “constructive engagement” approach.  The late Rep. Howard Wolpe (D-Mich) as chair of the Africa Subcommittee of House Foreign Affairs led on the sanctions effort.

When the sanctions went into place against the South African government, Abramoff helped found the “nonpartisan” International Freedom Foundation (IFF), with headquarters in Washington and a Johannesburg office, to continue this fight, among others.  What most people didn’t know until groundbreaking investigative reporting by Newsday in 1995 was that the International Freedom Foundation was directly funded in substantial part by the South African regime to advance its cause in the “marketplace of ideas” through information operations.

A respectable Washington foundation, which drew into its web prominent Republican and conservative figures like Sen. Jesse Helms and other members of Congress, was actually a front organization bankrolled by South Africa’s last white rulers to prolong apartheid, a Newsday investigation has shown.

The International Freedom Foundation, founded in 1986 seemingly as a conservative think tank, was in fact part of an elaborate intelligence gathering operation, and was designed to be an instrument for “political warfare” against apartheid’s foes, according to former senior South African spy Craig Williamson. The South Africans spent up to $1.5 million a year through 1992 to underwrite “Operation Babushka,” as the IFF project was known.

The current South African National Defence Force officially confirmed that the IFF was its dummy operation.

The IFF issued publications and studies and hosted events featuring establishment heavyweight speakers including Henry Kissinger (IRI’s 2009 “Freedom Award” honoree and benefactor of blessing on V.P. nominee Sarah Palin in the 2008 presidential campaign of IRI Chairman McCain), and attracted a significant chunk of the leadership of the “movement conservative” wing of the GOP to its advisory boards, according to Newsday.

With the blow up of the Iran-Contra affair and Oliver North and others out of the White House, a private foundation with funding from a foreign government was a timely mechanism to influence public opinion, although the South African funding was obviously secret and presumably not known to most of the people who were involved (just as I didn’t know as a College Republican chairman earlier that Jack was getting public resources for the “CR” campaign for the “Contras” from Oliver North’s cronies in the government).

It was about this time that Obama first visited his father’s home country of Kenya according to Dreams from my Father.  Michael Ranneberger, Ambassador to Kenya from 2006-11, worked Angola/Namibia during the early Reagan years under Assistant Secretary of State Chester Crocker, known as the originator of “constructive engagement”. Meanwhile, Jack by 1988 was producing his first movie, Red Scorpion, secretly funded by the South African military according to sources in the Newsday story and filmed in South African-held Namibia.  Jack was visiting Savimbi and helping to promote him in Washington, along with his friend Grover Norquist.

By the time of the 1995 Newsday reporting, Nelson Mandela was the elected President of South Africa, and the Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission under Bishop Desmond Tutu was exposing the stories of the apartheid regime in return for immunity.  Compared to the assassinations and paramilitary operations,

“[i]n South African government thinking, the IFF represented a far more subtle approach to defeating the anti-apartheid movement. Officials said the p!an was to get away from the traditional allies of Pretoria, the fringe right in the United States and Europe, “some of whom were to the right of Ghengis Khan,” said one senior intelligence official. Instead, they settled for a front staffed with mainstream conservatives who did not necessarily know who was pulling the strings.

Fast forward to the 21st Century: Former Congressman Wolpe served on the Board of the National Endowment for Democracy and headed the Africa Program at the Woodrow Wilson Center at the time I joined the International Republican Institute to head to Nairobi in 2007 and was subsequently appointed President Obama’s special representative for Africa’s Great Lakes Region.  Ambassador Johnnie Carson, a career Foreign Service Officer, worked the sanctions issue during a stint as a House staffer under Wolpe.  His subsequent Foreign Service career included an appointment as Ambassador to Kenya at the time of Mwai Kibaki’s election in 2002, as well as ambassadorships to Uganda and Zimbabwe.  Carson served as lead of the Africa division of the National Intelligence Council through the later G.W. Bush years, including during the controversial 2007 Kenyan election and then was appointed Obama’s Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs.

