D.C. Council Member Yvette Alexander (D-Ward 7) joins Kojo and Tom Sherwood to chat about her upcoming fight for re-election.
Guest Host: Marc Fisher
When President Barack Obama took office in 2009, African nations were hopeful that relations with their continent would flourish. But since then, the Obama administration has been roundly criticized for taking a reactive, rather than a proactive, approach toward Africa. Now, with a second term on the horizon, the president finds a continent where trading happens mainly with China and where Muslim extremism continues to spread. We explore the future of U.S.-Africa relations, and find out why many experts are urging a reset with Africa.
- Mwangi Kimenyi Senior Fellow and Director of the Africa Growth Initiative, Brookings Institution
- Tibor Nagy Vice Provost for International Affairs at Texas Tech University; Former U.S. Ambassador to Ethiopia and Guinea
- Jennifer Cooke Director, Africa Program, Center for Strategic and International Studies
MR. MARC FISHERFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," connecting your community with the world. I'm Marc Fisher of The Washington Post sitting in for Kojo. Coming up this hour, when President Obama took office, African's danced in the streets, hopeful that U.S. relations with their continent had reached a turning point. But after the President won re-election last week, enthusiasm was more muted. Though many Africans have said they welcome a second Obama term, others point to his one and only visit to Guyana in 2009 as evidence of their continent is low on his priority list.
MR. MARC FISHERFor the White House, Africa has been a study in contrasts while civil conflict, natural disasters and terrorist attacks have raised U.S. concerns, economies from Angola to Ethiopia are recording the highest levels of growth in the world. But experts are warning that a policy that appears to be largely reactive, won't build lasting success. And they're urging a reset in strategy over the next four years. Well, joining me to discuss the U.S. and Africa, Tibor Nagy is Vice Provost for International Affairs at Texas Tech University. He's a former United States Ambassador to Ethiopia and Guinea.
MR. MARC FISHERJennifer Cooke is Director of the Africa Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. And Mwangi Kimenyi is Senior Fellow and Director of the Africa Growth Initiative at the Brookings Institution. And Mwangi, the day after President Obama was reelected, you wrote an open letter to him in which you urged him to think about the kind of legacy that he wants to leave in Africa. What was the gist of your message to the president?
MR. MWANGI KIMENYII think the basic message was that, somehow he visited Guyana, Africa leader a few hours in Africa for the entire time. And there has been no real direction, serious commitment to engaging Africa. And so my point was that he can actually leave a legacy. And he really needs to rethink about the strategy on doing -- on getting Africa.
FISHERAnd Jennifer Cooke, there's been a reluctance on this President's part to engage, not only, perhaps with Africa, but also with issues of race here in our own country. Is the -- is the lack of high priority being placed on Africa part of that racial dynamic where this President has, at least in the view of many Africa-American observers, has not paid the attention to black issues here in America, that he might have felt free to do if he were not himself black?
MS. JENNIFER COOKEWell, there has been that argument made, that because he's, you know, because of the whole birth-er movement, they're sensitivities around that. I don't know how much credence I give to that. Frankly, he came into office with a historic fiscal deficit, here in the United States, an economic crisis that was global, domestic, a Congress that was inward -- turning inward.
MS. JENNIFER COOKEYou know, there were constraints, there were expectations of his Presidency but there were also fairly big constraints when he came to office. And, you know, I think in this second term, he does have a chance, I think, to turn around and make some much bigger, kind of, splashier commitments to Africa. But without...
COOKE...finances behind it in the last term, it's going to be difficult to do that and...
FISHER...and do you see any evidence from either the President or people around him that that's something that they very much want to do in a second term?
COOKEWell, you know, late in his -- in his first term, he came out with a new presidential policy directive. One of the things that it emphasized was the need for greater engagement on trade and investment. And I think, given -- there are still big constraints on how much in foreign assistance, in the fiscal constraints there, I think that is a direction, one that he's going to have big opportunities to push. U.S. investment in Africa, boosting the trade agenda. At the same time, he's still going to have the major security threats that have kind of proliferated over his first term there.
FISHERYou can join our conversation about the United States and Africa by calling 1-800-433-8850 or email us at kojo, K-O-J-O, @wamu.org. Let us know if you think Africa has historically gotten the short end of the stick in terms of the United States time, money and attention. Does good news about Africa tend to be overshadowed by bad news? Your thoughts at 1-800-433-8850. And Tibor Nagy, were you disappointed or surprised at all by the lack of emphasis on Africa in this first Obama administration?
MR. TIBOR NAGYNot really because, historically, Africa has always been the least priority of regions for U.S. foreign policy. And it's not by design, it's not any meanness, it's just how it is. There's always a region that has to be, at least. Also, historically...
FISHERAnd is that true across parties, in a cross administration?
