Washington Wednesday: A new Africa strategy

MARY REICHARD, HOST: It’s Wednesday, the 19th of December, 2018. Glad to have you along for today’s edition of The World and Everything in It. Good morning, I’m Mary Reichard.

NICK EICHER, HOST: And I’m Nick Eicher. First up on The World and Everything in It: Washington Wednesday.

A string of U.S. administrations have launched strategies to improve conditions in Africa.

In the year 2000, President Bill Clinton signed the African Growth and Opportunity Act.

Four years after that, President George W. Bush created the Millennium Challenge Account.

In 2013, President Barack Obama launched Power Africa.

REICHARD: These initiatives proved largely unsuccessful. That partly explains why, last week, the Trump administration announced a new Africa strategy.

Speaking at The Heritage Foundation in Washington, National Security Adviser John Bolton said the rollout caps an intense process involving numerous federal agencies.  

BOLTON: We have prioritized developing this document because we understand that lasting stability, prosperity, independence, and security on the African continent are in the national security interest of the United States.

EICHER: Bolton said future U.S. actions in Africa would further three core interests:

First, advance trade and economic ties with nations across the continent.

Second, counter the threat of terrorism and conflict.

Third, ensure U.S. aid dollars are used effectively and efficiently.

BOLTON: Under our new Africa strategy, we will expand economic ties on the basis of mutual respect. We will help African nations take control of their own economic destinies and their own security needs. And, we will ensure that all U.S. foreign assistance in the region gets results for the American people.

We’ll post a link to the full speech at worldandeverything.org, but right now, I want to introduce George Ayittey. He’s an economist from Ghana, a retired American University professor, and president of the Free Africa Foundation. He was also present for Bolton’s remarks last week.

Professor, good morning to you.

AYITTEY: Good morning.

EICHER: I’d like to get your thoughts on the Trump administration’s new strategy, but before we get into that—and we’ll go through all three of those points—let’s talk about the past and why you think, in the past, American strategies in Africa failed so frequently.

AYITTEY: Well, I think there are two reasons why. Number one: I think U.S. policy initiatives have been hobbled by political correctness. Americans have not been willing to criticize African governments for their misguided policies for fear of being labeled racist. So many of them turned a blind eye to human rights violations, a lack of democracy.

And there was also another reason. And that was during the Cold War, the U.S. placed more emphasis on winning allies than enforcing the rule of law in Africa.

And then the third reason is that in Africa, the U.S. policy—policy initiatives were leader centered. In other words, the U.S. was looking for some Abraham Lincoln trying to change his country.

Unfortunately, this set the U.S. up to be duped. A typical one, a classical one was President Museveni of Uganda. Back in 1986, he declared that no African president should be in power for more than 10 years. We all hailed him as a new leader of Africa. Thirty-two years later, he is still president of Uganda.

EICHER: Let’s talk about the new strategy strategy that has been laid out, and we’ll go by these one-by-one.

Let’s begin with the first which is about developing trade ties with African nations. Now, a lot of John Bolton’s remarks actually focused on Russian and Chinese influence in the region. And that kind of hits at one of the points that you were making where the U.S. seems more concerned with sort of proxy battles with adversaries and not committed to the rule of law in Africa. And I’d like to get your comment on that.

But, in the past, I have heard you talk about the need in Africa for entrepreneurship and capital. Not government aid, not microfinance, but real capital. Do you see this first principle of trade ties as a step in that direction?

AYITTEY: Well, I think it was former President Clinton who said Africa does not need aid but needs trade. But then before you trade goods, you have to create them. And you need entrepreneurship to create goods.

So, to encourage entrepreneurship, you don’t need microcredit or finance. You need what I call meso capital.

You have lots of African entrepreneurs—young, young ones—and what they need is a small amount of capital in the form of $5,000, $50,000, $500,000. They don’t need mega funding like millions of dollars. Just a small amount of capital. The U.S. doesn’t have to provide this, but at least it can point Africa and African governments in this particular direction.

EICHER: Let’s talk about the second principle which is the countering of terrorism. And that’s been a particular concern in nations like Somalia, where al-Shabaab is based, and Nigeria as well. Boko Haram seems resurgent. But it also sounds as though the administration wants to scale back counter-terrorism operations in Africa. Does that concern you?

AYITTEY: Well, I don’t think that the administration achieved very much in countering terrorism, per se, because after 2001 when President Bush announced a war on terrorism, all sorts of rogue regimes saw an opportunity of projecting themselves as allies in the war on terrorism when they themselves were sponsoring state terrorism against their own people.

So I’m glad that the U.S. is deemphasizing the war on terrorism.

But then the focus on conquering Russia and China in Africa is a bit problematic because it runs the risk of resurrecting Cold War shibboleth and brinkmanship, where African leaders played one superpower against another superpower to extract maximum aid.

So I’m very much worried about this new emphasis on countering Russia and China in Africa.

EICHER: The third and final principle we outlined here related to the improvement of the foreign-aid process. And we’ve talked a bit about foreign aid not being desirable but entrepreneurship and capital, but in terms of improving the foreign aid process, how do you expect the administration to go about doing that?

AYITTEY: Well, the foreign aid resources Africa desperately needs can be found in Africa itself. I mean, take corruption. According to the African Union, corruption alone costs Africa $128 billion a year. Foreign aid from all sources to Africa totals something like $48 billion a year.

The second thing is the U.S. cannot micromanage Africa’s problems from Washington D.C.

Look, for a long time, one of the reasons why U.S. policy initiatives failed in Africa was because there was no African input. Africans know what their problems are, and Africans want to craft their own solutions to their problems.

But in order to do that, they need to have freedom of expression and of the media so they can finally debate their own solutions. Freedom of expression and of the media is guaranteed by Article IX of Africa’s own Charter of Human and People’s Rights. That is one that needs to be enforced across Africa, because right now, less than 20 of the 54 African countries honor the particular article and respect freedom of expression.

So if you say something which an African government doesn’t like you are either dead or you are in jail. That needs to change.

So I think I would say the best U.S. help in Africa with its new aid policy is to say, look, countries that do not have freedom of expression or the media will not receive one penny in U.S. aid. That is what I think should be the new standard.

EICHER: Professor Ayittey, before I let you go and I’m grateful for your time, give me your view on whether you think that this new strategy from the Trump administration is likely to succeed.

AYITTEY: No, I don’t think it’s likely to succeed because, once again, No. 1, there was no African input. And No. 2, there was no effort to understand that you can’t micromanage Africa’s problems from Washington D.C.

EICHER: Professor George Ayittey is president of the Free Africa Foundation and he joined us on the phone from his home near Washington D.C. in Virginia. Professor, thank you so much.

AYITTEY: Thank you so much for having me.

(AP Photo/Cliff Owen) National Security Advisor John Bolton unveils the Trump Administration’s Africa Strategy at the Heritage Foundation in Washington, Thursday, Dec. 13, 2018. 

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