Carson finds best hope for U.S. Africa policy to be “benign neglect” outside security sector (update)

[Update: Rex Tillerson was confirmed as Secretary of State today, with the votes of those Republicans who had raised questions about his commitmant to human rights and other issues related to his career long tenure at oil major Exxon.  He takes over a State Department where perhaps 1,000 officers and employees have signed a leaked “dissent” from President Trump’s immigration and refugee order impacting those of Somali, Sudanese and Libyan nationality, among seven countries.  Tillerson has said he was not consulted on the Executive Order.]

Former Obama administration Assistant Secretary of State Johnnie Carson finds “Trump’s Africa policy unclear and uncertain” but expects a broad pulling back from existing bipartisan programs in a piece at African Arguments:

. . . .

Trump has exhibited no interest in Africa. Nor have any of his closest White House advisors. Except for some campaign comments about Libya and Benghazi, the new president has made very few remarks about the continent. And despite his global network of hotel, golf and tourist holdings, he appears to have no investments or business relationships in sub-Saharan Africa.

The one member of Trump’s inner circle that may have an interest in Africa is Secretary of State nominee Rex Tillerson. He has some experience of Africa because of his many years in the oil industry with ExxonMobil, most of whose successful dealings on the continent were with largely corrupt and authoritarian leaders.

If Tillerson appoints a moderate and experienced Africa expert to run the Africa Bureau – and there are a dozen Republicans who meet that definition – and if he is able to keep policy in the control of the State Department, African issues may not be pushed aside completely. But irrespective of who manages Trump’s Africa policy, there will be a major change from recent previous administrations.

President Obama pushed a strong democratic agenda and launched half a dozen new development programmes including Power Africa, Feed the Future and the Global Health Initiative. Before him, Bush’s “compassionate” approach led to the establishment of the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) and the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC), two of America’s most widely-praised programmes on the continent.

But Trump’s view is more myopic . . .

Under Trump, any focus on Africa will likely be on military and security issues, not democracy, good governance or human rights.  These policies are likely to find greater favour with Africa’s autocrats than civil society or local business leaders.

. . . .  Photo from church of African-American freedmen from Cumberland Island, Georgia for Black History Month

Egypt update . . .

Cairo at Egypt Constitutional Referendum 2014

Cairo at Egypt Constitutional Referendum 2014

“Egypt’s constitutional referendum has solved nothing” by Sharif Nashashibi, March 31 at Al Arabiya:

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Democracy International, which according to the Financial Times “fielded the most robust international monitoring operation,” expressed “serious concerns” about the political environment preceding the latest vote. “There was no real opportunity… to dissent,” said the Washington-based consultancy. “This constrained campaign environment made a robust debate on the substance and merits of the constitution impossible.”

Transparency International, which also sent observers for the referendum, condemned “repression by state authorities” prior to the vote. The government “harassed, arrested, and prosecuted peaceful critics, closing democratic space to promote views and debate before the referendum,” said the Berlin-based anti-corruption organization.

The U.S.-based Carter Center, which observed the previous constitutional vote, said it was “deeply concerned” by the “narrowed political space surrounding the upcoming referendum.” It said it would not field observers this time because “the late release of regulations for accreditation of witnesses” meant that the Center would be unable to do its job properly.

The result was “the least free and fair of the five national referendums and elections held since Egypt’s military-backed dictator Hosni Mubarak was pushed from power by mass protests in February 2011,” wrote Christian Science Monitor correspondent Dan Murphy. For all Mursi’s faults – and he had many – at least there was a vigorous campaign against his constitution, by opposition groups that were not outlawed.

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Just as Mursi’s constitution exacerbated national divisions while promising the opposite, the same is true of its replacement. It has simply entrenched the idea of three increasingly irreconcilable Egypts: that which supports Sisi and the military, that which backs Mursi and the Brotherhood, and that which opposes both.

This process will continue with the almost-certain scenario of a military figure (Sisi) as the next president, and an ever-widening clampdown on dissent. Mubarak must be getting a strong and satisfying sense of deja vu.

Crucially, there is no sign that approval of this new constitution has made, or will make, any positive difference to the country’s myriad and chronic problems. If anything, deadly violence is worsening, wholesale disenfranchisement is becoming more entrenched, human rights are being trampled on by a fully resurgent police state, and the economy remains on life support.

.  .  .  .

In the meantime, Al Jazeera East Africa correspondent Peter Greste and his colleagues continue to languish in jail after another inconsequential appearance in court as reported by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation News:

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It was Greste’s fourth appearance in court, after more than 90 days in prison, and in an unusual move he was allowed to directly approach the judge and tell him why he should be freed.

In words translated for the judge, Greste said that he had only been in Egypt for two weeks before his arrest and he had no connection with the Muslim Brotherhood.

He also said that he had committed no crimes of violence, had no criminal record, and that he posed no threat to the people or state of Egypt.

Greste told the court his only desire was to continue the fight to clear his name.

Fellow defendant Mohamed Fahmy pointed out that Greste is a Christian, making any alleged support for the Muslim Brotherhood unusual.

Fahmy also argued that because he himself drinks alcohol, he would not be a member of the Brotherhood.

Three so-called technical experts who presented to the court were supposed to look at Greste’s stories and rule on whether they were biased towards the Muslim Brotherhood and whether they were seeking to tarnish Egypt’s reputation.

However, that did not happen because there were no facilities for it in the court.

.  .  .  .

In the environment of the repression by the interim government and the military itself, the Egyptian judiciary’s performance in handing down a perfunctory mass death sentence last week and otherwise failing to offer a pretense of due process to other detainees like the Al Jazeera journalists makes it hard to have confidence in their independence in overseeing a May 25-26 presidential election in which Sisi has now announced his candidacy.

Let me recommend a good earlier piece by Tarek Radwan and Lara Talverdian of the Atlantic Council on the council’s Egypt Source blog, “Reflections on a Referendum.” I enjoyed getting acquainted with them in observing the referendum and they did a good job here of capturing the atmosphere at the January vote.