Spring 2001

Reprinted with permission from African Geopolitics

Four years of active, high level engagement by the Clinton administration with Sub-Saharan Africa have yielded few results, either for Africa or for the United States. The situation in crucial parts of the continent has taken a clear turn for the worse in the last four years, with earlier hopes for an "African renaissance" now replaced by the reality of spreading conflict and the impending devastation caused by AIDS. Attempts by the United States to mediate and promote negotiations in African conflicts have not brought peace anywhere, while gaining the country few friends but many enemies. Support for economic reform in Africa has led to growth in only a few countries, but has also created mounting resentment against externally imposed structural adjustment programs. Most seriously, such reforms have given renewed credibility in African countries to the same concept of inward-looking and state-controlled development that created their economic crisis in the first place. Even the efforts by the US government and NGOs to support democracy, good governance and human rights are generating a backlash, and not only among the perpetrators of the worst abuses. Governments that feel, and rightly so, that they have made much progress in restoring war-devastated countries feel unjustly criticized for not having done even more; efforts by international organizations to curb corruption are seen as attempts to distract attention from the failure of western-imposed economic reform programs, putting the blame instead on Africans. And the demands of activists from the industrialized countries seeking to protect workers' rights or the environment are perceived by many Africans as manifestations of a new and insidious form of protectionism that can only hurt the poorest countries. Lack of intervention, however, also opens the United States to strong criticism: a July 2000 report by a special commission of the Organization of Africa Unity held the United States partially responsible for the 1994 genocide in Rwanda because of its opposition to international intervention. The international "culture of impunity" could no longer be tolerated, the commission concluded, demanding that the United States (together with France and other industrialized countries) pay reparations to Rwanda.

This backlash is developing at the end of a period of high level activism and engagement with Africa. President Clinton visited the continent in April 1998, the first president to do so in twenty years, and again in August 2000. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright has made an unusually large number of trips. Many cabinet members, from the Secretary of Commerce to that of Housing and Urban Development, have been there. Ambassador to the UN Richard Holbrooke has made Africa one of his priorities. Special envoys crisscross the continent on their missions to troubled areas. And the Clinton administration proclaims ambitious goals for the continent: first, to form a partnership with African countries to "accelerate [their] integration into the global economy through a number of means, including supporting growth and development; through aid, trade, and investment; continued support for democratization; and combined efforts to resolve conflicts on the continent;" second, "to work together to combat transnational threats, whether these be terrorism, drug trafficking, HIV/AIDS, or a host of other things."

This activism, however, rests on shaky grounds. The resources made available for Africa are extremely limited. But even if much larger resources were available, it would make little difference without clear policy choices, because the problems of Africa are too vast and diverse to be tackled simultaneously, as this administration has sought to do. Caught between the optimism of the early part of the decade and the deep pessimism of the latter, between the absence of significant American economic and security interests in Africa and the desire to do something about the poorest and most problem-ridden continent on earth, between African demands that the United States and international organizations do more to help and deep resentment against much of what they do, the Clinton administration has been unable to make choices. It pursued a grand vision rather than developing a realistic policy.

The situation calls for a fundamental rethinking and for the refocusing of US policy on a few goals. This is not a call for abandoning Africa or further marginalizing it. Rather, it is a call for choosing modest goals that can be attained with the resources that can be expected to be available for Africa, rather than pursuing an attractive but unattainable vision. The experience of the Clinton administration makes it clear that seeking to do too much amounts to doing nothing.

The first step in this process is to understand the context in which an Africa policy must be implemented; this context is characterized by the absence of strong US economic and strategic interests and the widening gulf that separates Africa from the new global economy. The second step is to devise a realistic plan of what can be done under such conditions; this would require the United States to take a hard look at the assumptions underpinning its present policies and to focus less on trying to help African countries and more on trying not to hurt them. Before attempting to reform Africa, the United States should reform its own policies.

Understanding The Context

The Unites States: Good Intentions and Scant Resources

The United States does not have strong economic or security interests in Africa; it does not have a strong, well organized Africa lobby; and as a result, it devotes and will continue to devote to Africa modest resources.