NAGYIt's been true of the United States of America, unfortunately. All you have to do is read inspection reports on the Africa bureau in the Department of State and see their staffing and see their budgets and see the people that occupy positions in Africa. But also historically there has been two trends that the United States has had to pursue in Africa and they've often been in conflict. One is a long term kind of a development agenda, but the other is responding to crisis.
NAGYAnd I say this and I don't mean it with levity, but the U.S. government can usually respond to about two crisis in Africa at any one time. If it's more than that, then they have real problems because of the resources of the Africa bureau. We have probably the best Assistant Secretary for African Affairs we've ever had with Johnnie Carson. But, you know, you do what you can with the resources you're given.
FISHERYou were, over the last several months, advising Mitt Romney's campaign on Africa.
FISHERDo you think that his approach would've been elementally different from what we've seen in the last few years?
NAGYI believe so. It's exactly what was commented before. Because I think there would've been a paradigm shift, number one of seeing Africa as an opportunity instead of a problem and of really making an effort to incorporate the private sector into U.S. development policy.
FISHERAnd Mwangi, is there -- as you look at comparing George W. Bush's approach to Africa to Barack Obama's, in Africa, obviously, there was this tremendous hope and celebration around Obama's election. But are you finding that governments and others in Africa are comparing the two and finding the Bush administration was a more friendly period?
KIMENYII think -- I think, for African's, the reference point remains President Bill Clinton. They see President Clinton as leader, the most important leader they had from United States. And even today, he's very popular. The other thing is that, I think, the expectations were misplaced. We the -- President Obama, I think the expectations of what he could do for Africa were a bit too high. And, finally, there's usually a low expectation on the part of Africa for what Republicans can do for Africa. And what we find with -- if you look at President George W. Bush, he set for us a price. I mean, a lot of creative initiatives were started then if you look up -- even the scope and size of that...
FISHERNot just on AIDS, but in other ways as well?
KIMENYINot on AIDS. I mean, think about the Millennium compression challenge. I mean, that's an innovative way at looking at...
FISHERWhat was that?
KIMENYIMCC. This is a program that provides huge grants to different countries for infrastructure development which is really, you know, they have use -- they have been very successful in some of these countries. And this very important in terms of the major issues that Africa faces. So let's say this, I mean, there have been -- we understand that the president came with various constraints, but the expectations were pretty high. So, you know, they set the expectation much more will be done during the second term.
FISHERAnd was that expectation unfairly high in the sense that, in your letter, you wrote that Africans thought that with one of their own in the White House...
FISHER...things would be different. Was that unfair?
KIMENYII think it's unfair. I think the expectations were misplaced. I think, you know, they thought that they had won, you conceded that is their own would do anything -- can do much more than the previous ones. And -- but I think, that the fact that we are not as critical of President Obama, you know, there hasn't been as much pressure for him to do much on Africa, I think.
FISHERAnd, Jennifer, Americans sort of stereotypically have kind of a hopeless view of Africa or seen as a lost cause or just beyond the scope of anything that we can pay to help in any useful way. But in actuality, there's quite a bit of good news on the economic front that perhaps fed that Bush administration's approach on the -- that corporate program.
NAGYWell, yeah. In fact, you know, I think, one of the things about Africa, it's hard to have a one-size-fit-all policy. You know, there are a lot of crises. There's a lot of humanitarian issues, conflict and so forth. Those get a lot of play in the U.S. media. But there are a number of big opportunities. And I think, President Bush recognized that in setting up the Millennium Challenge Account which kind of rewards governments that are doing well and governing justly. I think going forward, again, this trade and investment platform that the Bush -- that the Obama administration has begun to move towards with USAID and number of initiatives there.
COOKEI think, it's playing much more to the upside of Africa, kind of the opportunities for growth that are happening, the opportunities for U.S. businesses that are happening right now. You see other investors in the world, China, India, Brazil who are actually doing quite well on their investments in Africa. And it's in some ways a more optimistic engagement then the U.S. has tried. So I think there's a chance to move away from a, kind of, humanitarian crisis prism to a much broader one that includes opportunities as well.
FISHERLet's hear from Nick in Fairfax who wants to follow up on that, exactly that point. Nick, you're on the air.
NICKHey, how's it going?
FISHERGood, go ahead.
NICKMy question is about the Chinese and Brazilian involvement. I've heard that they've made great strides but I know very little about how that's gone into play. And I've heard other NPR stories commenting on how there's been friction, per se, between, you know, African and Chinese businessmen overseas. And I can take my answer off the air. Thank you for your time.
NAGYI think the Chinese are eating our lunch in Africa. And the interesting thing is, in many respects, China has done more development work, quote-unquote, in Africa, even though China does not have an official development agency than anybody else. China started with a tremendous amount of residual good wealth for historical reasons and also the Chinese have been willing to "play economically" in those areas where U.S. business people have been extremely reluctant to go. Now, we're going to have to catch up.