Abramoff had set up as a lobbyist upon the takeover of the House of Representatives by the Republicans in 1994, the year before the Newsday story.  His work as “superlobbyist” for the Mississippi Choctaws and other Indian tribes in the casino business was the subject of a front page puff-piece in the New York Times and similarly in the Wall Street Journal while I was working in the defense industry here in Mississippi early in the George W. Bush administration.

By 2006, Obama was elected to the U.S. Senate from Illinois, Jack was indicted and the Republicans lost their House majority briefly, in part because of the multi-layered scandal involving Jack’s lobbying relationships, especially with some of the House Republicans.  Obama went on to the White House and Jack went to jail for a while, although he is back writing and speaking for “limited government” as an antidote to the type of business relationships with elected officials he once enjoyed.

On balance, during those years before Obama briefly joined the Senate Foreign Relations Africa Subcommittee in 2007, it was Jack Abramoff rather than Barack Obama who was substantially and consequentially engaged in the politics of Africa and of America’s relationships in Africa.  Obama did oppose apartheid, while Abramoff advanced the cause of South Africa’s apartheid regime.

It is for this reason, among many others, that I am substantially “turned off” by the hyperventilating conspiracy theories about Obama reflected in Dinesh D’Souza’s campaign movie “Obama’s America” and the rest of the propaganda from the U.S.-based hard right about Obama and foreign policy.

More economic news from Kenya while the campaign season continues to heat up

And in the key sector of immediate interest to the expat community, “Java House deal wins African investment award” from the Nation:

A multi-million dollar deal that saw Nairobi Java House sell a majority stake to a US private equity fund has won the Africa Investor of the year award in a ceremony that also honoured two Kenyan bank chief executives.

The transaction amount was not made public, but Mr Bryce Fort, the managing director of the equity fund, ECP, said at the time that it fell within the firm’s average deal size of about Sh5.1 billion ($60 million).

“The ECP is a strong believer in Africa’s growing middle class,” said chief executive Hurley Doddy in a video address to the Africa Investor summit after winning the award.

The Java House deal, which saw the Washington DC-based ECP acquire a majority stake in the Kenyan coffee chain, was made public early this year.

Here is the link to the story at Africa Assets.

Meanwhile, the IMF predicted 5.7% GDP growth overall for Sub-Saharan Africa in 2013 after 5% growth for 2012.

The Star reports that one group of analysts project that Kenya could near this average, reaching 5.3% growth in 2013 “but only if there is a smooth political transition with a clear winner in round one.”   The pre-election uncertainty and distraction of the campaign are weighing on the economy at present.

Upsidedown Freightcar

A key example of the progress and the frustrations in the Kenyan, and regional, economy, is found an op/ed column in the Sunday Standard from Polycarp Igathe, Chairman of the Kenya Association of Manufacturers, headlined “Inefficient railway system hurting national growth”:

Last month, I visited the port of Mombasa in the company of board members of Kenya Association of Manufacturers (KAM) and Kenya Shippers Council (KSC).

We witnessed firsthand, that at long last, chronic port congestion and inefficiencies are being tackled, bravely, by Kenya Ports (KPA), but timidly by Rift Valley Railways (RVR).

Gichiri Ndua, KPA’s Managing Director explained the gains, efforts and challenges at Kilindini port. Ship-to-shore gantry capacity has more than doubled, dredging of the port is complete and the new berth 19 is almost finalised allowing Port of Mombasa to handle a 16 per cent growth in cargo throughput. Some of the largest shipping lines are now able to call and enables Kilindini to become a transshipment port.

We confirmed that delays in cargo offtake and high cost of cargo transportation are the result of dismal failure in improving railway infrastructure in tandem with port infrastructure. Citadel Capital and Transcentury the major shareholders in RVR must simply know that they are failing the country in outstanding fashion.

