Diplomatic cables, released by the Wikileaks website, have generated headlines about global hot-spots like Iran and North Korea. But buried among the thousands of leaked documents are nuanced insights about other parts of the world. We explore new revelations Washington’s relationship with the African continent, from Nigeria to Sudan to Zimbabwe.


  • Elizabeth Dickinson Assistant Managing Editor, Foreign Policy Magazine
  • John Allen Managing Editor, AllAfrica.com; Author, "Rabble-Rouser for Peace: The Authorized Biography of Desmond Tutu" (Free Press)
  • John Campbell Ralph Bunche Senior Fellow for Africa Policy Studies, Council on Foreign Relations; U.S. Ambassador to Nigeria (2004-2007); author, "Nigeria: Dancing on the Brink" (Rowman & Littlefield)


  • 13:20:42

    MR. KOJO NNAMDIThey're the other stories emerging from the Wikileaks cables. Secret arms transfers to Sudan uncovered accidentally by Somali pirates, oil and pharmaceutical companies manipulating the levers of power in Nigeria, conflict diamonds and human rights violations in Zimbabwe. When Wikileaks released thousands of U.S. diplomatic cables this month, it set off a scrabble in embassies and newsrooms around the world. American and European press outlets quickly focused on hot spots like Afghanistan, Iran and North Korea.

  • 13:21:15

    MR. KOJO NNAMDIBut the trove of documents generated intense interest in capitals a little farther off the radar of most Americans. For the remainder of the hour, we'll focus on Africa and Washington's evolving relationship with the continent. Joining us in studio is Elizabeth Dickinson, assistant managing editor with Foreign Policy Magazine. Elizabeth, thank you for joining us.

  • 13:21:35

    MS. ELIZABETH DICKINSONMy pleasure. Thank you.

  • 13:21:37

    NNAMDIJoining us by phone from Cape Town, South Africa, is John Allen, editor of AllAfrica.com and author of, "Rabble-Rouser for Peace: The Authorized Biography of Desmond Tutu." John Allen, thank you for joining us.

  • 13:21:51

    MR. JOHN ALLENGood to be with you all. Thank you.

  • 13:21:52

    NNAMDII said at the lead that western media have mostly ignored revelations involving U.S. relations in Africa. But there were a few exceptions. Elizabeth, one of the more incendiary stories involves Somali pirates, Ukrainian arms dealers and the uneasy peace in Southern Sudan.

  • 13:22:10

    DICKINSONWell, that's right. So about two years ago, almost exactly two years ago, the pirates off the coast of Somali were hijacking ships left and right and one of the ones that they got their hands on was a ship called the M.V. Fiana, which happened to be filled with about 33 Ukrainian tanks. So they caught this ship and everyone was wondering, all right, where are these going? The dossier for the ship had a very ambiguous note with it that said they was going to G.O.S.S., which many interpreted to be the Government of Southern Sudan.

  • 13:22:41

    DICKINSONThe ship was technically meant to go to Kenya so Kenya sort of fudged it, well, it wasn't really the government of Southern Sudan. And it was never really resolved. That arms shipment actually ended up in Kenya, despite the controversy. Well, in these cables, we found out that, in fact, it was intended for South Sudan, that the government of Kenya has been smuggling Ukrainian arms via Uganda into South Sudan for several years now.

  • 13:23:06

    NNAMDIIndeed, in this case, we seem to have diplomatic cables confirming what most people had already either assumed or concluded.

  • 13:23:14

    DICKINSONWell, that's right. And what we find out behind the scenes is that, in fact, the United States has been expressing dissatisfaction with this whole thing to Ukraine the entire time. So what we really learn is that the pirates got their hands on something the U.S. diplomats already knew.

  • 13:23:30

    NNAMDIIf you've been looking at the Wikileaks cables for countries that were not necessarily reported above the fold in the newspaper and finding interesting things, you can call us, 800-433-8850 or if you've been looking and not finding, you can also call 800-433-8850. I know a lot of people from different countries who've been going through the Wikileaks, especially in the Guardian, simply to find anything about their own countries. You can join this conversation also by going to our website, kojoshow.org. John Allen, you're joining us from South Africa.

  • 13:24:02

    NNAMDIAmong the cables released were assessments of Thabo Mbeki, the former President, and Jacob Zuma, the current President of South Africa. How would you assess the American assessments of South Africa?

