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

Stronger together?  Scott Gration, Hillary Clinton and the road ahead

I was reading Ambassador Scott Gration’s autobiography, Flight Path: Son of Africa to Warrior-General, and had his experience in mind in some respects in my last post which went a bit further than I have previously in its breadth of frustration with how American policy gets made from Washington for Kenya.

General Gration’s memoir is worth reading and I’m glad I was able to take time for it while waiting for the election here in the U.S. to be over.

If you have read about Ambassador Gration’s alleged email hygene at the time he was forced aside as U.S. Ambassador to Kenya in the summer of 2012, and have read the news dribbling out over the last 22 months over the Secretary of State’s email hygene and the related practices of her key staff in Washington, it becomes unavoidable to recognize that the purge of the Ambassador didn’t really have to do with the email or personal computer use issue asserted prominently in the publication of the report of Acting Inspector General’s review of the Embassy that was the “public”–meaning talked about anonymously to reporters then released afterwards–reason he was forced out.

It may well be that within the State Department bureacracy that General Gration stepped on toes of people who didn’t even know that the Secretary of State herself was operating from her private family server in Chappaqua, New York instead of the State Department’s U.S. Government system.  

Reading the media from the time, it seems, perhaps, that there was concern that he could be promoted (which could make people who didn’t like his management style unhappy).  Who knows?  And who has time for that sort of office politics speculation?  Regardless, when Secretary Clinton’s Cheryl Mills called Ambassador Gration to tell him it looked like he needed to fall on his sword, she obviously knew all about the private email server–just not that it would end up revealed on the front page of the New York Times two-and-a-half years later.
The bottom line for me is General Gration is an American who had a great career in the military, serving in a number of important foreign affairs related roles, who grew up in Africa, including significant time in Kenya, and is fluent in Swahili and other local languages.  He bonded personally with Senator Obama during their professional interactions, agreed that we needed to do some things differently in our interactions in the world, and did a lot to help President Obama get elected.  As an Obama ex-Republican, and recently retired General,  in a Clinton State Department he may have been a bit of a “fish out of water”, especially in a job that is most frequently a top plum for the career Foreign Service.

Secretary Clinton will be President-elect shortly.  This has been a foregone conclusion for quite a long time as the Republicans essentially defaulted on an election that would have been very winnable by almost any conventionally qualified or even broadly likeable candidate.  Secretary Clinton will come into office facing a range of difficult security and international affairs challenges, but with a lot of accumulated experience.  It seems to me she would be a smart leader not to leave someone like General Gration with a figurative knife sticking out of his back but rather find a way to use his accumulated talents and experience to serve the country.

Reading Graton’s book, I have an appreciation for his perspective, his courage, his work ethic, his faith–even if I have not personally warmed to some of the diplomatic language regarding “partnership” between our government and Kenya’s that he, like other officials, frequently used.  We are at war and have been for a long time, and it is not going as well as we need it to.  We have to find solutions beyond war to bring security for our interests and freedoms for others.  

“Stronger together” is a great slogan against Trump in this campaign, but it also reflects were we need to go as a country after the election to become the kind of global leaders we want to be.  Gration may be the kind of person that could help us avoid mistakes and build relationships (whether he was the best person to run a particular embassy at a particular time).  [I update to correct the Hillary Clinton campaign slogan from “Better Together” to “Stronger Together”]

Is Libya to Burundi in 2016 as Somalia was to Rwanda in 1994?

US Army deployedI have no answer to this question, and I hope and pray it is just something to think about abstractly.

What I am getting at is that for purposes of public consumption at least the Western democracies were in denial in 1994 about the risk of mass slaughter and eventually genocide and failed to act to an extent that we all pretty well have acknowledged shame about.  (No one bothers to suggest that China, Russia or other non-Western powers would be expected to be similarly troubled.) It seems to be recognized that the U.S. was the “indispensable” party that would have had to push forward to make intervention happen, but elected instead to pull back.  There is regret that we did not take affirmative action.