Bilateral Official Development Assistance to Sub-Saharan Africa ranges from 0.01 % of GDP for the United States to 0.15% for France and 0.25% percent for Norway and Denmark.

In 1998, Sub-Saharan African countries received a total of $ 9.5 billion in bilateral official development assistance and an additional $ 5.1 billion in multilateral development assistance. In that year, the United States provided $ 722 million in bilateral aid to Sub-Saharan Africa, France $ 2.1 billion. To put these figures into perspective, the US Cole, the destroyer recently blown up by terrorists in Yemen, cost over US $ 1 billion, and London's Millenium Dome US $ 1.2 billion.

Before the end of the Cold War, US interests in Africa could be summarized easily: keep the Soviet Union out. It was not a policy particularly beneficial to Africa. While it kept the United States from ignoring the continent altogether, it also led Washington to support the likes of Mobutu Sese Seko in Zaire and Jonas Savimbi in Angola, as well as to look benignly for a long time upon the reliably anti-communist white regimes in Southern Africa. With the end of the Cold War even such a tenuous guideline was lost. This did not lead the United States to ignore Africa. Rather, it left US policy adrift in a sea of good intentions.

The first of these good intentions was called humanitarian intervention, and it inspired the US policy toward Somalia in 1992-93. But what looked to Americans like a humanitarian mission to save starving women and children looked to the Somali warlords like an attempt to thwart their goals. The vision of bloodless humanitarian intervention was shattered when eighteen American soldiers were killed in the streets of Mogadishu in October 1993 by a warlord's militia. By March 1994, the US government had withdrawn its troops. To this day, it remains adamant that it will not deploy American soldiers in Africa again.

It was not the end of good intentions. What the US had not achieved by sending troops, namely re-establishing peace and helping populations in need, it would do through partnership with promising African governments, mediation efforts in every possible conflict, and promotion of economic reform, human rights and democratization.

It is an illusion that the United States can reconstitute collapsed states or stop conflict in Africa, particularly with the resources it has been willing to devote to the task recently. And while current levels of assistance are shamefully low when compared to even the modest efforts of other industrialized countries, there is no likelihood that the next congress or administration will make available the enormous resources, including the deployment of American troops, necessary to contribute meaningfully to an international effort to stop conflicts and reconstruct collapsed states. Resources for Africa will not change drastically because there are no significant economic and security interests at stake. Only oil companies have considerable interests in Africa, and by and large they do not need the cover of US policy--for example, they invested in Angola when the US government did not recognize its government. Furthermore, groups lobbying for Africa are small, divided, and seemingly unable to prioritize their demands: the National Summit on Africa, the most important recent attempt to create a lobby for Africa, produced in February 2000 a laundry list of hundreds of recommendations. Even the "ten" priority recommendations (in reality dozens of them) spelled out an extremely broad, unfocused agenda.

The National Summit on Africa issued the following ten priority recommendations--more accurately, clusters of recommendations. In addition, it issues literally dozens other recommendations. The full list of recommendations extends for 78 pages.

Ten Priority Recommendations

1. The United States should take the lead in providing prompt and meaningful debt relief for Africa by forgiving all African public sector debt owed to the United States. The United States also should support and encourage the favorable renegotiation, restructuring or cancellation of African debt held by private and multilateral creditors, as well as that held by other creditor nations.

2. It is absolutely necessary for the United States to stimulate direct trade and investment between Africa and the United States because, without it, democracy will fail and the human needs of the people cannot be met. This should be done with particular emphasis on small and medium-sized businesses between Africans and African-Americans. There must be support for the African Growth and Opportunity Act in order to foster trade and investment in Africa and enable African countries to develop mutually beneficial partnerships with the United States so as to accomplish these goals.

3. In the interest of sustainable development and the goals of self-sufficiency and economic independence in Africa, the United States should support and strengthen access to potable water and waste management, and support the prevention, control, and eradication of infections and diseases through the use of non-traditional, traditional, and herbal medicines. Prevention of all major diseases in Africa should be supported in partnership with African governments, civil society and non-governmental organizations, the private corporate sector and other multilateral and bilateral donor agencies. Moreover, the United States must champion debt cancellation so African governments can redirect those resources toward these efforts. The United States should work collaboratively with organizations in Africa to support efforts to provide disability, refugee, and mental health services. HIV/AIDS should be given special emphasis. These collective actions will also ensure the future of Africa's children.