Igathe goes on to write that the railroad bottleneck is a key impediment to regional growth, with Mombasa “the only port known in the world to rely 95 per cent on road freight”.  He hails reports of a new commercial contract between the Kenya Railway Corporation and China Roads and Bridges to start building a standard gauge rail line from Mombasa to Malaba as a “game changer”.  Read the whole piece for a Kenyan manufacturers perspective of what is needed for long term growth.

“Is there a generation gap in Africa today?”–Washington event Thursday

Carl LeVan, a “friend of the blog” and African democracy specialist from American University, is leading an interesting roundtable at the Institute for Policy Studies tomorrow in Washington:

Young Voices and New Visions from Africa

Roundtable at the Institute for Policy Studies, 1112 – 16TH Street NW

12:30 – 2:00 on Thursday, October 11

In a public discussion with young bloggers, students, and activists from Africa, IPS Associate Fellow and American University Professor Carl LeVan will ask, is there a generation gap in Africa today? Please join us at the Institute for Policy Studies for a roundtable discussion on African diaspora democracy. Is the real significance of the so-called ‘youth bulge’ an emerging generation gap between citizens and leaders? How do young people confront negative stereotypes of Africa in the US, while also challenging the hard political realities back home?  This free, public dialogue will include:

·         Jumoke Balogun, a Nigerian-American blogger and public relations expert with the Service Employees International Union

·         Mame-Khady Diouf, a Senegalese intellectual from the Woodrow Wilson Center for International Scholars

·         Kizito Byenkya, an Associate Fellow at the Open Society Institute and co-publisher of Compareafrique.com

·         Michael Appau, a Ghanaian student at Georgetown University

·         Estelle Bougna Fomeju, a Cameroonian student at Sciences Po in Paris

Click here for more information about IPS, or to view the event via Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn.

“Must Read” Opinion Links from Kenya, Somalia and the U.S.

“Let’s Face It, Religious Conflict is Already Here” from Muthoni Wanyeki in this week’s East African.

“Coast Problems Are Deeper Than Riots” by Aly Khan Satchu in The Star.  

Dr. Nic Cheeseman’s Democracy in Africa blog: “Kenya’s Election 2013: An Eye on the Rift Valley” by Gabrielle Lynch, Associate Professor of Comparative Politics at the University of Warwick and author ofI say to you: Ethnic politics and the Kalenjin in Kenya’.

“Al-Shabaab and Post-Transition Somalia” by Abdi Aynte in African Arguments.

“Africa Doesn’t Need the Pentagon’s Charity: Why I’m Grumpy About the DOD’s Development Programs in Africa” by Kate Almquist, now of the Center for Global Development, recently the deputy director of the National Defense University’s Africa Center for Strategic Studies and before that, Assistant Administrator for Africa for USAID.  Ms. Almquist’s response to Rosa Brooks “Pivot to Africa” in Foreign Policy captures my personal feelings well.

AFRICOM continued: “The Pivot to Africa” in Foreign Policy

 

An important new piece from Foreign Policy by Rosa Brooks, a former Obama Administration defense official.  She aggressively defends the concept of the military taking on the civil development and assistance roles as a practical approach to U.S. international security given domestic political constraints and the actual challenges faced.  Nonetheless, she concludes that AFRICOM to date is experiencing “the worst of both worlds”:

These problems are not unique to Africom. As other combatant commands have similarly expanded their activities into traditionally civilian domains, they have struggled with similar problems and criticism.

In a sense, we currently inhabit the worst of all possible worlds: The military is increasingly taking on traditionally civilian jobs but doing them clumsily and often halfheartedly, without investing fully in developing the skills necessary for success. Meanwhile, civilian agencies mostly just grumble from the sidelines, waiting for that happy day when Congress gets serious about rebuilding civilian capacity. (I think Samuel Beckett wrote a play about that.) And few people, inside or outside the Pentagon, are taking seriously the need to think in new ways about what “whole-of-government” or a holistic approach to security might truly mean.