It also seems to be accepted that the “Black Hawk Down” disaster and generally unsatisfying experience of “humanitarian” intervention in Somalia took strong measures involving Americans off the table for Rwanda.  The Genocide Documentation Project by the National Security Archive and U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum has helped us to see now how this actually played out back then.

Post-Rwanda 1994, of course, there has been over the years the notion that we learned a valuable lesson from that particular genocide and could now say “never again” with a newly “doctrinized” post-Cold War sense of purpose of a Responsibility to Protect.

Unfortunately the timing gets complicated by other events.  We are in a presidential election year.  Now the last major “humanitarian” intervention involving U.S. forces was Libya.  While initially celebrated, it has become a politically dicey sore spot.  The tragic loss of American lives later at Benghazi was fortunately not televised, but we now have a feature Hollywood movie coming anyway.  While Washington collectively is not yet ready to examine the decision making process on intervening or not, the specics of the Benghazi incident have attracted more investigation than I recall from “Black Hawk Down” as such.  The larger negative geopolitical fallout from the intervention in Libya has become much more apparent much sooner than in Somalia in the early ’90s and already appears to be a major concern of many facets and no easy solutions.

In that sense the factors supporting a cautionary holding back from acting are greater in 2016 than in 1994 (and of course I haven’t even mentioned Iraq/Syria and Afghanistan).

We have hoped that we would not be indispensable on Burundi, in particular that the (post-Gaddafi) African Union could find common purpose and means to act.  That hasn’t happened.  My perception is that there might be reason to hope for this sort of AU action many years in the future but that the capacity is really just not there now.

It has to be noted that governance in the region has continued to be dominated by what could be called a “league of extraordinary generals”–Kagame and Museveni as well as, in a sense, Nkurunziza.  Nearby Mugabe remains and Kabila the younger.  Who can really be an honest broker or claim with a straight face to be primarily acting on global “humanitarian” values without outside leadership?

Museveni and Nkurunziza are militarily allied with the West in the current AMISOM effort in Somalia which will need to continue for some long time yet.  Museveni is involved with the US in our Lord’s Resistance Army operation which presumably is indefinite at this point.  Kagame has apparently decided to postpone the transition to a postwar elected leadership by his constitutional referendum lifting term limits, like Museveni did long ago.  He probably expects a relationship at least as good with the next U. S. administration for his re-election in 2017. He appears to continue to be a darling of Davos and to be working with a variety of endeavors involving commodities trade and related regionalization that enjoy quasi-official support around Washington aside from the public foreign aid.

And now we see the leak through Reuters of the confidential report under UN auspices of Rwandan involvement in training and supporting rebels in Burundi already.

If, God forbid, things turn sharply for the worse in Burundi, and there “isn’t anyone else,” would the U.S. seriously consider an emergency humanitarian intervention or not?  If not, are we prepared to explain to our children why not, again, while living also with the consequences?  I am in no way qualified to advocate for or against a particular course of action, nor do I know the backstory of the latest facts on the ground, I am just asking the questions as to our policy parameters as a taxpayer/citizen/ voter and a person of humanitarian concern.

How will the Iran nuclear deal play out in East Africa?

I wish I had a clear sense of how this might develop but I don’t.  It seems to me that there may be several areas of impact over the next few years:

+Diplomatic leverage of Museveni, Kenyatta, Kigame et al vis-a-vis the United States will be reduced as one of the main US “asks”–UN votes to maintain nuclear-related sanctions against Iran–drops away.

+While I do not foresee the current US administration raising expectations for other US priorities from these East African leaders, the next US administration might feel some greater freedom to address “the democratic recession,” declining press freedom, and other issues on the formal US policy list.

+Oil prices:  if a lot more Iranian oil gets to market both in the near term from the immediate impact of lifting sanctions and the longer term from the increase in capacity associated with ramped up foreign investment, the prospects for oil production in Uganda and Kenya will be impacted, especially as related to the 2021-22 election cycle.

+Iran will reassume a stronger role in trade and finance in the region and thus compete more strongly with Israel, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States.

+Iran will presumably increase its regional naval presence.