FISHERYou mean, geographic areas or...
NAGYGeographic -- absolutely. Absolutely, in...
NAGY...Sudan, Guinea, Equatorial Guinea, you know, you name a country in Africa and if there's an economical potential, the Chinese will be there, under any number of guises. And we have been behind and I've seen this on the ground during my 25 years in Africa and we need a lot of catching up to do. But the U.S. government can do an awful lot more to help than it has been doing. So I'll leave it at that.
FISHERAnd, I mean, apparently in 2009, China overtook the United States as Africa's largest trading partner. Is that being lead -- well, obviously, in China, the government is very much behind this and President Hu has visited Africa, I believe, seven times, a stark contrast from what we've seen from American presidents. Is this something that government should be in the leadership on solving or that kind of competition or is there a larger role for the corporate sector, Jennifer?
COOKEWell, look, first on China's engagement. I think they have been a tremendous boon in Africa. But some of the countries that Tibor mentioned, Sudan, Equatorial Guinea, Guinea are not places that are particularly Democratic and are not places that have used those investments, really, to lift up the most marginalized and the most poor. That's one of the concerns of the United States in this, is this kind of uncritical embrace of some of these countries where governance is poor and where investment does not necessarily translate into development. So depending on the, you know, they're plenty of African governments who are doing quite well from the Chinese engagement.
KIMENYIYeah, I think China has a little change, not just China, but China has been leading in terms of engaging Africa in a fairly productive ways. And I agree with Jennifer on the fact that in some cases we are also concerned about China's engagement in terms of transparency. There are a lot of oil contracts that are being signed that we don't really know what type of contracts, what's contained in them.
KIMENYINevertheless, there are quite a number of positive developments there. China has organized one of the critical needs that Africa has, which is infrastructure and to do that supporting infrastructure development and that's very important for Africa in terms of trade. And so in my view, I think there are many opportunities for United States that could engage again through thinking more on the private sector approach, and in particular, there are so many opportunities in agriculture, infrastructure and so on.
KIMENYII would say that on the balance, it's positive that China is (unintelligible) is Africa.
FISHERMwangi Kimenyi is director of the Africa Growth Initiative at the Brookings Institution. Jennifer Cooke directs the Africa program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. And Tibor Nagy is the vice-president -- vice provost for International Affairs at Texas Tech University, a former U.S. ambassador to both Ethiopia and Guinea. We will return with more about the United States and Africa after a short break. I'm Marc Fischer. Stay tuned.
FISHERWelcome back. I'm Marc Fisher of the Washington Post sitting in for Kojo Nnamdi. And we are talking about Africa and the United Stated with Tibor Nagy and Jennifer Cooke and Mwangi Kimenyi. And let's hear from Richard in Sterling. Richard, you're on the air.
RICHARDYes, Marc, how you doing and also, you know, thank you for the show. Even though we know that China is everywhere in Africa because our leaders are not using our resources to help the countries, China is actually doing more harm than good. If you go to Sudan most of the streets that they've been paving has been washing away. If you go to Ghana now, we are having trouble with so many Chinese digging everywhere for minerals. And people are -- the kids are ending up falling into manholes.
RICHARDAnd, you know, people are even sick and tired of the people around because you see them down doing those things. And they give them a little bit that shows that, oh, we care. But after all, they don't care. But I know if Americans go there, they would do a good job and most of the time their infrastructures will stay. Because I remember have a street, you know, a highway name of the George Bush because actually it was a Clinton that was allocated the money. But George Bush that send the money...
FISHERGot the credit. Well, I mean, the caller raises a really good question which is, obviously the Chinese are investing an enormous amount in cultivating the relationship with African countries. Is it being perceived as purely mercenary or is there a real quality of life difference that's being made as a result of Chinese investment? Jennifer.
COOKEYeah, I mean, I think early on, China, when it kind of reengaged in Africa in a big way, there was something of an uncritical embrace by a lot of Africans. It was an alternative to the west. It was bringing infrastructure, it was doing things the West had been reluctant to do. I think more and more people are beginning to have a little healthy skepticism about the engagement, about the quality of roads that are built, about the environmental impacts, the employment practices, community outreach and so forth.
COOKEIt varies from place to place. You know, at the end of the day, it's the African government that needs to set the standards. And there are some that have set fairly high standards. I think there are others who have taken the contracts, let the cheap roads be built and pocketed quite a bit of the money. So it's a mixture.
FISHERI imagine it's also a question of compared to what. And so if you're comparing it to the theoretical American presence, that's one thing. If you're comparing it to an actual Western or presence of some other sort, that's another.