4. The United States should invest in and support African initiatives to provide basic necessities through the development of sustainable infrastructure. Addressing these issues requires commitment to human capital, gender issues (with emphasis on women), education, capacity building, participatory development involving the inclusion of non-governmental organizations, community-based organizations, reliance on expertise from Africa, as well as establishing linkages with African-Americans. All existing and future U.S. government projects, U.S. non-governmental organizations and businesses should adhere to the same environmental protection standards that they would need to meet in the United States and should be required to sign on to a list of principles that promote sustainable utilization of land, water, forest, wildlife, marine, biodiversity, and coastal resources. The United States should strictly enforce the prohibition of transporting, selling and dumping of toxic and hazardous substances. Therefore, the U.S., through its Department of State, agencies, and Congress can play key enhancing roles by: (i) increasing the foreign assistance budget; (ii) sustaining and expanding information technology infrastructure (iii) using its relational leverage with other donors to boost the livelihood of grassroots communities; and (iv) supporting efforts at land reform which sustains small holder agriculture and food security.

5. The United States should support the United Nations and regional organizations' peacekeeping and conflict prevention efforts in Africa, including timely financial and logistical support. The United States also should fully pay, without conditions, its current United Nations dues and arrears, as well as its assessments for peacekeeping operations.

6. The United States should increase financial, technical, and logistical support for African and multilateral initiatives and institutions (including civil society) aimed at crisis prevention, conflict resolution, peace enforcement, and humanitarian assistance. Any action should incorporate an intensive education program. The United States should increase efforts to enact the optional protocol on child soldiers; to protect African citizens against conscription, to inform American consumers of the origins of African products and resources in order to prevent the sale of those products from financing war, conflict, and corruption. The President should immediately sign, and the U.S. Senate should ratify, the Treaty to Ban Landmines, without reservation. The United States should expand financial support for mine clearance, victim assistance and rehabilitation, environmentally sensitive de-mining, and landmine awareness. The United States should end all production and sales of landmines and should support international initiatives to make producers of landmines financially accountable for property and human losses therefrom.

7. The United States government, and public and private sectors should make the promotion of democracy and respect for human rights central to their policies towards Africa. The United States should increase support towards existing and emerging institutions that do not violate human rights. U.S. foreign assistance, including trade benefits, security assistance, finance, and logistics should be available on a preferential basis to those that respect human rights. This assistance must include human rights training. To this end, the United States should be committed to bringing all Americans, particularly African-Americans, to the forefront of discussions, planning, and implementation of all initiatives.

8. To promote African democracy and human rights in this era of globalization, the United States government should require U.S.-based corporations and international finance institutions, particularly the World Bank, International Monetary Fund, and World Trade Organization, to advance these goals in policy and practice. A corporate code of conduct must make democracy and human rights central to doing business in Africa. The charters of international institutions should be amended so that they can no longer offer support and legitimacy to illegitimate governments, and to democratize the institutions to allow for more African representation. The United States should support Africa's quest for a permanent seat on the UN Security Council, triple the number of African refugees admitted to the United States, increase aid to 0.7% of Gross National Product, and ratify all pending human rights conventions.

9. The United States, including African-American educational institutions, should seek equitable partnerships with African professionals, institutions, and communities, to include opportunities for international exchange, training, research, technology, knowledge transfer, information sharing, and arts and culture. The United States should fund and support efforts of all countries to provide basic education, all types of literacy programs, and HIV/AIDS education for children (particularly girls), adults, and persons with disabilities.

10. It is imperative that action be taken consistently and accurately to educate the U.S. public on Africa through mass media, cultural institutions, and school curriculum. The United States must encourage African ownership while discouraging multinational institutions from destabilizing, displacing, or competing unfairly with indigenous media. Policymakers must (i) promote change in American knowledge and attitudes toward Africa; and (ii) emphasize Africa's role in the history of global civilization.