  • 13:24:14

    ALLENI think, like most of the revelations in the cables infected, there's not a lot that's unpredictable or completely unexpected. Sometimes, I think, mistakes have been made and they wanted to -- places which were pointed out where diplomats have made mistakes. But in relation to South Africa with President Mbeki and Zuma, they were quite accurate, well written and good assessments, I think.

  • 13:24:40

    NNAMDISouth Africa is a country with a relatively open political system with a vibrant press. So I imagine it's easier to understand your politics than a country like Zimbabwe where a lot of information needs to be extracted from a variety of sources. John?

  • 13:24:57

    ALLENYes, I think so. But it's -- from what I've seen, and even in relation to the fairly close societies like Eritrea, corruption in Mozambique. The U.S. diplomats have been pretty well connected with what's going on. So that, as I say, I don't think there's a general outlines of what most people, knowledgeable people, journalists and countries -- and all countries have their journalists, too, no matter how freely they're able to operate, can usually get a pretty good idea of what's going on in their own country. I think that, I mean, it shows as much of the diplomacy is quite well targeted, I think, and well informed.

  • 13:25:37

    NNAMDIAnd much of the Wikileaks stuff about Africa you can find at the AllAfrica.com website. John Allen, tell us a little bit more about AllAfrica.com for those of our listeners who are not familiar with what you do.

  • 13:25:50

    ALLENWell, we like to say that we produce news for the world written by Africans for Africans. And really what our website does is draws together some of our own coverage and then adds that to the vast majority of the coverage we carry, which is through contracts with African publishers. Around 100 African publications, African earned, African produced publications and right through Anglophone and francophone Africa.

  • 13:26:19

    NNAMDIJohn Allen is managing editor of AllAfrica.com and author of the book, "Rabble-Rouser for Peace: The Authorized Biography of Desmond Tutu." He joins us by telephone from Cape Town. Joining us in our Washington studio is Elizabeth Dickinson, assistant managing editor with Foreign Policy Magazine. And joining us now from studios in New York is John Campbell, senior fellow for Africa Policy Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations. He was a career member of the U.S. Foreign Service and U.S. ambassador to Nigeria from 2004 to 2007, author of the book, "Nigeria: Dancing on the Brink." John Campbell, thank you for joining us.

  • 13:26:55

    AMBASSADOR JOHN CAMPBELLThank you very much for having me.

  • 13:26:56

    NNAMDIThese cables provide an interesting, if incomplete, snapshot of the kind of information that courses through an embassy in Abuja Nigeria or the -- gets rattled around across foggy bottom. It may be of interest to those of us on the outside, but you say it could have an insidious affect on the way embassy officials collect and disseminate information in the future. Please explain.

  • 13:27:19

    CAMPBELLAbsolutely. Diplomatic interchange requires trust. Essentially, what a diplomat is doing is he is talking to people, yes, to gain information, but also to try to persuade them to pursue a particular course of action, which is in the interest of the U.S. Government. And most of the time, in our view, in the interest of the host government. That kind of conversation, as I say, requires trust. And basic to that trust is the idea that if you say something in confidence to somebody, it's not going to end up on the front page of a newspaper. If you can't be certain of that, then essentially what you are less likely to be is full and candid in your interchanges if you -- like, you are going to shut down some part of your receptivity to what an American diplomat is saying. That's very bad.

  • 13:28:36

    NNAMDICan you give us a sense of how this information tends to be collected and disseminated?

  • 13:28:40

    CAMPBELLMost of the time, it's the result of a conversation. It can be a conversation with a government official, but it can also be a conversation with a local business man or a person who is active in an NGO, human rights activist, for example. And when you're talking about human rights activists, at times if it is revealed that not only have they been talking to somebody from the American Embassy, but that they have been saying things which the host government or régime finds embarrassing, they can be put in personal jeopardy.

  • 13:29:27

    NNAMDIElizabeth Dickinson, some of the Africa cables that are attracting the most attention focus on Nigeria. One cable details the reach of Shell Oil Company, a company that has operated in Nigeria, well, since the 1930s, but which has been associated with controversy since the 1990s. Talk about that.

  • 13:29:44

    DICKINSONWell, that's right. So Shell has been operating in Nigeria for over 50 years now. It's one of the first oil companies that developed the wells there. And it came under controversy first about 20 years ago now when it was associated with the assassination of a number of environmental activists who were protesting some of the pollution that took place around those oil wells. Well, Shell comes up again in the cables and specifically they're talking about some of the efforts of the Nigerian government to reform the oil system.