The blurring of civilian and military roles is inevitable, but the failure to grapple effectively with this blurring of roles is not. To address threats (and seize opportunities) in this globalized, blurry, chaotic world, we will need to develop new competencies, flexible new structures, and creative new accountability mechanisms. Most critically, we’ll need to let go of our comfortable old assumptions about roles and missions.

Well worthwhile to read the whole piece.  I’ll have some comments in the near future.

Some important reading while watching AFRICOM evolve

QDDR–the second leg of a two-legged stool?

AGOA, AFRICOM and the “Three Ds”

AFRICOM and the “Whale of Government” Approach

Uganda, Iran and the Security-Democracy Trade Space?

Democracy and Competing Objectives: “We need you to back us up”

GAO report . . . highlights changes of effective coordination of civil affairs/development work

“Pack like it’s Arizona”

 

 

Some important reading while watching AFRICOM evolve

From the Small Wars Journal an article entitled “The Slow Motion Coup: Militarization and the Implications of Eisenhower’s Prescience”.  The author, William J. Olsen, is a professor at the National Defense University’s Near East South Asia Center for Strategic Studies, a counterpart to the Africa Center for Strategic Studies:

Or another simple question: Why do we have Combatant Commanders?  This is a model drawn from WWII, made formal and deeply rooted as the result of the Cold War.  Both are over.  Why does the establishment linger?  And if we are to have a pro-consul per region, why a military officer?  Why not a senior civilian with a military adviser?

In this context, something else I have long recommended reading for getting a “feel” for AFRICOM is Chapter Seven of Robert Kaplan’s Imperial Grunts: The American Military on the Ground.  The chapter is titled “CENTCOM, Horn of Africa, Winter 2004, with notes on East Africa”.  Although the period Kaplan covers is before the stand up of AFRICOM as a separate Combatant Command, he visits the Marines of the Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa at Camp Lemonier, Djibouti and accompanies an Army Civil Affairs Team setting up in Lamu, Kenya:

     These teams had a twofold mission: make a sustained contribution to the island’s quality of life, so that the inhabitants would see a relationship with the U.S. as in their best interests; and more immediately, be the advance guard for U.S. Marines from the U.S.S. Germantown coming ashore to repair a school and conduct a MEDCAP.

Lamu was an example of the new paradigm for projecting American power: modernize host country bases for use as strategic outposts, maintain local relationships through humanitarian projects, then use such relationships to hunt down “bad guys.”  Whether it was upgrading a runway, digging a well, or whacking a terrorist, the emphasis was always on small teams.

More broadly:

    The new paradigm gave (Marine) Brig. Gen. Robeson a sort of power that no U.S. ambassador or assistant secretary of state quite had.  Not only wasn’t he burdened by the State Department’s antiquated bureaucratic divisions but his ability to deal with the regions’s leaders and strongmen may also have been helped by a cause-and-effect, working class mind, disciplined by the logic of Marine tactical operations manuals and the classical military education he had received at Fort Leavenworth.  Though democracy was gaining in the region, many of the elected leaders with whom Robeson had developed relationships were former guerrilla fighters and military men . . .

The fact that generals like Mastin Robeson were in the diplomatic forefront, somewhat at the expense of the State Department, troubled commentators who assumed the permanence of industrial-age categories of bureaucratic responsibility, categories helped into being by the nineteenth-century professionalization of European militaries, which consequently separated them from civilian command structures.  But the distinctions appeared to be weakening.

From a review at Foreign Affairs:

Kaplan’s book is wider ranging. His underlying thesis is that the places he visits represent the periphery of a new American empire, whose fate will be determined by how its foot soldiers — the grunts — engage with the local populations. The analogy is to the frontiersmen of the nineteenth century: everywhere he goes he is welcomed to “Injun Country.” It is probably best not to worry too much about the thesis, which is half-baked, and instead enjoy the insights and reportage from a master of this sort of extreme travel writing.

Secretary Clinton visiting South Sudan, Uganda and Kenya (including TFG meetings) on six nation Africa mission

Here is the official State Department language describing the diplomacy:

Secretary Clinton travels to South Sudan where she meets with President Kiir to reaffirm U.S. support and to encourage progress in negotiations with Sudan to reach agreement on issues related to security, oil and citizenship.