Present conflict resolution efforts are based on the assumption that conflicts in Africa can be brought to a peaceful resolution through mediation efforts, good will on the side of the parties to the conflict, and token presence of peacekeepers. It is not working. It is perhaps a reflection of the lack of importance that Africa has for the United States that such policy is even being considered. Ambassador to the UN Richard Holbrooke summed up this attitude when he proclaimed the war between Ethiopia and Eritrea to be "stupid." While it is not clear which intelligent wars he had in mind, his comments denoted a view of African conflicts as playground battles to be stopped by the intervention of adults with their superior wisdom and skills. But African conflicts are no different or more stupid than others. Like all international conflicts, they are means to an end and are thus unlikely to be resolved by peaceful means while the participants still believe they can win, when poverty provides an ample supply of soldiers who put low value on their own and other people's lives, and when some of the leaders, for example Jonas Savimbi in Angola or John Garang in the Sudan, have no past except war and no future except a victory or continuing war.

If the United States was serious about ending African conflicts or at least bringing them under control, it would have to do what it did in Bosnia or Kosovo: use force and maintain, together with other countries, a massive presence indefinitely. And this cannot happen, not simply because the political will is lacking, but because the number of conflicts is too large and the resources needed to really control such conflicts staggering. A large swath of the African continent would need to be pacified, and without the force and often brutality employed by the colonial powers over a hundred years ago. It would have to be done cautiously, taking care to cause few casualties to the interveners and minimum damage to civilians, as well as to respect the human rights of all those involved. It would have to be done in countries awash in weapons and landmines and where the lines between soldiers and civilians are not always clear And then the territories would have to be administered, states reconstructed Considering how little has been achieved in tiny Bosnia and Kosovo with resources that are very large relative to the size of the two areas, the task is clearly impossible.

We should have few illusions, either, that it would be possible for African peace keeping forces to do the job, particularly in the most complex situations. To be sure, African troops can be trained and equipped to become effective peacekeeping forces. In a small country like Sierra Leone, they may prove effective. But can enough African peacekeepers be trained to saturate Africa's vast conflict areas with sufficient numbers to make a difference? And if large numbers of peacekeepers were trained and equipped, would they not become a political factor in the conflicts and a destabilizing force in their own countries?

Africa: Old Problems in a New World

In the 1960s, all African countries shared similar problems. Today there are at least two distinct Africas: one is composed of countries that have managed to establish their political viability and are in various degrees establishing their economic viability as well; the second includes collapsed or collapsing states and countries at war. Some of the collapsed states are large and important: the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC, formerly Zaire), Angola, and the Sudan. Some are small: Sierra Leone, the Republic of the Congo, and Somalia. In addition, Rwanda and Burundi teeter on the verge of chaos and, most seriously, Nigeria could easily fall apart, as President Olusegun Obasanjo often points out. Finally, a number of countries that are still viable as states are involved in conflict. Eritrea and Ethiopia are fighting each other over boundaries and over the unresolved problems stemming from their separation in 1993. Uganda, Rwanda and Angola have troops in the Congo because they are directly affected by the outcome of the conflict in the DRC. Zimbabwe, geographically removed, has nevertheless been pulled into the same maelstrom because of the economic interests of its political and military leadership.