+The fall of the Gaddafi regime in Libya and subsequent sad state of affairs in that country reduced one major “petrocash” player in East African politics; an Iran less cash-strapped by UN sanctions might have aspirations to finance East African politicians aside from its espionage/security/terrorism enagement.

New Developments on Iran’s Geopolitcal Efforts in Africa–another challenge for democracy?

Uganda, Iran and the Security-Democracy Trade Space?

High Level  U.S. Delegation Carries Requests to Museveni on Fair Elections and Iran Sanctions

Museveni defends Gaddafi while inflation soars in Uganda

Museveni reiterated his defense of Gaddafi this week in The Daily Monitor:

President Museveni has reiterated his criticism of the West and attacked Nato for disorganising a friend, whose 42-year rule faces a humbling end.

Speaking at the annual Muslims Iftar dinner at State House, Entebbe on Saturday, Mr Museveni addressed himself on two fundamental issues: The economic crisis at home and the battle for Libya. He accused the West of greed and defended Col. Gaddafi’s mistakes even though, he said, the Libyan leader attempted to go behind his back to hijack his chiefs in Kampala.

“Gaddafi had his own mistakes, he came here and organised my chiefs without telling me. We cancelled that meeting and I warned chiefs because it was wrong,” Mr Museveni said. “But Gaddafi built a mosque for us and as a leader, he had his mistakes, but those Europeans have more mistakes and problems. They think the rest of us are fools except themselves. When there are riots in Africa, they call them pro-democracy and in London, they call them, criminals.”

While inflation in Uganda has hit a 20-year high of 21.4%:

Ugandans will be bracing themselves for even harder times ahead as the continued depreciation of the local currency, rising prices for fuel, essential commodities and food combined to push inflation to a new 20-year high, further threatening the economy’s growth.The Consumer Price Index (CPI) released by the Uganda Bureau of Statistics yesterday indicates that inflation rose from a revised rate of 18.8 per cent in July to 21.4 per cent in August.

This represents a 2.6 percentage point rise, which, though lower than the 3.1 percentage point increase registered in July, still dragged the battered economy over another double digit threshold.

The Director for Macro-Economics Statistics at Ubos, Dr Chris Ndatira Mukiza, said food inflation, which rose to 42.9 per cent from 40.7 per cent, remains the main driver of inflation.

Back in May when Museveni was sworn in for another five year term after 25 years in power, Think Africa Press noted “For the first time in decades, inflation has hit the two digit mark to settle at 11%,” and asked “President Museveni:  Africa’s Marie Antoinette?

One is reminded of Marie-Antoinette of France. Are these leaders in touch with reality? Do they understand the condition of ordinary people of Uganda? And how many Ugandans really depend on land, and how productive is that land? What percentage of farmers are producing for the market? Even for those who have access to land, can they get all that they need from that land? In any case, the root of this inflation can be traced to the colossal amount of money poured into the country during the recent election campaigns. And this was largely by President Museveni himself.

Odinga in Washington; U.S. in Libya; “Kinetic Action” v. MCC

Here is the link to a multimedia page for Raila Odinga’s speech and Q & A last week at CSIS in Washington.  Nothing newsmaking in itself that I saw, but a good speech of interest to those following governance and democratization issues in Africa and especially Kenya and Ivory Coast.

In the meantime, one of the most telling things I have read about how our actions in participating in the Libyan mission are viewed by others is from Bruce Reidel at Brookings:

The Indians are puzzled that some in the West who had embraced Qaddafi less than a hundred days ago are now so shocked by his cruelty. Qaddafi did not change in 2011. Some former Indian diplomats are quick to suggest that the Libyan war shows America’s “unreliability” and a tendency to over react to the last news broadcast. Who are the rebels in Benghazi, they ask, that are now your allies? Why do you rush to help them, and not the shia protesters in Manama?

As one Indian observer put it, “the U.S. is both promiscuous and flighty” with its relationships.

“A Letter from Agra:  How India Views U.S. Actions in Libya”

These observations on the Indian view were published almost a month ago.  If the NATO effort in Libya bogs down, we may find ourselves asking more rigorously, “why exactly did we decide to do this?” and “what specifically were we trying to accomplish originally and what specifically are we trying to accomplish now?”.  Those same questions that eventually became “known unknowns” in Iraq.

