Career Advancement for Professionals
October 25, 1999


U.S. and Africa: Unfulfilled Promises and Skepticism

Related Articles
  • Albright Vows to Increase Aid to Nigeria (Oct. 21, 1999)
  • Sierra Leone Victims and Rebels Hear Albright's Message of Peace (Oct. 19, 1999)


  • Join a Discussion on Africa in Transition
    N AIROBI, Kenya -- As Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright visited six African nations last week, her twin goals seemed to be to reassure Africans that the United States was still interested in the continent's affairs and to persuade Congress that Africa mattered.

    Using the backdrops of Sierra Leone, where a peace agreement just halted a brutal eight-year civil war, and of Nigeria, which recently emerged from nearly 16 years of military rule, Dr. Albright pledged to assist them with significant increases in aid. Inserting the two West African countries into the ongoing budget fight in Washington, she castigated Congress for wanting to cut President Clinton's $14.6 billion foreign aid request by more than $2 billion.

    After a trip to Kano in northern Nigeria -- where city officials closed off streets for her visit but were unable to clear the sides of the usual mounds of garbage and refuse-chomping goats -- Dr. Albright said:

    "They find it pretty hard to understand that we're going around saying we have the world's greatest economy, and that we have a huge budget surplus, and they are there digging themselves out of garbage."

    The message conveyed by the Secretary, who returned to Washington on Sunday, underscored the unfulfilled promises of Clinton's historic visit to Africa in March 1998.

    During that trip, the longest ever to Africa by an American President and the first in two decades, Clinton talked of a "new African renaissance" and a relationship rooted in partnership, not cold war paternalism. "The United States is ready to help you," he said at the time, promising a new approach to Africa.

    Despite the President's emphasis on trade, Congress has yet to pass the Africa Growth and Opportunity Act, which would grant certain African governments greater access to the American market. Although Clinton called for direct aid to Africa to reach the highs of the cold war, development assistance has continued to decline, to the current level of about $700 million, down from about $870 million seven years ago.

    Although he spoke of democracy, critics of Washington's Africa policy say the United States has not done enough to help resolve the many conflicts that have erupted or expanded in Africa since the President's visit -- at the same time that Washington and the West quickly poured billions into Kosovo and East Timor.

    And so during Dr. Albright's first visit to Africa since the President's trip, there was skepticism among many ordinary Africans, in sharp contrast with the exuberance heard during Clinton's tour.

    At an AIDS awareness event attended by Dr. Albright here, a participant, Stephen Otiemo, 29, said he had followed Clinton's 12-day tour very closely on the radio. "We heard him make many promises," Otiemo said, "but we have not seen much so far. But perhaps we had been hoping for too much. We cannot be angry because we cannot force somebody to do what he does not want to do."

    "But somehow we are also angry because we have suffered for the United States," he said, mentioning the August 1998 bombing of the American Embassy here, in which more than 200 Kenyans were killed along with 12 Americans.

    Another spectator, Peter Lasu Ladu, 32, a Christian refugee from southern Sudan, asked why Washington was willing to intervene so decisively in Kosovo, but not in his native country's civil war, where almost 2 million people are believed to have been killed in the last 16 years.

    "He made a lot of promises," Ladu said. "But to talk of something and to implement something is different."

    Even as Dr. Albright promised $55 million to Sierra Leone and a threefold to fourfold rise in Nigeria's current $27 million aid -- both will require Congressional approval -- she argued that the fulfillment of Clinton's promises had been blocked by a Republican-controlled Congress.

    In line with other senior Administration officials, she blamed isolationism for their resistance.

    Republicans counter that they are not isolationist, but out to protect America's best interests. They and other critics also say the Clinton White House has failed to bargain with Congress to secure foreign policy goals.

    Critics of Washington's policy toward Africa say the Administration shares the blame for what they describe as inattention toward the continent.

    "The Administration hasn't made a particularly aggressive case on Africa specifically," said Salih Booker, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations.

    The Administration has raised Africa's profile and followed through on some issues, including increased training for African peacekeeping forces and pushing for debt relief, Booker said.

    But he added: "The real problem is that without a serious commitment of resources, the American Government can only talk. Talking is important, but U.S. credibility in Africa will be eroded if the Administration can't put money and human resources, too, where its mouth is."

    Dr. Albright's tour -- which included Guinea, Sierra Leone, Mali, Nigeria, Tanzania and Kenya -- was clearly intended to regain the momentum on Africa. Asked to assess American relations with Africa since the President's trip, the Secretary said: "I believe that our Administration has spent more time, attention and money on Africa than any previous Administration. The fact that we haven't accomplished everything we want is unfortunate, but it isn't over."

    The sober words were a long way from what Clinton told half a million ebullient Ghanaians only 19 months ago: "My dream for this trip is that together we might do the things so that 100 years from now, your grandchildren and mine will look back and say this was the beginning of a new African renaissance."

    The change in tone reflects how much Africa, and Washington's view of it, have changed in those 19 months. During Clinton's visit, the Administration's darlings were a so-called new generation of leaders, pragmatic and competent men who would lead Africa to its renaissance. But the four men most often regarded as this generation's standard-bearers have all become embroiled in war since the Presidential visit.

    Yoweri K. Museveni, the President of Uganda, and Paul Kagame, the leader of Rwanda, backed a rebellion against the Government of Congo and President Laurent Kabila, their former protégé. Ugandan and Rwanda troops even clashed briefly in the Congolese city of Kisangani recently. Also, Meles Zenawi, the Prime Minister of Ethiopia, and Issaias Afwerki, the Eritrean leader, started a border war that has claimed tens of thousands of soldiers.

    In 1998, Clinton's plane pointedly flew over Nigeria, the African giant and its most populous nation, to protest the repressive Government of Gen. Sani Abacha. Since then, however, General Abacha's unexpected death unleashed a sweeping political transformation that resulted in the inauguration of the first civilian Government in Nigeria in nearly 16 years.

    During Dr. Albright's stop last week in Nigeria, she heaped praise on President Olusegun Obasanjo, who is due to visit Washington this week. There was no talk of a new generation of leaders; Obasanjo, after all, was Nigeria's military ruler in the late 1970's. But Dr. Albright described Nigeria as a potential "regional partner" for the United States in Africa.

    "Nigeria's success in meeting the challenges of democracy will be a welcome inspiration across Africa," she said in her keynote speech of the trip and one of her most upbeat comments. "For our part, the United States will continue to be a strong supporter of democratic forces across the continent."

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