  • 13:30:14

    DICKINSONThe Shell officials expressed concern about the bill, that there are stipulations that they might not like. But there are some off-hand comments that really peaked interest, particularly within Nigeria, and have really just gotten the press in a frenzy. Specifically, Shell made a comment that seems to intone that they might have a corporate intelligence in some of the Nigerian ministries. They have a comment something to the effect of, we have doubles in some of the Nigerian ministries. You can imagine that this certainly got Nigerians riled up.

  • 13:30:45

    DICKINSONOh my goodness, this oil company's spying on our government. Shell has since denied it, but regardless, it's certainly a headache for Shell to clean up now in Nigeria.

  • 13:30:55

    NNAMDIAmbassador Campbell, you were U.S. Ambassador in the years before that specific cable. But as the top U.S. official in the country, I'd imagine that oil and energy issues do play heavily into U.S. relations with Abuja, do they?

  • 13:31:08

    CAMPBELLThey do. But there's a very important point that is often left out of the conversation. And that is that the oil and natural gas all belong to the Nigeria government and, in fact, the Nigerian government normally gets more than 90 percent of the profits. The oil exploration, but also oil and gas production is done by joint ventures between independent oil companies like Shell with the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation. So that, of necessity, there is an intimate relationship between the oil companies and the Nigerian government. It's the Nigerian government's oil.

  • 13:31:56

    NNAMDIJohn Allen, can you talk a little bit about how the Nigerian Press has been playing this issue?

  • 13:32:04

    ALLENWell, what's an interesting meaning about the revelations is that, in most countries, they confirm existing incretions, almost. But for example, Ambassador Ranneberger in Nairobi has a rather stormy kind of relationship which appears in public sometimes for the government of Kenya. That's concerned one of Ambassador Campbell's colleagues, Robin Saunders, who was there -- is described in one Nigerian newspaper that she was popular in Nigeria with a Nigerian priest. And despite all these revelations, one of the newspapers calls her, the U.S. Spy who loved us, and in some delightful color and detail in some of these things.

  • 13:32:51

    ALLENAnd so that I think that although it's -- the kind of revelations which have been coming up in the cables give people detail, maybe, give people a handle, give politicians in countries something to beat one another over their heads with, I don't think it fundamentally changes the pattern of relationships. Most people in the country know how they've been treated. They have their views, usually very specific views, of how their leaders behave. And this confirms them in those kinds of inflations and that's the impression that I've had from the Nigerian press.

  • 13:33:26


  • 13:33:26

    ALLENAnd some journalistic exaggeration of what happens and they write up a story and they put a dramatic headline on it, but it's reflecting the kinds of patterns in relationships which we will read the day before.

  • 13:33:39

    NNAMDIIndeed, Ambassador Campbell, when the Wikileaks cables came out, some people pointed out that they actually showed the U.S., in most cases, in a relatively positive light when it comes to Africa. Some people were impressed that they seemed to have a relatively solid read of what is going on on the ground.

  • 13:33:56

    CAMPBELLYes, that's true. But all of that is far overshadowed by the damage that Wikileaks does to free an open communication between the embassy and the host government organizations and people about sensitive topics.

  • 13:34:20

    NNAMDIYou say there's a disconnect between what people inside embassies think and what people outside think the Wikileaks cables seem to suggest otherwise.

  • 13:34:34

    CAMPBELLIn what sense?

  • 13:34:36

    NNAMDIIn the sense that it would appear that what the people inside the embassy were saying was fairly accurately reflective of what was going on outside the embassies on the ground.

  • 13:34:48

    CAMPBELLWell, yes. But then, that should hardly be surprising because the embassies are made up of career professionals, often with years of experience in understanding what kinds of questions to ask in order to understand what's going on, where they are posted. They're career diplomats. That's what diplomats do.

  • 13:35:14

    NNAMDIElizabeth Dickinson?

  • 13:35:16

    DICKINSONWell, I think one of the most interesting places where we do get an insight sort of behind the scenes and something that's exciting for me as a journalist to look into is when there's a crisis situation that we imagine the embassy is dealing with behind the scenes. And suddenly, these cables give us sort of a look into that. So there is a great series of cables that have come out from Guinea, a country that experienced a coup two years ago and just held democratic elections about a month ago.