In the meantime, The Hill caries a piece by Paul O’Brian of OxFam America on potentially critical budget cuts for the Millennium Challenge Corporation.  No one at the MCC could afford to make the comparison politically I am sure, but let me make it for them:  look at the cost of the Libya action versus the cost of the MCC.  The MCC would seem to have bipartisan support if any area of development can.  A George W. Bush initiative originally, but very compatible with Democratic “soft power” thinking and led by Obama appointees now.   A relatively small staff and bureaucratic footprint.

In geopolitics, and in longer term development, we need to pay some real attention to states, but if this is a humanitarian effort don’t we need to look also at the numbers of people involved: is this worth the cost relative to the cost of other “kinetic” or “non-kinetic” endeavors?  Ivory Coast, for instance, is a much more populous country.

Enough to drive one to drink . . . Museveni on Gaddafi (and Western company bribes to Gaddafi)

The obvious question that comes to mind after reading Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni’s  “The Qaddafi I Know” at Foreign Policy is:  do politically-minded people go to bars?

The Middle Eastern radicals, quite different from the revolutionaries of black Africa, seem to say that any means is acceptable as long as you are fighting the enemy. That is why they hijack planes, use assassinations, plant bombs in bars, etc. Why bomb bars? People who go to bars are normally merry-makers, not politically minded people.

We were together with the Arabs in the anti-colonial struggle. The black African liberation movements, however, developed differently from the Arab ones. .  .  .  .

(you may remember that Gaddafi directed the bombing of a nightclub frequented by American servicemen in West Germany in 1986)

So is Museveni a radical?  If so, a radical for what?  For just a small sample of the rest of the sophistry:

I know Qaddafi has his system of elected committees that convene to form a National People’s Conference. Actually, Qaddafi thinks this is superior to our multi-party systems. Of course, I have never had time to study how truly competitive this system is. Anyway, even if it is competitive, there is now, apparently, a significant number of Libyans who think that there is a problem in their country’s governance. Since there has not been internationally observed elections in Libya, not even by the AU, we cannot know what is correct and what is false. Therefore, a dialogue is the correct way forward.

Museveni, of course, has allowed international observers to the elections that his government has conducted and is thus “too legit to quit” twenty-five years after taking power by force.  And since Libya is on the same continent as Uganda, Museveni is entitled to write in Foreign Policy and  have a large role is solving Libya’s problems without even claiming to know much about the details of the issues, all while stridently denouncing “foreign” meddling.  (And to take lots of American and other Western money to train and otherwise fund his military, and especially to “peacekeep” in Mogadishu–and to operate his government and otherwise meet some of the needs of his constituents while his government funds his re-election).

Pretty sobering to realize that Museveni is, in many ways, our bestest ally in the region .  .  .  .

And of course more information is coming out about Museveni’s mobilization of the Ugandan military in his election.  And now Human Rights Watch finds that a Ugandan “Rapid Response Unit” is using torture and extra-judicial killings.

And reporting by The New York Times discloses some of the massive shakedowns by Gaddafi of Western companies seeking to do business in Libya to fund his payment to the families of Lockerbie bombing victims.

The wealth that Colonel Qaddafi’s family and his government accumulated with the help of international corporations in the years since the lifting of economic sanctions by the West helped fortify his hold on his country. While the outcome of the military intervention under way by the United States and allied countries is uncertain, Colonel Qaddafi’s resources — including a stash of tens of billions of dollars in cash that American officials believe he is using to pay soldiers, mercenaries and supporters — may help him avert, or at least delay, his removal from power.

The government not only exploited corporations eager to do business, but willing governments as well. Libya’s banks apparently collected lucrative fees by helping Iran launder huge sums of money in recent years in violation of international sanctions on Tehran, according to another cable from Tripoli included in a batch of classified documents obtained by WikiLeaks. In 2009, the cable said, American diplomats warned Libyan officials that its dealings with Iran were jeopardizing Libya’s enhanced world standing for the sake of “potential short-term business gains.”