NAGYThe caller raises a phenomenal point because I remember I was in Ethiopia about five years ago when I met with then Prime Minister Meles. He kind of gleefully said to me, well, you know, we don't need you Americans as much as we did because we have new friends. Not only talking about the economic development but also about a political model. I was back in Ethiopia a couple of weeks ago and low and behold I heard so much complaining about the Chinese quality of workmanship. And basically the line was, why don't your American businesses get over here more and compete more because we know your products are superior.
NAGYAnd this is where U.S. policy could really help because if we negotiated some real bilateral investment treaties with these countries and worked with them directly to get that framework to where American companies can compete fairly with Chinese companies, then I think you would see a huge new market in Africa.
FISHERNow Mwangi, there is, certainly from the administration's perspective, they would argue that they have not disengaged from Africa. And they point to a tremendous amount of work that's being done in the fight against terrorism and Islamic extremism in places such as Somalia, Mali, Nigeria and elsewhere. Are we talking apples and oranges here? I mean, is it a zero sum game? If you invest heavily in fighting terrorism, does that mean you don't have the bandwidth to invest economically?
KIMENYIWell, I give you -- I mean, the U.S. has been involved. I would -- first of all, I'd like to give credit to the United States government, particularly on the case of South Sudan. And the whole separation and the follow up, I think U.S. was very involved, which was a very positive move. And U.S. had been involved to some extent, yeah, to some degree in Somalia. But, you know what? From an African point of view we see a lot of that as U.S. interests. And I think it's good but we also need to think about the broad government agenda. So in that sense, U.S. is engaged, but I think we want to see a different type of engagement of the government...
NAGYAnd this is a low-hanging fruit for us because I remember in my time in Africa, I was always pounding the desks of ministers of development saying, you need to establish a one-stop shop, a (word?) unique for interested investors. And low and behold, you know, in the United States, we don't have a one-stop shop for U.S. companies wanting to invest in Africa. They have to go to seven different government agencies, some of whom are quite mysterious to say a medium size or especially a small size U.S. business.
NAGYWe need to do a much better job on the Washington end of supporting U.S. business people because it's not enough to have a conference and shout, AGOA, AGOA, AGOA, Africa's open for business three times and, you know, say go on your own way.
FISHERLet's hear from Sam in Prince George's County. Sam, you're on the air.
SAMHi, how you doing, sir?
FISHERGood. What's your question?
SAMWell, it's more of a statement. I'm from Sierra Leone and I think the biggest problem why Africa and the development with the United States is there's a, what can I say, a divide between African Americans and Africans. And with the percentage of African Americans that are already in America, you would think the issues should be pushed more for people that look like them or their ancestors to be taken care of back home.
SAMBut there's this divide so if somebody that doesn't look like them, like an African American would not be able to push an issue that's an African issue for people that look like Africans already that are American citizens that could push the issue. I'm talking the human rights people here, whatever it is. They'll be able to push that issue more because they're Americans and they have more power than the African leader that come here to beg for help.
SAMAnd the second thing, I think the African leaders are not helping either because they're selfish and, you know, greed and all of the other stuff makes people not interested in the continent anymore. And I'll take my answer off the air.
KIMENYIYeah, I think the caller is quite correct in terms of the divide. But there have been quite a number of efforts that African Americans have been pushing a lot of bills and legislation for -- on behalf of Africa. I think there are groups like the Constituency for Africa that are actually very active in terms of trying to mobilize support on behalf of Africa.
KIMENYIBut you have -- for U.S., how many senators would lose a seat for not doing something for Africa? We did on half of a Consistency. And this is where leadership really matters because on the bigger picture, the interests for United States to engage Africa and that's why we bring the federal government. That's why the president should be more active because you're not going to have, you know, you're not going to win a seat because of Africa.
KIMENYIAnd I have talked about that quite a bit. But there are some effort. I think Congressman Bobby Rush introduced a bill that talks about the African Diaspora engaging with Africa broader. So there are some new efforts that we see that are important.
FISHERTibor, do you see any evidence of this sort of African Diaspora here in the United States putting any pressure on the government to engage more or in different ways or in different areas of Africa?
NAGYUnfortunately, no. I remember one of my last jobs in the Foreign Service was a diplomat and residence with the idea of recruiting people for the state department. And I was especially targeting minorities. And I worked with a wonderful University Langston, a historically black college in Oklahoma. And it was there -- during my full year, it was impossible to recruit any African Americans to serve in the Foreign Service. And I found just a huge amount of -- I don't want to say noninterest, but non-knowledge -- if that's an English word -- about African issues in general.
NAGYI don't know what the historical reason is, but it's too bad -- I'm a Hungarian American. And when Hungary gained its independence a whole Hungarian American community was there and really pressuring lawmakers to help, you know, Eastern Europe. That has not happened with Africa at all.
FISHERJennifer, what are the pressures on the administration or on any American administration to be more or less involved in Africa? Are they--do they come from business interests? Where are the pressure points?