The strength of even the more successful African states is relative. After forty years of independence, most still face dismal socio-economic conditions. Levels of education remain poor--the average illiteracy rate in Sub-saharan Africa in 1998 was 41.65 percent, and it remained as high as 85 percent in Niger and 65 percent in Senegal. Skilled personnel is in short supply in all areas. Health conditions are poor--average infant mortality in Sub-saharan Africa is 89.7 per thousand, as opposed to 7 per thousand in the United States. Life expectancy is decreasing rapidly because of the toll taken by the AIDS scourge--in some countries it has been cut by as much as 15-20 years. Progress made in the early years to improve the quality of life was reversed later by economic crisis and the continuing brain drain. Per capita income in much of Africa has actually declined for over twenty years, and in some countries it is lower now than at the time of independence. Sub-saharan Africa (excluding South Africa) reached the highest average per capita income of $ 340 in 1976-78; it was $297 in 1996-98. Compounding all problems, everywhere the population is larger and much more urbanized, leaving many countries dependent on food imports, while the structure of exports is virtually unchanged. And for many countries, international aid is no longer a tool for development but a means of survival. Originally, foreign aid to Africa was directed at launching new projects-the theory was that governments would pay for recurring expenditures from their own revenue and donors would help finance development. The first agonized discussions whether donors should consider funding recurring expenditures took place in the late 1970s, centering around the case of Tanzania. A favorite of the international donors, Tanzania had been the beneficiary of so many new projects such as schools and clinics that its government could no longer support them. Today, aid constitutes a large part of the budget of many countries. International assistance represents 81 percent of government expenditure in Sierra Leone, 56 percent in Guinea, 24 percent in Burundi, and over 15 percent even in a relatively successful country like the Ivory Coast.

Most African countries remain quite weak, indeed weaker than at independence, but the world around them is quite different and, seen from the African vantage point, much more hostile. The world of the 1960s and 1970s was one of state-led development and protectionism. The evidence is clear that those policies were not the most productive-although they served European countries and Japan well enough in their post war reconstruction and deepening of industrialization. Even the countries that broke out of the import-substitution industrialization trap, choosing instead an export-led strategy, did so with a lot of government intervention and only a gradual lifting of protectionist barriers. For better or for worse, this was a world in which African countries felt they had some control on their development. Now the world has moved on to a different mode. Africans are told to open their countries to competition and to get into the fray. Most feel that they cannot possibly compete and that they are not even being allowed to defend themselves. There is a deep, pervasive pessimism on this point among Africans.

It is not only the rules of the global economy that are perceived as unfriendly by African countries. So are the new political rules. Forty years ago, nobody expected African countries to be democratic, at least not right away. There was a widely accepted assumption that Africa needed a period of nation- and state-building, as well as of economic development, before the issue of democracy could be seriously raised. But in the early 1990s, assumptions about politics changed as radically as those about economic development had ten years earlier. Now, it is axiomatic that African countries can and should become democratic immediately, although consolidation may take a long time. Africans, too, want change. Ordinary citizens are tired of repressive regimes and economic hardship; intellectuals are disillusioned with the socialist ideas that dominated the continent in the 1960s and 1970s. But they have not been given a chance to even think about what change they want. Instead, they have been pressed to replicate Western electoral processes and institutions, accepting democracy as a ready-made model. And measured against that model, African performance is perpetually found wanting. Africans are told their institutions are weak, corrupt and lacking in transparency; they are told that their civil society needs strengthening, often under the tutelage of Western NGOs.

With the best of intentions-but many Africans are beginning to doubt that this is done with the best of intentions--the international community is assaulting African countries with a barrage of impossible demands. And if these were not enough, a new set of demands is likely to be imposed on African countries as a result of the AIDS epidemic. It is only a matter of time before African governments are presented by the international community with their blueprint for action-essentially a new set of unfunded mandates that African countries will be soundly berated for not implementing.

As a result, Africa is beginning to balk. The same educated Africans who criticized their governments for their lack of democracy, their violations of human rights, their corruption and their failure to tackle problems are beginning to turn against the impossible international demands, the constant criticism and the unfunded mandates. There is resentment against WTO trade rules, which are seen as benefiting the industrialized countries and making it even more difficult for Africa to compete. There is resentment against World Bank imposed reforms that sometimes backfire dramatically, as they did in Mozambique where the cashew processing industry was destroyed, without the Bank taking responsibility for the outcome. They are tired of democracy assistance projects that equate donor-funded NGOs with civil society and neglect indigenous organizations with deep roots but little capacity to write grant applications.

The questioning by South African President Thabo Mbeki of the scientific evidence that HIV leads to AIDS should be seen in this context. It is not an act of personal madness or deep ignorance--Mbeki is a highly intelligent man, educated in top British schools, and he has never given signs of insanity. It is an act of frustration, a response to an environment that demands too much, offers little help, and does not spare criticism. It is the same frustration that is leading African intellectuals to turn against neo-liberal economic reform and talk darkly about delinking their countries from the international economy, whatever that might mean. The world has become very unfriendly for Africa.

