Uzbeki beki stan stan

Democracy and China and Terrorism oh my! : Secretary Clinton goes to West Africa

In David Meyer on January 22, 2012 at 12:04 am

As what is undoubtedly Hillary Clinton’s last full year as Secretary of State begins, the destination of her first major multi-stop foreign trip may surprise you. With talk of U.S. foreign and security policy “pivoting” towards the Pacific, Clinton headed in the opposite direction, across the Atlantic, to West Africa for a whirlwind tour across four states. The visit was billed as focusing on building and consolidating democracy, but economic and security issues were also clearly on the table. Some commentators noted that the trip may also have shared the objective of shoring up relationships with African states that are constantly being tempted by Chinese investments. It’s clear that pivoting towards the Pacific is going to be comprised of diplomacy in every direction…

The centerpiece of the visit was the first stop in Monrovia, Liberia, where the U.S. delegation attended Ellen Johnson Sirleaf’s swearing-in ceremony and inaugurated the new U.S. Embassy building. Liberia has seen its fortunes rise in terms of U.S. attention, especially with Secretary Clinton’s initiatives to promote political participation and social equality for women and girls around the world (including the creation of an Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women’s Issues, Melanne Verveer, who was a member of the delegation). With the reelection of Sirleaf, Africa’s first female head of state, and her reception of the Nobel Peace Prize, which she shared with another female Liberian democracy and women’s rights advocate, Leymah Gbowee (as well as Tawakkol Karman of Yemen), Liberia seems to be fulfilling a key component of Clinton’s foreign policy priorities. Of course, despite these notable achievements, Liberia has yet to become a bastion of political freedom in West Africa like, say, Ghana. But comparisons like that may be unfair as the country continues to heal from years of war. The new embassy is certainly a major gesture of goodwill, but whether recent revelations about Charles Taylor’s ties to the CIA will have any effect on the bilateral relationship remains to be seen.

Following this victory lap in Liberia, Clinton’s team (which included the U.S. Executive’s heavy hitters on African affairs, notably Assistant Secretary of State Johnnie Carson and AFRICOM chief General Carter Ham) dropped in on President Alassane Ouattara in Côte d’Ivoire. While expressing her admiration for the progress made in the country since last year’s electoral crisis and calling for a unity government, there were reports that behind closed doors she pressed Ouattara on the issue of war crimes (links in French). According to diplomatic sources, in private Clinton called for the removal of Guillaume Soro, Côte d’Ivoire’s current Prime Minister, and an Ouattara ally, as well as anyone currently in a position of power in the government who could be linked to possible crimes during the post-election chaos or under Laurent Gbagbo’s regime. Clinton requested that anyone fitting this description appear before the International Criminal Court, at the very least to provide testimony. This is tied to two main issues in the post-Gbagbo Côte d’Ivoire: First, there has been concern that Gbagbo supporters have been treated harshly by the Ouattara regime and not provided adequate physical protection, resulting in unlawful killings and human rights violations. Second, the question of any unity government, which would ostensibly contain pro-Gbagbo members, is still a sticky subject for American diplomats. On the surface, the U.S. government wants to support stability in Côte d’Ivoire through a moderate, inclusive regime. On the other hand, however, the presence of officials in the government that can be tied to human rights abuses or previous overstretches of government power, especially by the military, may have a negative effect on any budding democracy and stability in the country. Clinton trod carefully, striking a balance between praise and pressure while revealing a U.S. that promises to be supportive of the new regime but still come down forcefully on issues of good governance and stability.

After the quick stop in Abidjan, the delegation took a jaunt to Togo, the first time a Secretary of State has visited the small state (link in French). Observers were quick to note Togo’s current inflated importance, sitting as a rotating member on the U.N. Security Council. Envisioning possible votes on Iran and Syria, it was easy to tack the Togolese onto this short excursion. On the agenda was anti-drug smuggling and anti-terrorism; U.S. offers of cooperation in these areas can go a long way in beefing up a small state’s security forces. Compared to Liberia and Côte d’Ivoire, there isn’t as much to praise in Togo’s political system. In 2005, President Faure Gnassingbé took over the position from his father, Gnassingbé Eyadéma, who had held power for 38 years. His reelection in 2010 was marred by fraud allegations, but it seems that real attempts are being made to shore up the country’s image and improve the economy. Jeune Afrique shrewdly noted the presence of Donald Steinberg, the Deputy Administer of USAID, in the American delegation, and openly questioned whether the reopening of USAID operations in the country, which were suspended during the ‘90s due to Togo’s “democratic deficit,” are a bargaining chip for that crucial Security Council vote. Indeed, a combination of USAID money and increased anti-terrorism and anti-drug funding would be music to the ears of President Gnassingbé. Suddenly it seems like Clinton’s trip has veered away from its lofty goals of promoting democracy in West Africa, as diplomacy in Togo just looks like old-fashioned propping up of dictators for political favors. However, legislative and local elections are on the table for 2012 and the main opposition party, the UFC, was given seven ministerial positions following the 2010 elections (link in French). If there ever was an opening to push for more democracy in the country, it’s now, and it seems like the State Department has found an opportunity to both get what it wants at the U.N. and promote inclusive democratic governance in Togo. Assistant Secretary Carson gave Gnassingbé a lot to live up to when he stated the president is “determined to put in place a strong reform-minded government – one that is democratic, multiparty and which opens up the country.” Let’s hope he’s right about the Togolese leader’s will to step up to the plate on democratization.

Before heading home, the delegation island-hopped to Cape Verde, where the Secretary met Prime Minister José Maria Pereira Neves. The island nation is often looked to as a paragon of democracy in Africa, though it is somewhat removed from the continent itself. Nonetheless, it offered the perfect capstone to a trip that had democracy at its heart.

So how should we rate this excursion by the Secretary? Despite the fact that it was relatively short, I believe it’s important to show that the United States is still actively engaged on the African continent. As mentioned at the outset, the constant talk of shifting U.S. policy priorities towards Asia has many wondering if this means other U.S. initiatives, especially democracy promotion around the world, are bound to suffer. The U.S. State Department is much more complex than that. Indeed, as I previously mentioned, the tilt towards Asia isn’t geographically limited to the Asian continent. As China builds new relationships in sub-Saharan Africa and South America, the United States is going to be on the alert to attempt to counter Chinese influence. While, in my opinion, China’s increased role in global affairs isn’t something that threatens the United States from a security standpoint (nor is it something that can be “countered”), it’s clear that, as the economy recovers, American businesses are going to be on the lookout for investment opportunities in foreign countries. The U.S. government realizes that if they don’t act to shore up relationships with developing states, U.S. businesses are going to pay the price. And as more people begin to fret about the security situation in Nigeria, building U.S. influence in the region is a clear precursor to growing U.S. involvement in the energy sector in the Gulf of Guinea and increased anti-terrorism cooperation across West Africa. At the very least, Clinton’s visit shows that the U.S. remains committed to democracy in Africa, and that’s not something to be taken lightly in the continued development of the continent.

-David Meyer

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