COOKEWell, they're a variety and a couple of issues really have captured public imagination. The African American community was critical in the '80s in the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa. Critical also on Sudan. It was kind of a strange coalition that pushed President Bush to take a much more active role on Sudan, king of the Christian right -- the Christian Conservative right but also the congressional black caucus that -- with the -- you know, saw it as a kind of race Arab North versus an African South.
COOKEYou have, as well, you know, the Kony -- the search for Joseph Kony and LRA which was mobilized by a massive kind of online youth outreach. So there are a few issues that have captured. So public attention, yes, is a big one in terms of mobilizing. On HIV Aids as well. Congressional black caucus, conservative Christians, again this kind of very broad based coalition bipartisan, senators and congressmen who traveled and saw the devastation of HIV Aids and really acted in -- with funding that no one had anticipated from the Bush Administration.
COOKESo I think the key for the Obama Administration is kind of finding that kind of an issue that it can rally Republicans and Democrats behind and a much broader swath of Americans. And whether that's -- if that's kind of the economic growth model rather than kind of the crisis mentality. I think that would be a good one.
FISHERLet's hear from Manny in Woodbridge, Va. Manny, it's your turn.
MANNYThank you very much for taking my call, lady and gentlemen over there. I just wanted to talk to a couple of things that one or two of your guests had actually mentioned and one of the colors. Specifically the African Diaspora who are out here and perhaps maybe in collaboration with African Americans over here, you know. Is there some kind of entity, some kind of organization that is perhaps trying to put some pressure on the administration to do something?
MANNYBecause the truth is if the administration -- if there is no entity that's actually put into place and saying, hey, we need to put a presence out there in Africa. We need to see Africa in a different light. I don't see anything being done about it. I mean, the president has to be pressured to do something regardless of whether or not he's black or white. I mean, he's the president for everybody. It's going to be hard for him to just, on his own, you know, move out and do certain things for Africa. Is there some organization of Diaspora as well as African Americans who can help him make that decision?
KIMENYIYes. There is actually a group that's been trying to do that and been trying to push forward these force. And I think that's the CF -- Constituency for Africa.
FISHERConstituency for Africa.
KIMENYIYes. But of course, then when you think about the -- again, what Jennifer talked about, the Congressional black caucus, they are all part of the pressure. But the Constituency for Africa is one of those groups that's trying to really push the Diaspora and sort of to get -- to pressure the government to act. But again, there are a lot of Africans here who have gained -- they are sort of (word?) immigrants, they have gained citizenship and can actually do a lot. But they are not organized.
KIMENYISo one of the things that we're also planning -- trying to do and we actually had a producing document on this, is how do you get these African Diaspora to be better organized. Because they vote but they are actually not -- they are not actually organized. So we need better organization and the caller is quite right about this issue, that there needs to be pressure.
NAGYA natural organizer would be the African embassies. Unfortunately they often do a very poor job at that type of working with the Diaspora. And many Diasporas are politically opposed to the regimes at hand, the regimes that are represented by the embassy. For example, about 2 million Ethiopians in the U.S. It could be an extremely influential Diaspora, but they're so split politically. And, again, having been a member of a Diaspora, I know the Diasporas are usually about ten years out of date with what's going on in the home country.
NAGYBut they could be a phenomenal force.
FISHERSpeaking of Ethiopia and that part of the region, Baraquette (sp?) in Lorton is with us. Baraquette, you're on the air.
BARAQUETTEYes, thank you very much. Well, unlike the rest of the African Diaspora, the (word?) Diaspora is very organized. We have been working very hard, the Obama Administration, to change his policy, especially on the Horn of Africa. Because there is a sad story about Africa that is done by the Obama Administration sanctioning (word?). Those two sanctions that were put by the United Nations, orchestrated of course by the United States who are -- manufactured accusations. Accusations that are not true.
BARAQUETTEAnd hopefully this time, the Obama Administration will correct those because anybody who will -- any journalist who will do a very brief investigation will find out that all the accusations are manufactured. So my question to the panelists is, you have dictators in Africa who buy lands this year and spend millions of dollars and like Meles Zenawi who has been doing this. He pays 50,000 a month for DLP and his name is like he's a hero. And (unintelligible) my beloved friend. But he kills his own people on the streets of (word?). And I don't know how many people he has to kill to force (unintelligible) my beloved friend.
FISHEROkay. Well, let's give our folks a chance to respond. The head of the U.N. monitoring group on Somalia and Eritrea said recently that it's too early to lift U.N. sanctions against Eritrea. Mwangi?
KIMENYIWell, maybe I would just comment on the nature of the dictators. It's true that we need to be careful about, you know, the issue of dictators and that this is an area where Democrats and Republicans need to do better in terms of how they engage our leaders. But there's actually increasingly movement to halt these stolen assets. There are many international governance and U.S. also surpassed, even just last year, even enacted some registration that's supposed to really act on this type of assets.