Limiting Goals

A realistic policy toward Africa has to take into consideration the absence of overriding interests, the limitations of available resources, and the growing African perception that the international environment is hostile. The best the US can do under the circumstances is to help create a more favorable environment, let African governments and organizations take the major responsibility for their future, and support as much as possible the countries that are moving in a positive direction. This requires abandoning some cherished assumptions.

African States are not Sacred and Conflict Resolution Efforts are not Cost-free

The United States needs to abandon two assumptions that have dominated its policy in Africa. The first is that colonial borders are sacred and so are the states within. The second is that attempts at conflict resolution are always a good thing.

Respect for colonial borders, together with non-interference in internal affairs, is the principle that underpins the Organization of African Unity, and the United States has accepted it. In the 1960s, the proclamation of the principle was an act of statesmanship by the leaders of new African countries, sparing Africa the potential for much fighting as countries advanced claims on parts of each other's territory in the name of precolonial history. It was right for the United States also to recognize colonial borders.

Forty years later, recognition of colonial borders has different implications. It no longer protects countries from border disputes, but it ensures continued international recognition for collapsed states. A good principle directed at preventing interstate conflict has degenerated into a screen behind which warlords and inept governments hide. It is time the United States took a stand on this issue, not by advocating border modifications or a new partition of Africa, but simply by making it clear that African states cannot count on automatic recognition and protection for ever. Like all other states, they must maintain their viability or break up and even disappear--like Pakistan when it lost Bangladesh, for example, or the Soviet Union, Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia when they broke apart. There is simply no reason to recognize as sacred states that cannot govern themselves or develop sufficient consensus among their citizens.

Recognizing all post-colonial states as immutable and sacred has a perverse effect. The Democratic Republic of the Congo is no longer a state: its government does not control the territory, let alone administer it in a meaningful way. It does not have a monopoly over the means of coercion. It does not protect its citizens or do anything else for them. In fact, it has none of the basic attributes of a state. But because colonial borders must be respected, it is treated as a state and one of its many warlords, Laurent Kabila, is treated differently from the others because he sits in Kinshasa. It is time for the United States to make it clear that the survival of African states depends ultimately on the capacity of their leaders and citizens to find a modus vivendi, and that the international community has no duty, and the United States no interest, to rebuild collapsed states.

The second assumption that needs to be discarded is that promoting negotiations and offering mediation is always a good thing. There is plenty of evidence from Africa that international attempts to promote negotiations have backfired in many countries: in Angola, where Jonas Savimbi became a master at regrouping and rearming under the cover of internationally negotiated and soon broken agreements; in Sierra Leone, where the attempt to bring rebel leader Foday Sankoh into a coalition government gave him time to reorganize, leading to the resumption of fighting and even to the capture of hundreds of hapless UN peacekeepers; and in the DRC, where all sides violate the agreement but do not want it to be abandoned, in the hope that it will give them some protection if the tide of war turns against them.

Making it clear that the United States is not duty bound to preserve every failed state in its original borders, to provide diplomatic support for every insincere negotiation, or to help fund peace-keeping forces to back agreements that parties have no intention of keeping will not have a magical effect on peace in the short run--but present policies do not help, either. Such a policy may, however, force the parties to the conflict to take responsibility for finding a solution. After frustrating all international efforts at peace-making for years, the Somali factions, left to their own devices, are now looking for their own solutions. It may take them years longer, but it is the most promising development in that territory yet. Whether the outcome is a new state, a confederation of clans or a constellation of city-states, it really does not matter as long as it works for those involved.

Foster a Less Hostile Environment

Before US policy makers ask what they can do to help Africa, they need to ask what they can do to hurt it less. This means taking a look at the conditionalities imposed on Africa by the international community, dealing more effectively with the debt problem, and being more generous in opening up US markets. A lot can be done here.