AU selects Museveni to Negotiate on Libya Crisis Resolution with Gaddafi

From Monday’s Daily Monitor via AllAfrica.com:

Addis Ababa/Kampala — President Museveni has been named by the African Union (AU) alongside South African President Jacob Zuma to negotiate a resolution to the mounting crisis in Libya.

AU chairperson Jean Ping made the announcement at a Peace and Security Council meeting in Addis Ababa at the weekend. Mr Museveni and Mr Zuma will work alongside presidents Mr Denis Sassou Nguesso of the Republic of Congo, Mr Amadou Toumani Touré of Mali and Mr Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz of Mauritania. The team is expected to travel to Tripoli this week to assess the situation on the ground and meet all parties involved in the ongoing conflict.

Libyan leader Col. Muammar Gaddafi is facing the strongest challenge to his 42-year rule, after demonstrations demanding he step down last month escalated into civil unrest across the country. Rebel forces have since taken control of most of western Libya and the situation has now been described as a full-fledged civil war.

However, rebels continued to lose ground this week, and international consensus remains elusive on extending economic sanctions, as well as establishing a no-fly zone – some observers say is essential to preventing government air strikes on rebel territory.

President Museveni is known to be an old ally of the defiant Libyan leader. But the President’s press secretary, Mr Tamale Mirundi, said the President “cannot refuse” helping in the face of such a crisis, citing his past involvements in neighbouring Kenya and Rwanda, among others. “The president believes that African problems can easily be solved by Africans using regional and continental approaches,” Mr Mirundi said yesterday.

If Nelly Furtado and Beyonce are Embarrassed, is the Government of Kenya?

“Revolt Cuts Short Gaddafi’s Economic March Into Kenya”, Business Daily:

It is not clear what will be the fate of the agreement that Kenya signed with the Libyan Government.

The most significant for the business community was the trade agreement in which Libya and Kenya agreed to grant each other most favoured nation treatment in all matters relating to customs duties.

The foray into Libya came shortly after the Narc party victory when Mr Kibaki’s nephew, the late Alex Mureithi, visited Tripoli in mid 2003 as a special envoy.

While details of this visit and its implications on future Kenya-Libya relations are hazy, it telling that Mureithi, who was to become the Managing Director of Tana and Athi Development Authority, was a confidant of Mr Kibaki —who said as much at his funeral in Nyahururu.

The Libyans, or rather the Gaddafi network, had lofty dreams on Kenya since it was the largest economy in the eastern Africa region.

Initially, the Libyan African Arab Investment Company had shown interest in setting up a 5-6 Star hotel in Nairobi, but the Grand Regency sale came at the appropriate time, sparking a national row on how the Libyans bought the hotel.

The Governor of the Central Bank, Prof Njuguna Ndung’u, was to tell a commission that was investigating the sale that the government offered the hotel to the Libyans without tendering.

Grand Regency was a public property and its sale should not have been shrouded in any secrecy whatever value it was given. But it was.

A conference centre in Mombasa that was also in the pipeline never materialised as the Libyans were caught in the Grand Regency pricing row that saw then Finance Minister Amos Kimunya step aside.

It was the cultural cooperation that was pushed by Gaddafi that has seen some “elders” led by Kamlesh Pattni visit Libya.

Before the revolts across the Arab countries, Kenya and Libya’s diplomatic manoeuvring was in full swing, with Kibaki sending vice-president Kalonzo Musyoka to go and lobby Tripoli to support Kenya’s efforts at the African Union (AU) to defer the post-election trials at the International Criminal Court (ICC).

Of course it was widely rumored that the concessional sale of the Grand Regency Hotel by the Government of Kenya was part of the financing for the Kibaki re-election campaign. I have nothing independent to contribute on whether or not this is true, but would simply note the lack of other explanations of various facets of the transaction and lack of thorough investigation and or prosecution of anyone involved.

For an overview of perceptions of Gaddafi in other African capitals, see “Qaddafi’s Tangled Legacy in Africa” at the CSIS Online Africa Policy Forum blog.