KIMENYIWe have lost a lot of resources through these types of transfers. But I don't mention particular regions because I'm not sure I can ascertain that. So in that case, I think we need to be careful about dictatorships.
FISHERAnd you -- just speaking of relationships with various countries across the region, obviously there's been some hesitancy in the past to give aid to countries that did have very questionable governments or corrupt governments. But the whole conversation about aid and the framing of the relationship with Africa in terms of aid is something that you've written and have been critical of. That you see this as kind of an outmoded way of viewing our relationship within Africa that is really changing very rapidly.
KIMENYIYeah. Aid is important, but it should not be the leader centerpiece for our relationship. We -- I really don't even like talking about aid. It's important, but it really should not be what defines relation between the United States and Africa. We have other important things like commercial relationship should be more important in defining the relationships.
FISHERWell, when we come back after a short break, we'll get into some of those country-by-country relationships and what's been changing and the growth that's occurring in a number of African countries as we talk with Tibor Nagy, Jennifer Cooke and Mwangi Kimenyi on Africa and the United States. I'm Marc Fisher of the Washington Post. We'll be back after a short break.
FISHERWelcome back. I'm Marc Fisher of the Washington Post sitting in for Kojo, and we are talking about the United States and Africa, and relations between the two. We are talking with Tibor Nagy who is a former U.S. ambassador to Ethiopia and Guinea, and Jennifer Cooke, director of the Africa Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, and Mwangi Kimenyi who is director of the Africa Growth Initiative at the Brookings Institution.
FISHERAnd Jennifer, in June the White House released a new strategy paper on Africa. What, if any, new ground did the paper lay out, and how has it been received?
COOKEWell, I don't think there was anything too dramatically new, emphasis on governance, emphasis on security. I think that perhaps what was new was something of a shift from kind of a foreign assistance model to talking about -- more about the things we've been talking about, trade and investment, and boosting that agenda as the thing that appeals to African aspirations and kind of forges kind of enduring reliable links between countries.
COOKEIt came late in the administration. It wasn't with a whole lot of fanfare. So I don't think it announced any brand new director, and it was actually in some ways a little odd that it was released so late in the day, but it may now set kind of a frame at least for the next four years going forward.
FISHERSo it was seen kind of as a -- almost a place holder, or something that had to be done?
COOKEI think so. It was kind of a way to try to capture, okay, what have we done and what are we thinking about Africa in a way that actually the president hadn't really articulated since his visit to Ghana.
COOKEIn 2009. I mean, the State Department, I have to say, and Secretary Clinton have really valiantly, you know, kept Africa on the agenda. She's made two trips. Johnny Carson -- there have been a lot of quiet successes on the diplomatic front, but no grand overarching kind of statement of what is U.S. - Africa policy.
FISHERLet's hear from Barry in Baltimore. Barry, it's your turn.
BARRYHi. I can appreciate the larger conversation about the massive financial efforts that's being made in Africa, but I also see that Africa is a lot of individual countries, and some of those countries, I read in various journals, are doing very well financially. As a small business owner, what's the best direction to find out number one, about those countries, but would you suggest going to the State Department? Do they have a list of which countries play fair and which countries are growing? When...
FISHERWhat kind of business do you have?
BARRYI have a manufacturing business, and we manufacture small gift items. But I'm also looking for just getting things from the source as direct as possible versus just having it ship from Africa to the Orient and then to the U.S. So any relationships that I can develop directly, I mean, I would love to do that.
FISHEROkay. Tibor Nagy?
NAGYOkay. You've hit the million-dollar question there. What does an especially small U.S. business person do if they want to invest in Africa and there is not an easy answer because there is not one place you can go to. There are a number of possibilities, but it takes a lot of digging, because all of the U.S. embassies have a -- either a commercial officer or an economic officer doing business and they all produce a commercial activities report every year which will give you the ups and the downs.
NAGYBut the one piece of advice I would give, anytime you're doing business in Africa, you have to have a personal relationship on the ground in Africa. Under no circumstances can you do business by fax or email. So that's the key is you have to develop a personal relationship. You can do that through the embassy. They will give you some hints -- I'm talking about the U.S. Embassy on the ground in Africa, but you have raised that absolutely essentially question. No one stop shop in Washington.
KIMENYIMay I just add that there is an organization here called the Corporate Council on Africa, and, you know, it has its merits, but it may be a good place for information, that is getting the contact. Maybe the other point is that although Africa is, you know, a collection of many, many countries, I think the movement to regional integration is going to make doing business in Africa much better, more profitable. So it's also very good to start thinking the regional context, not just the countries.
FISHERGreat. And let's hear from Khadani (sp?) in Washington. Khadani, you're on the air.