  • 13:35:40

    DICKINSONBehind the scenes, U.S. diplomats, French diplomats and the Moroccan government were working very hard to move that situation in the right direction. That's something that's very exciting to see come out and also something that, at the end of the day, really makes you realize why this secrecy is so important and why the U.S. government needs to have these confidential conversations.

  • 13:36:03


  • 13:36:04

    MALE 1That's absolutely right.

  • 13:36:05

    NNAMDIOnto the telephone, here is Zach in Washington, D.C. Zach, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 13:36:10

    ZACHHi, Kojo, long time listener and I just wanted to say that I've been reading Allafrica and foreign policy for quite some time. I have a question about drug dealing in Mozambique. There have been a number of cables that have come out of the Maputo embassy and I'm wondering if they represent an abortion or is it just something that everybody knows in Maputo and surrounding areas? And, you know, is this an abortion for the continent?

  • 13:36:38

    NNAMDIJohn Allen?

  • 13:36:40

    ALLENYes. This is a British (word?) academic, Joe Handlen (sp?), who's been writing about this for some time and so it has been known about in general terms. I do notice that the press generally has not been referring to the detail and, in fact, there's been some caution because the allegations of corruption in Mozambique go right to the top. And that's certainly not been published anywhere before and even when the agencies reported on that cable late last week, the international agency, AP and Reuters, they weren't prepared, in fact, to go up to the top and to name the president. So, I think, that for knowledgeable observation with Reuters, it's not new.

  • 13:37:21

    ALLENBut it certainly hasn't been widely publicized before and it's (word?) specialist, narrowly read publication. But I was interested to see that even the Mozambique news agency referred to the revelations at the end of last week, albeit in a form in which they phoned one of the people who was apparently spoken to by the embassy and said, well, it's not hard to track who this person was and we spoke to this person and this person's denied it. But in repress with societies as we used to have in South Africa, sometimes that's a mechanism used by journalists to expose something. You'll phone them up and by publishing a story, the (unintelligible) in fact you'll expose the original allegations.

  • 13:38:02

    NNAMDIAnd John Allen, already we're also seeing some people named in the Wikileaks cables publicly distancing themselves from them and, in fact, claiming that they were misquoted or that they cables were fake.

  • 13:38:15

    ALLENYeah, I'm sure they would.

  • 13:38:19

    NNAMDIAnd with...

  • 13:38:20

    ALLENI probably would as well. And that's why Ambassador Campbell's point, I think, from the perspective of an American diplomat is probably well made and they are going to -- I imagine, I'm not a diplomat, but I imagine they are going to have to be people redeployed from embassies to other embassies in different parts of the world. And for the replacements, it's going to take a long time to build up trust. But one of the points that I would make in relation to that, quite strongly, is that I think for -- the damage is probably going to be most serious in countries which are the most difficult, authoritarian and corrupt countries.

  • 13:38:54

    ALLENAnd there, in fact, I would argue that the long term affects of these exposes could be good for American -- image in American foreign policy in the sense that the ordinary people in those countries are not (word?), they see what's happening in their country. And if they see that U.S. diplomats have pinpointed and got their fingers on the pulse and know that that's what's going on in those countries, then albeit that -- I can accept this short term damage to American diplomacy. In the long term, I think, it does -- it probably does the U.S. image good to have ordinary people in those countries know that the diplomats are actively concerned and interested in, especially as I say, authoritarian or corruptly-ruled countries.

  • 13:39:35

    NNAMDIAmbassador Campbell, do you see a similar upside to this?

  • 13:39:40

    CAMPBELLNot really. Yes, certainly that is a possibility, but look at the cost. In these authoritarian countries, individuals are identified by name. The more repressive the regime, the greater the danger these people are under. There are plenty of other ways that the U.S. government can communicate its awareness of what's going on in a repressive regime and its support for those that are trying to promote democracy in the rule of law. That's what a good public affairs program is supposed to do.

  • 13:40:31

    NNAMDISpeaking of danger, Elizabeth Dickenson, you wrote about a cable informing how the president of Mali was getting ready to send some of his citizens into danger -- into a dangerous situation in Somalia and the basis on which he chose these aforementioned citizens.

  • 13:40:50

    MS. ELIZABETH DICKENSONWell, this is one of the instances that gives you a little bit of a chuckle when you're reading through these cables. What happened is that the president of Mali was sitting down with a U.S. official to speak about a peace-keeping mission that's in Somalia right now and is looking to build up its numbers. So they've had a very difficult time convincing people to go to this mission simply because it's a very dangerous place.

