Things had gone so far awry on the democratization front by last year to trigger a Washington Post editorial noting the authoritarian trend in East Africa.
Recently we have news of a major U.S. airstrike (manned and drone) on an al-Shabaab training camp, followed by a raid involving U.S. and Somali special forces.
We are now also faced with a major ISIS presence in continental Africa in the wake of the proverbial “ungoverned space” in Libya and are in discussions considering a new military coalition to organize resistance. Prior to the 2011 uprising AFRICOM was joining our European allies in coordinating military relationships with Gaddafi but the revolution, in which we intervened, has not resulted in a stable or unified replacement government.
Let’s face it; 14 years after 9-11, 15 years after the USS Cole bombing, 17 years after the U.S. Embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania, the window of opportunity for a U.S.-led focus on the building of shared democratic values in the region may have largely slipped shut.
Years ago I got some attention for a post noting that “the aid bubble has burst” and Western attention had moved past the Gleneagles era toward a more normalized mode of profit-seeking investment. While private actors will remain more alert for opportunities in Africa and “public-private” endeavors including the current Power Africa program can still have legs, it seems to me that “conflict management” and irregular warfare have come to the fore to the point that we seem to be back in an era more akin to the Cold War in which perceived immediate “security” interests are predominant.
Museveni in particular “surfed the wave” of democratization after the fall of the Soviet Union and came out onshore as a primary U.S. military ally in the region anyway. We are willing to chastise him to a point, but there is no indication from Washington that the fundamental facts of our relationship are at issue over another awful election.
While much has been accomplished with AMISOM in Somalia, we are still a long way from seeing a stable, sustainable government there that would create an opportunity to de-militarize our relationships with Uganda, or Kenya or Ethiopia. The increasingly direct U.S. role in fighting al-Shabaab reflects the limitations of Ugandan and Burundian proxies, as well as the reality of limited capacity and contradictory objectives from the Kenyan and Ethiopian contingents in AMISOM.
This also leaves Somaliand in suspended animation. Sudan remains an awful paradox for our policy goals and our values, and South Sudan is simply a fiasco.
It seemed to me in Nairobi during the post-election violence in 2008 that the Ethiopian invasion of Somalia in December 2006 to displace the ICU and save in some fashion the remains of the TFG was a turning point for U.S. policy. After that, we seemed to have effectively dropped our criticism of the corruption failures of the Kibaki administration and its failure to reform the constitution and then helped get Moi and Kibaki back together. We upped our security cooperation and looked the other way as Kibaki stole re-election.
The USAID democracy programming I inherited in mid-2007 as regional director at the International Republican Institute included the pre-war era 2005 criticisms of Kenyan government backsliding and I failed fully appreciate how much had changed until the midst of that year’s disaster.
Back in the U.S., Kissinger is now personally embraced by key elements of the leadership of both our parties. In early 2009 after the New York Times published its investigation on the Kenya exit poll, IRI, to my amazement, gave Kissinger its “Freedom Award” even though it has long worked to promote democracy in Cambodia, in particular, as well as places like Bangladesh and East Timor where I was invited a few years before I worked for IRI in Kenya. Now, the likely Democratic nominee apparently holidays with Kissinger in the Dominican Republic. A new, old, era, apparently.