KHADANIYeah. Hello. Good afternoon, Marc. I just heard this saying, actually, before you go to the public announcement, yes, policy, country by country. Well, March, I wish it was, but the U.S. policy is based on anchor states which means that the U.S. have chosen four countries from the continent of Africa. You got Egypt on the north, South Africa on the south, on the eastern part is Ethiopia, on the western part is Nigeria.
KHADANIIn these countries, most of them are at wars within themselves. There is nothing that they can offer to those countries, and U.S. gives them diplomatic cover, everything, even if they do some illegal things in the continent. So I wish your panelists will discuss on, you know, nation-by-nation policy. Thank you.
COOKEYeah. In fact, I think there has been something of an abandonment of the anchor state model for precisely the reasons that you talk about. South Africa, Angola, and Nigeria in particular were kind of held up, because these were going to be the strategic partners. Well, Angola wasn't that keen about being a strategic partner of the United States.
COOKESouth Africa has this somewhat ambivalent relationship with the U.S. Nigeria's consumed with internal issues, and Ethiopia, although it is a strong security partner of the United States, has had troubling governance patterns that make it difficult for the United States to base it as an anchor state in some ways. So I think there is something of a move away from that.
FISHERAnd what replaces it?
COOKEWell, I think you, you know, for example, Ethiopia, a security partner, but it's not going to be our anchor state. I think we would rely more on Kenya for -- as an example of kind of democracy in motion for all its messiness and so forth. You know, there are smaller players, Ghana for example, that are doing reasonably well on democracy, punching above their weight on some of the continental issues. But this has been a problem.
COOKEThere's no kind of continental leadership that there has been in the past with (word?) in Nigeria, with (word?) even in South Africa, though we disagreed with him, on some of those big voices that kind of pull the continent together in a way. So we're gonna have to focus on kind of more and smaller partners, I believe.
NAGYI'd like to combine the last two points because that is the best response I think, is that if the United States had more of regional approach in certain circumstances, then we wouldn't have to go to the issues of, you know, who are the key partners, the anchor states. The truth is, there area states in Africa that it would be very, very difficult for them to make it, immaterial of what we're doing or anybody, because of historical reasons.
NAGYBut you can create regional markets and The Gambais and the Sierra Leones and the others would find a niche there, and then we would not have to worry about, you know, this constellation model of the big state with other states around it, and we can engage (word?) or, you know, South African organization and on.
FISHERThe one African country that was mentioned in the presidential debates was Mali, and world leaders have called this country in the northern area of Africa a powder keg for terrorist activity, especially since March when its democratic government was overthrown in a coup. What's right now at play in Mali and how, you know, are weapons are making their way into Libya -- I'm sorry, from Libya into the hands of al-Qaida in Mali, Jennifer?
COOKEWell, yeah. Mali is a big mess right now. You had Taureg fighters who returned after the collapse of Gadhafi -- Gadhafi government into Mali, kind of reigniting a Tuareg insurgency, pushing the Malian soldiers out of the north. But they were joined by a number of Islamic group, al-Qaida and the Islamic Maghreb, by another Tuareg-led group, but a Salafist group, (unintelligible).
COOKEAnother group (word?), the movement for oneness and jihad in West Africa. So you have this very kind of loose alliance of Islamists, terrorists, narcotics traffickers who now control the north, and you have a collapsed and fairly fragile government in the south of (word?).
FISHERAnd so as a result, you have more than 250,000 refugees who have fled the instability in northern Mali, and those who remain behind are facing all manner of humanitarian issues. Is the United States and other countries, are they doing enough right now to break up the arms networks and also to deal with the humanitarian crisis there, Mwangi?
KIMENYII think as Jennifer said, that's a mess, basically. It’s a real mess. It's a real mess in Mali. And I was -- I don't like also involving U.S. in a lot of these issues before the regional organization. To some point, I think that Africa needs to also take care of some of this business, and that's why we need a more coherent policy within the region. I believe that ECOWAS is trying to resolve that, but the success has not been that huge, and of course, you know, the leader of the ECOWAS, I mean, the (word?) country there is Nigeria, and Nigeria has its own eternal problems which making it more difficult. So I would say that we have a problem there.
NAGYI think just today ECOWAS presented their plan.
FISHERAnd ECOWAS is...
NAGYEconomic Community of West African States. It's the regional organization for West Africa. But that's also one of the issues because ECOWAS is basically an African organization. And you're talking about this general fault line that runs between North Africa and sub-Saharan Africa. You know, the Arab cultures to the north, the African cultures to the south, and it will be extremely difficult to bring African troops from whether it's Senegal or Burkina Faso in Nigeria, into the northern cities of Mali which are fundamentally Arab cities.
NAGYIt's, as my colleague said, it's a mess, it's going to continue to be a mess, and I don't see any other easy way forward.