African countries today are swamped with conditionalities, demands and sanctions. For example, a memorandum of understanding signed between the IMF and Sierra Leone in November 1999 committed the government of the war-torn country to implement literally dozens of reforms--the agreement was rendered moot a few months later by a resumption of war. The World Bank peppers recipient countries with official delegations, all on important missions, all demanding the time and efforts of government officials. Bilateral donors add their delegations and demands. Taken individually, most demands are justified and many delegations are doing useful work. Taken together, they amount to an attempt at micromanaging African countries.

The problem has been recognized for years by donor countries and international financial institutions, but the situation is getting worse rather than better. Countries face the economic conditionalities imposed by the World Bank and the IMF, and supported by the United States. These are conditionalities that aim at transforming the state-controlled, inward-looking African economies into market oriented, export-oriented ones. This is good, because African countries have to move away from the state-led approach to development, rely more on market forces, and allow the private sector to do its part. But over the years, as the understanding of the process of reform has become more sophisticated, the conditionalities have become more complex, and the demands on governments have escalated. There is no doubt that African countries need better banking systems, better contract laws, more efficient regulatory systems, and a host of other improvements. But they cannot do everything at the same time, or in the form and at the pace imposed from the outside.

African countries also face political conditionalities-more than one African government has seen aid suspended or has been threatened with suspension unless they held elections or took other steps toward democracy. They face strong pressures to respect human rights, and this is good. Unfortunately, the demands can become unrealistic. There is a difference between condoning torture and extrajudicial executions and accepting the fact that a country like Rwanda emerging from genocide with a shattered judicial system and tens of thousand of suspects is not in a position to bring them all to trial both speedily and with all due procedural guarantees of fairness.

There is also the threat of ever more stringent environmental and labor regulations, as demanded by the NGOs and labor unions that mobilized against the WTO in Seattle in late 1999. There is the increasingly insistent demand that African countries take on the problem of corruption. African countries need to address these issues, but are they asked to do so too fast, and following rules that are best suited for rich countries than for Africa? This is an area where the United States could play and important and useful role, leading international organizations, other donor governments and even NGOs in a process of re-examining a host of important issues: what is the overall impact of conditionalities, requirements, sanctions on African countries? How much reform can any government undertake all at once, particularly when it has low capacity? Are some requests premature? Do demands contradict each other? Can countries possibly develop a sense of ownership of reform programs-which is recognized as a key to success-if they are constantly told what to do and not to do? Even compiling a list of all the requirements imposed on each country could be an eye-opener for policy-makers. This is an important project and the US should take the lead.

The United States also needs to examine its own policies and ask whether they make progress in Africa more difficult. This means addressing immediately and decisively the issue of the bilateral and multilateral debt owed by African countries as well as trade issues. At one level, the African debt problem is very simple: most countries will never repay their debt because they cannot. About a quarter of them have debt larger than the country's GNP, in some cases three or four times larger. Even some of the best performing countries are saddled with an unsustainable debt burden. The US needs to follow as quickly as possible the lead of those countries that have cancelled their bilateral debt entirely, and work to speed up the process of debt relief by the international financial institutions. There may be a moral hazard to debt relief, in that it rewards countries that have performed badly in the past. It is time to recognize that there is also a moral hazard in not providing significant and quick debt relief: it allows bilateral and multilateral lenders to avoid the consequences of their own mistakes in providing loans for failed projects or for reform policies that did not pay off.

Trade issues also need to be re-evaluated more seriously. African countries have been told for almost two decades that an export-led policy is the way out of their economic crisis. There is growing skepticism in Africa that this can indeed be the case. African countries feel that they are being forced to open their economies to competition too fast, and that this is destroying their few industries and destroying any chance of success. They look at the length of time it took the US Congress to adopt the Africa Growth and Opportunity Act, which provides a modest opening of the US market to African products but imposes conditions, and they wonder at the sincerity of the United States. It is crucial that the US looks at how its own practices and the prescriptions of the WTO affect Africa not in economic theory but in practice. Can African countries ever industrialize, or diversify their exports away from raw materials, under the rules that are being developed by industrialized countries? The question cannot be answered simply by invoking the benefits of free trade. Any answer must take into account the extreme conditions that exist in Africa. For example, many countries are seeing their small garment industries destroyed not by superior or cheaper foreign products, but by the importation of the discarded, used clothing of the industrialized countries. African countries account for such an insignificant percentage of world trade, only about 1.6 percent , that any exceptions made would hardly upset the international system.