  • 13:41:11

    MS. ELIZABETH DICKENSONSo the president of Mali had what he thought was a pretty good idea. He had some rebels that he's been trying to deal with and he decided that he would send them off to Somalia to be peacekeepers. And his exact quote is, "since they like to fight so much."

  • 13:41:26

    NNAMDIHe said, I'll send 10 or so of the former rebels since they like to fight so much. They are being sent off to support the African union mission in Somalia. We're going to take a short break. When we come back, we will continue this conversation on the U.S. and Africa Wikileaks revelations. We're still taking your calls at 800-433-8850, or you can go to our website, kojoshow.org, or send us an e-mail to kojo@wamu.org. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.

  • 13:43:42

    NNAMDIWe're discussing Wikileaks revelations, as they relate to the U.S. and Africa, with John Campbell, senior fellow for Africa policy studies at the Council on Foreign Relations. He was a career member of the U.S. Foreign Service and U.S. Ambassador to Nigeria from 2004 to 2007. He's also author of "Nigeria: Dancing on the Brink." He joins us from studios in New York City.

  • 13:44:03

    NNAMDIJoining us in our Washington studio is Elizabeth Dickenson, assistant managing editor of Foreign Policy magazine. Joining us by telephone from Capetown, South Africa, is John Allen, managing editor of Allafrica.com, and author of "Rabble-Rouser for Peace: The Authorized Biography of Desmond Tutu." John used to be press secretary for Archbishop Tutu.

  • 13:44:25

    NNAMDIWe're taking your calls at 800-433-8850, or you can shoot an e-mail to kojo@wamu.org. Here is Kirsten in Springfield, Va. Kirsten, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 13:44:39

    KIRSTENOh, golly. Okay. I just wanted to comment about your conversation about the Wikileaks and the supposition that the release of this information possibly causes problems with our diplomats overseas.

  • 13:45:00


  • 13:45:01

    KIRSTENAnd I'm sure that that's true to an extent, but it seems to me that the positive part of this release is that we get to see a little bit about what our state department has been doing overseas. There's always such a dark screen over what our State Department people do that we don't know what they're doing. And I think that this kind of information makes -- gives us enough insight that we can be more supportive of our own state department.

  • 13:45:39

    NNAMDII'm going to pursue that for a second. Thank you for -- Kirsten, thank you for your call.

  • 13:45:43


  • 13:45:44

    NNAMDII'm going to pursue that because Elizabeth Dickenson, you were impressed with the sheer magnitude of these cables, just how many reports are coming in and out of embassies in places like Nigeria or South Africa.

  • 13:45:55

    DICKENSONWell, that's right. And what you realize from reading these cables is just the plethora of challenges, threats, questions, that are coming into these embassies on a very daily basis. And that, you know, that gives you a lot of admiration for the diplomats who are dealing with it behind the scenes.

  • 13:46:13

    DICKENSONI mean, one example for, you know, if -- if you look at some of the cables coming into Zimbabwe, there was a couple of months period where -- and we only know of the cables that have been released, but there was a couple month period where literally cables were coming in on a daily basis about violence in diamond mines, displacement in diamond mines.

  • 13:46:32

    DICKENSONAnd these are reports about which the U.S. government can probably do very little about in the immediate term. So seeing that behind the scenes is really an incredible challenge.

  • 13:46:44

    NNAMDIAmbassador Campbell, tell us a little bit about the magnitude of the cables you would see as ambassador in an important country like Nigeria. If you got dozens of alarming reports, for instance, about alleged massacres or political killings, your guests need to know that some of them are probably wrong, but you also have to know that some of them are true. How do you navigate that?

  • 13:47:06

    CAMPBELLYou navigate it very carefully. What you try to do is, in a sense, what a good journalist does. What you try to do is confirm or if you can't confirm it, you may report it, but heavily caveated, making the point that you can't confirm it. The other thing that happens is, say you're getting reports of massacres from a -- in a particular district. Well, you can send an embassy officer there to actually see what is going on, to talk to people and to try to arrive at some kind of understanding as to what's going on.

  • 13:47:52

    NNAMDIOn to John in Springfield, Va. John, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 13:47:58

    JOHNYes. Well, it's very interesting that these Wikileaks are revealing some stories that we have heard before, but in more detail. One of them is that the prime minister of Ethiopia was trying to assassinate the president of Eritrea, President Asayas Afeworki, in 1996. The cable from Asmara reveals that Meles was trying to assassinate Asayas. And how true is it? How do you really digest this and see whether it's true or not by the cable?