FISHERLet's hear from Gassim (sp?) in Washington. Gassim, you're on the air.
GASSIMHi. This is Gassim calling. I'm actually from Guinea. I wanted to go back to China. The reason why Africa, I mean, the African population are drawn to Chinese, it's because I think U.S. should take a model -- take the model. In the past, and let's say Guinea for example, we had independence since 1958, and French -- only France and Russia have always been involved in terms of investment and oil.
GASSIMGuess what they used to do? It's just to send money to have what they call aid, they send, let's say, hundred million dollars, and that money goes to the government. The sitting government is corrupt. It's (word?) and by the time the money reach to the locals, it's all scattered. The minister has taken its own, the president has his own, and they've paid their money back to U.S. or somewhere (word?). And China, with all its flaws, they at least go to the country and ask, what do you guys want?
GASSIMLet's say it's not always perfect, but believe -- trust me, I've been in Guinea over the past four years. I used to live in Japan, and they have built the things that is -- are obviously the local people are seeing. They don't like to give their money to the government. They just say what do you want? Do you want highways or roads? I'll walk with you, we build it.
GASSIMYou want the stadium, we will walk with you, we build it. You want us to renovate your -- what do call, whatchamacallit, you want us to renovate your airport and all those kind of things. So I would love the U.S., rather than just sending dues money or doing AIDS, they have to have a private company set up who can be hold accountable if the things is not materialized.
FISHEROkay. Let's give folks a chance to respond. Jennifer?
COOKEYeah. I mean, first thing, China's not doing these things out of the goodness of his heart, or some developmental aspiration. It's doing these things because it's getting something in return. Often the railways are built in order to get the minerals out that it's purchasing. I'm not saying that's a bad thing, but you have to examine a little harder kind of the terms of the deal that is made. Sometimes they're good deals that benefit the people and people do want roads and railroads.
COOKEBut sometimes you have to look a little harder at what the country is giving in return. Is it mortgaging mineral resources for decades to come, is it a good deal for the Guinean people? Is the deal transparent that they can actually even examine that deal? I'm not making a judgment here, but I think transparency is important, and whether the government is cutting a deal with China that is ultimately in the benefit of the country's citizens and its future, that's a mixed case in different countries across Africa.
FISHERAnd let's go to Winshet (sp?) in the District. Winshet, you're on the air. Winshet, are you there?
FISHERYes, go ahead.
WINSHETHi, thanks for taking my call. I'm an Ethiopian American who is a registered voter and voted Democrat for President Obama, twice. But I'm also -- I also had a negative reaction, like the rest of Africa when it comes to the president's involvement with the continent during his first term. So there's this huge high expectation now that the administration will seize the chance of reelection and compensate by engaging more aggressively with Africa to compensate for the lost opportunity I guess during his second term.
WINSHETSo obviously, with this huge economic crisis, and other domestic issues that he has to deal with internally, it would be unreasonable to think that he'll be fully engaged with Africa and...
FISHEROkay. We just have a little time left, so let's hear from Mwangi on that.
KIMENYIYeah. I think I more -- well, let's remember also that most presidents have done a lot of good for Africa during the second term, even President Clinton's (word?) legislation, the last -- not just the last time, but also the last year. So what we are really looking for, for the new engagement is not just money, we are looking for mutually beneficial exchange where American businesses can actually benefit and also Africans can benefit.
NAGYSure. HIV/AIDS was an easy enemy. It's a lot more difficult and a lot messier to put in a kind of policy that will lead to increased trade investment, but that's what this administration must do. I would like to be optimistic. Unfortunately, given past performance, I am not -- I'm just hoping I'm wrong.
FISHERAnd Jennifer, last word?
COOKEYeah. I think I would agree with that. There's a big opportunity here, whether the president takes full advantage of it, that's to be seen.
FISHERJennifer Cooke is director of the Africa Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. Mwangi Kimenyi is senior fellow and director of the Africa Growth Initiative at the Brookings Institution, and Tibor Nagy is vice provost for international affairs at Texas Tech University. He's the former U.S. ambassador to Ethiopia and Guinea. I'm Marc Fisher of the Washington Post sitting in for Kojo today. Thanks so very much for joining us. Have a good day.
Most Recent Shows
D.C.-based writer Paul Goldberg recently published his first novel, "The Yid." We talk with him about the story, how living in D.C. shapes his work and his 'day job' overseeing the influential Cancer Letter project.
Julette Saussy was hired by D.C. government less than a year ago to oversee reforms in the city's troubled fire and emergency medical services department. But she recently announced that she'd be quitting the post - and she says the department's failure to change is putting lives in danger.
Concerns about the mosquito-borne Zika virus have escalated - both among those who may be traveling to affected areas, but also now locally, where three cases were recently identified.