Lightening the burden of conditionalities alone would have a positive impact on Africa, although it would benefit most those countries that have the more capable governments and where peace prevail. But this is inevitable. In fact, the United States must focus its policies on the more successful countries, because Africa needs desperately some success stories to counteract the spreading pessimism that Africa cannot succeed in today's world. It must build on the relative strength of viable countries, but without expecting too much of them. Ideally, it would be good for the United States to support countries with growing economies, decreasing income inequality, good human rights records, and democratizing governments. Unfortunately, such countries do not exist. Some of the fastest growing African countries, such as Uganda and Ethiopia have competent governments, but not democratic ones. There is an argument for providing support for such countries. Other countries, Mali for example, are more democratic but their economies are not doing particularly well. Such countries too, should be supported, because progress is always lopsided and uneven. The question is how to identify countries where real progress can be detected despite the problems. This will always be a difficult call that can only be made case by case.


The present idealistic policy of seeking to address all conflicts, reconstruct all states, and promote ever more sophisticated process of economic and political reform should be replaced by a more realistic policy that focuses on changing US policies that have a negative impact on Africa, seeks to support the more successful countries and to build on their strengths, and accepts that some states are bound to collapse and some conflicts to continue until the participants decide that they have enough. The call for such a policy change could be considered callous if present policies were succeeding. They are not and in some cases they have made the situation worse.

What would be the costs and benefits of such a policy change? For the next administration, it would probably entail some political costs, above all with the NGOs that consider their principles to be absolute and reject compromise. On the other hand, the policy could easily gain support within international organizations and with other donor governments, which know that many countries are being crushed by excessive requirements. Also on the positive side, the policy could be pursued even in the absence of a significant increase in resources. Reviewing the conditionalities imposed on each country, their costs, benefits and their interaction would require a considerable investment of time, personnel, and coordination with other donors, but not of money. Focusing the available assistance on successful countries could also be done no matter with any level of resources. Furthermore, it might make it easier in the long run to convince Congress to appropriate more money because it is more appealing to help relatively successful countries than to sink money into collapsed states.

From the African point of view, the change in policy would have a positive impact on the countries with the more competent governments, which would be most likely to take advantage of a reduction of the debt, the opening of markets, and the lightening of conditionalities. How evenly distributed among the population the benefits would be depends on the level of corruption in each and the degree of accountability of its government, but there would be some progress. Countries singled out for special attention because they are seen as relatively successful might also find it easier to attract more foreign investment, something which few African countries except oil producers have been able to do.

The clear losers would be the leaders of collapsing states and warring factions, who would be left to their own devices. Nobody needs to cry over their fate. The real problem is the impact on the population of the collapsing states and the countries at war-- the civilian populations caught in the conflicts, the millions of refugees and internally displaced people. The policy would do nothing for them in the short run. In the longer run, it might force warlords to settle their differences, but it is important not to be overly optimistic on this point. Neglect had a positive impact on Somalia, but each country is different.

But intervention in the form of conflict negotiations and token presence of UN peacekeepers has not helped these populations, either. Millions have been displaced as endless talks and negotiations took place. Of course, a Kosovo- or Bosnia-style intervention might make a difference. It is not going to happen, not because of racism, but because of numbers. A map tells the story quickly. Look at Kosovo and Bosnia, if you can find them. Then look at the conflict areas of Africa. There is no way to mobilize enough peacekeepers to stop what Susan Rice has called Africa's first world war.

In the foreseeable future as at present, it is only humanitarian assistance that can alleviate, at least a little the plight of the populations affected by war. Humanitarian efforts must be continued. The future of Africa, however, does not depend on such efforts. It depends on generating some successes and dispelling the growing pessimism. It is such successes that will help further US interest in peace and stability in Africa.