  • 13:48:37

    JOHNAnd the other information is the invasion of Ethiopia into Somalia was really a U.S. design - a U.S. managed war instead of the Ethiopia's invasion. Because everything, the insurgents, the air defense and stuff like that was from the U.S., except Ethiopia provided 50,000 bodies. What do you think about that?

  • 13:49:04

    NNAMDIElizabeth Dickenson?

  • 13:49:06

    DICKENSONWell, on the first point about the assassination attempt, I believe, if I'm remembering correctly, when I went back and read that cable, the way that the cable read was actually that the president of Eritrea believed that -- or I'm sorry, the other way around. The president of Ethiopia believed that the president of Eritrea had tried to assassinate. I don't believe that there was an active confirmation.

  • 13:49:28

    DICKENSONSo here we get into that thorny issue that Ambassador Campbell touched on so pointedly of how do you really know what's sort of the supposition of one party and how do you know it's true? In this cable, it was a clear case of a suspicion rather than any confirmed fact. As to the U.S. support for the invasion of Ethiopia, we don't have the cables from that...

  • 13:49:50

    NNAMDIOf Somalia.

  • 13:49:51

    DICKENSONOh, Somalia. We don't have the cables from that particular instance. They're not -- they haven't been released. But what we can -- what we do know that comes out in the cables from Somalia is that the U.S. has been involved in air strikes on certain individuals that they believe to be terrorist.

  • 13:50:08

    NNAMDIOn to Kidani in Washington. Kidani, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 13:50:14

    KIDANIHello. Good afternoon, Kojo. Yeah. It looks they might -- the previous caller took all of my questions, but...

  • 13:50:19


  • 13:50:19

    KIDANI...if you allow me to continue. What about the relationship of the U.S. (unintelligible) Eritrea, when it's actually them that they are supplying arms to the whole of Africa? Thank you very much.

  • 13:50:31

    NNAMDIEritrea, Elizabeth Dickenson. You talked about cables describing Eritrea as descending in a North Korean-style dictatorship?

  • 13:50:39

    DICKENSONWell, that's right. Eritrea, the regime, has been somewhat of a Leninist -- has been running as somewhat Leninist-style economy for some time. This is not new information that's come out of the cables, nor is it new information that Eritrea is alleged to be providing arms to militant groups in Somalia. They're under UN sanction for doing so and it's been widely reported and documented.

  • 13:51:01

    DICKENSONHowever, what is interesting from these cables is we learned that the government of Eritrea has recently been trying to make overtures to the U.S. Government to open up relations to reconcile with the U.S. government. The U.S. government has come back pretty pointedly and said, well, you know, we're happy to talk about that once you stop providing arms to Somalia.

  • 13:51:20

    NNAMDIJohn Allen, how has the story been playing in the horn of Africa?

  • 13:51:26

    ALLENIt's difficult to say how it's playing across the horn of Africa and I haven't followed the particular details in relation to Eritrea. But something I would suggest, the cables need to read carefully because what I'm hearing from some of the listeners phoning in is what emerges in some of the papers that we get. And that we have in our sight, and that is that a piece of information somebody is under the impression that this happens, and there are instances where (technical) expresses views about certain issues and certain people.

  • 13:51:59

    ALLENAnd that's not --- it's not even good strong intelligence. It's an impressionist view of somebody. And I think that there's a danger of over-interpreting a document which is in isolation. On the question of Eritrea, it's -- you don't even have to go the UN. On the continent, the African unions, the regional body for east Africa has -- first they imposed -- they took to the African union.

  • 13:52:31

    ALLENThe African union has imposed and called for an arms embargo against Eritrea on the basis of what they say -- or its arms supplies to insurgents in Somalia. So I, you know, as I think I said earlier, a lot of this is not new. It's been reported before. It's interesting to see the details. And Elizabeth has pointed out a very important detail and that is certainly something new and that casts a new light on that situation in Eritrea. That they're feeling under enough pressure to approach the U.S. for better relations.

  • 13:53:07

    NNAMDIAnd of course, President Museveni is the president of Uganda. Elizabeth Beck, in 2008, Kenya had a disputed presidential election that triggered an explosion of violence leaving thousands dead and displaced. That standoff was resolved when Mwai Kibaki agreed to share power with Raila Odinga, who is now prime minister. These diplomatic cables, however, reveal a deep dissatisfaction with the political class in Nairobi.