In Uganda, the Secretary meets with President Museveni to encourage strengthening of democratic institutions and human rights, while also reinforcing Uganda as a key U.S. partner in promoting regional security, particularly in regard to Somalia and in regional efforts to counter the Lord’s Resistance Army. She will also highlight U.S. support in the fight against HIV/AIDS.

The Secretary will then travel to Kenya where she plans to meet President Kibaki, Prime Minister Odinga, and other government officials to emphasize her support for transparent, credible, nonviolent national elections in 2013. To underscore U.S. support for completing the political transition in Somalia by August 20th, Secretary Clinton will also meet with President Sheikh Sharif and other signatories to the Roadmap to End the Transition.

 

 

Salim Lone book talk and today’s public radio stories

Salim Lone last week at Chatham House, London, speaking on Kenya’s Pre- and Post-Election Challenges: The End of the Kibaki-Raila Decade ahead of the publication of his book, War and Peace in Kenya.

From NPR’s All Things Considered today, “Kenya’s Free Schools Bring a Torrent of Students”:

A study published by Britain’s Sussex University in 2007 found that Kenya’s free schools were “a matter of political expediency … not adequately planned and resourced,” and as a result, there have actually been more dropouts and a falling quality of education.

Conversely, the number of private schools has increased tenfold as parents look for alternatives to overcrowded classrooms.

The situation is similar in neighboring Tanzania, which did away with school fees a year earlier in 2002. The student population also skyrocketed, leading to packed classrooms, book shortages, overused toilets, a teacher scarcity and an increase in paddling students to keep order.

And here is a good “Wealth and Poverty” feature from American Public Radio’s Marketplace on an international folk art market in Santa Fe, New Mexico with craftspeople from a number of African countries participating.  Interesting discussion of globalization and the impact of imports of used clothing.

Happy Djibouti Day–but don’t forget democracy and free speech

Here is Secretary Clinton’s message for the 35th Anniversary of independence for Djibouti:

On behalf of President Obama and the people of the United States, I am delighted to send best wishes to the people of Djibouti on the 35th anniversary of your independence this June 27.

Over the years, our two nations have continued to build a closer relationship. I appreciate all Djibouti has done to support our men and women working at Camp Lemonnier and to play a stabilizing role in the Horn of Africa, particularly in Somalia. I look forward to strengthening our partnership in the years to come by increasing access to healthcare and education, strengthening humanitarian assistance, and enhancing our security initiatives.

As you celebrate your independence, know that the government and people of the United States stand with you. We are committed to this relationship and to a brighter future for both our people.


Djibouti is the only African country with a full-blown U.S. military base–and it has a small population. A good test case for a New Africa Policy that emphasizes democracy perhaps?

Here is the latest from AFRICOM following last week’s “new policy” on Africa

Aside

Here is the official word from the AFRICOM blog on the current annual joint African Endeavor exercise in West Africa, along with a good comment from David Aronson to the effect that these things make conceptual sense to build the security capacity of African states, but also raise concerns in terms of the potential for this capacity to benefit repressive regimes.

It seems that in the U.S. most people who pay attention to things are asking what then is new in the “New Policy” on Sub-Saharan Africa from the White House last week.  Rhetorically the prioritization on democracy has been there–the question is what concrete steps we are willing to take to do a better job in practice of balancing competing priorities.  The policy announcement speaks to the concerns raised in my last post, but in generalities.

Ultimately, democratic transition involves risk and uncertainty–something different than “security”.  Local perspective is necessary.  In Kenya, for instance, we have seen the al-Qaeda-related Embassy bombing and other acts of terrorism; nonetheless, Kenyans can only dream of the day when poor performance by their own government is not vastly more dangerous than the terrorists.  Even with the current war in Somalia the regular stream of explosions killing Kenyans week in and week out are road accidents.