  • 13:53:33

    DICKENSONI think that's right. And what they reveal specifically is that the U.S. government has been pushing very, very hard since that election violence to reform the government systems that could hopefully prevent such another outbreak of violence. However, there are lot of caveats in the cables that are certainly raising red flags in Nairobi now.

  • 13:53:53

    DICKENSONThere are mentions of corrupt officials who are blocking investigations into the violence. There are mentions of links between government figures and some of the death squads that carried out that violence. So the embassy seems to me to have a very realistic point of view and very realistic assessment of what's feasible and what's realistic at the same time that they are pushing for these reforms.

  • 13:54:15

    NNAMDIAmbassador John Campbell, it's really a hazard of any attempt to understand the politics in a country other than one's own. We almost always end up projecting our own politics onto the other country. What are the dangers of that, say, in Africa?

  • 13:54:32

    CAMPBELLWell, you're absolutely right. I mean, you don't leave your nationality or your values at home when you go overseas. And obviously, what you see, you see from the perspective of who you are and where you come from.

  • 13:54:52

    NNAMDII'm thinking it's very dangerous to decide to see policy issues as falling along a left-right continuum in a place like Nigeria or Kenya, right?

  • 13:54:59

    CAMPBELLAbsolutely. Absolutely. Absolutely. That's right. I think what you basically do about this is you try to be as self-aware as you possibly can. I mean, you have to always be questioning your assumptions. Am I putting this particular political rivalry in a left-right framework, even though a left-right framework simply has no relevance in this particular environment? You have to always be questioning yourself.

  • 13:55:31

    NNAMDIHere's Elizabeth Dickenson.

  • 13:55:33

    DICKENSONI had something very small to add. When I was a journalist working in Nigeria just after Ambassador Campbell left, actually, one of the things I always used to tell myself is that the moment I think I understand a situation is exactly the moment I need to go back to square one and really question myself, because it probably means that I don’t know what I'm talking about.

  • 13:55:53

    NNAMDIAnd one of the things you wrote that I found interesting, along that line, is a June 9, 2009 cable from Somalia that describes the country's conflict as a largely clan against clan turf war, rather than a political or ideological struggle. That explanation conflicts with other popular accounts of the crisis which tend to focus on religious extremism combined with the potent quest for wealth and security.

  • 13:56:18

    DICKENSONWell, that's right. When we hear about Somalia, particularly in our press, we hear a lot about the al-Shabab, which is this group that has associated itself with al-Qaeda. So when we think of al-Qaeda, we think religious extremism, we think about political quest to overthrow the central government. One of the interesting cables that I read had different takes on sort of what could be behind this conflict.

  • 13:56:41

    DICKENSONReally different lenses through which to view some of these different struggles, and much more sort of micro-level on the ground perspective of why there's this conflict.

  • 13:56:52

    NNAMDIAmbassador Campbell, do the cables reveal any kind of shift in U.S. foreign policy under President Obama, as far as you can tell?

  • 13:57:01

    CAMPBELLNot much. U.S. priorities with respect to Africa are remarkably constant from one administration to another. There can be shifts of emphasis. For example, under President Bush, there was a heavy emphasis on peaceful resolution of disputes. Well, under the Obama administration that remains one of our highest priorities, but there is more emphasis now perhaps than there used to be on the importance of democracy and the rule of law, though under George Bush, that, too, was a major priority.

  • 13:57:45

    NNAMDIIt's a nuance shift and I'm afraid that's...

  • 13:57:47

    CAMPBELLIt's a very nuance shift, yes, that's right. It's a very nuance shift. In fact, I think, with respect to Africa, you come very close to a bipartisan foreign policy.

  • 13:57:57

    NNAMDIAnd I'm afraid that's all the time we have. John Campbell is senior fellow for Africa policy studies at the Council on Foreign Relations. He's the author of, "Nigeria: Dancing on the Brink." He was U.S. ambassador to Nigeria from 2004 to 2007. Elizabeth Dickenson is assistant managing editor with Foreign Policy magazine and John Allen is managing editor of Allafrica.com and author of "Rabble-Rouser for Peace: The Authorized Biography of Desmond Tutu."

  • 13:58:23

    NNAMDIThank you all for joining us and thank you all for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.

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