House Committee on Foreign Affairs, Subcommittee on International Organizations, Human Rights, and Oversight & Subcommittee on Africa and Global Health
DR. SULAYMAN S. NYANG
PROFESSOR OF AFRICAN STUDIES
MAY 10, 2007
The call for human rights in African societies is reverberating in the firmaments of African debates about living well in the 21st century and embracing the mighty hug of peace and tranquility in the post Cold War era. There are however several reasons why this is not the case. There is first the tyranny of the political class who have failed in many countries to deliver the goods since the fall of colonialism and settler rule in Africa; there is also the reality of the politics of the belly and the lack of food security; there is the resurgence of the mosquito and its collaborators in the domain of diseases and poor health in the African universe; and there is also the biting power of globalization and modernity in Africa. It is indeed against this background that one can look at U.S. foreign policy towards Africa and the role and place of human rights in this scheme of things.
The chairman has asked me to examine relations between the United States of America and the African countries of Equatorial Guinea and Ethiopia. In examining the relationship between the United States of America and two cooperative, but dictatorial, governments, the African countries of Equatorial Guinea and Ethiopia, I would also like to add to their charge the most appropriate counter-example of an uncooperative and dictatorial government in Africa. For that, I would like to consider for purposes of contrast the case of Zimbabwe. Four things deserve our immediate attention in this analysis.
The first is the historical distinctiveness of the three countries and the manner in which their relationship with the United States of America is vastly different. Zimbabwe is a former settler colony with great potentials for industrial and economic development; Ethiopia is a huge country with a large population whose futures have been affected by the lack of adequate food and growing dependency on foreign food support; Equatorial Guinea is a small state whose future has been ameliorated by the oil boom that captures American interest in this part of the African equator.
The second thing is the growing Chinese penetration of the African continent in search of oil and friends. At this juncture it makes political sense for U.S. policy makers to see this Chinese second coming to Africa as a challenge to American diplomacy and American business know-how. Zimbabwe is a country whose troubles gave fame and glory to Communist China’s involvement in the building of the Tanzam railroad. Again, while focusing on this point, it should be noted that Ethiopia was also an object of attraction during the Cold War and the American resources were expended to woo and win friends in the Cold War to help eliminate a communist-linked dictatorship in that part of Africa. History in its games of ironies and paradoxes has conspired to bring President Mugabe and former President Mengestu within the Zimbabwean drama. Mugabe, be it noted, was supported in the U.S. by some Americans because of his movement’s agitation against racial oppression under Prime Minister Ian Smith of Southern Rhodesia. Now he is being attacked for bringing pain and suffering to his people because he has instructed a dictatorship in his own country. Ethiopians, looking at the U.S. from abroad, may wonder about the attack on Mugabe, the host of Mengestu, and the lack of criticism of the kind of leadership in Ethiopia under Prime Minister Meles Zinawi.
The third point is the thread of political violations that links the three countries. In spite of their differences in size, history and cultural complexities, the three countries pose a serious challenge to American diplomats and politicians. There is the need to assert America’s moral currency in Africa and the new forces of globalization and globalization have made it more imperative. In a world where America’s moral standing is under attack at home and abroad, it is significant for our diplomats and politicians to pay adequate attention to the human rights of other peoples. In the particular case of Africa, the Africans are asking for our involvement in their deliberate efforts to address the issues listed at the very beginning of my introduction.
The fourth point lies in the democratization drive around the world. American leaders, since the end of the Cold War, have spoken about peace dividend and the cultivation of the seeds of democracy in Africa. In all our State Department reports there is the constant use of “however”? to underscore the big gap between public articulation of government messages and political realities of life in these countries. This persistence overuse of “however”? has convinced me that the Hobbessian state of nature is still alive in many parts of Africa. Nasty, brutish and short captures the problems you are dealing with and my brief review will help you appreciate the monster before you and the urgency for the development of America’s moral currency in Africa and beyond.
In my view, America’s moral currency should be as strong as the dollar bill if not stronger. I have stated this at the White House when I addressed a group of presidential fellowships sponsored by the Center for the Study of the Presidency in 2003 and during a public lecture at Chautauqua in upstate New York in 2006. In both circumstances I made it clear that America’s continuing influence in world affairs is going to depend on our consistency and persistence in the cultivation of the seeds of democracy and in our feelings and attitudes towards the humanity of others.
With this understanding I now proceed to the discussion of the three case studies under review. I will begin with the situation in Equatorial Guinea and then pursue my line of reasoning to shed ample light on Ethiopia and Zimbabwe. As a final note, I will offer a number of policy recommendations which I believe could help us in our efforts to remain credible in our affirmation of belief and action in the propagation of democracy and in the execution of the fairly well established policies of AGOA, the Millennialism Challenge Fund and others in our arsenal.
In discussing this African country one must take as his point of departure the long tradition of tyranny in this country. The rule of law is the exception not the rule. Although much has been said and done by members of the international community to promote responsible and accountable government, the dictatorship identified with Marcia Nguema in the first two decades since independence has not changed. His successors have perpetrated the same kind of tyranny. When Secretary of State Rice greeted President Obiang at the State Department in 2006 as a “good friend”? of the United States, it was a friend of our mineral needs and oil industry, not of our interests in human rights and democracy.
By giving special treatment to certain governments in Africa because of oil or any other factor, the U.S. stands to lose moral authority and political effectiveness. In the eyes of many people, there is the belief that the United States government has been reticence in its advocacy of democracy in Africa when it comes to certain countries and certain political leaders. Countries that have oil tend to be treated differently and their leaders, behaving like spoiled kids, expect no reprimand and show no remorse in their acts of tyrannical rule.
U.S diplomats have operated under these tight and repressive regimes. In State Department reports on human rights in Africa we learn about US Embassy officials organizing meetings with high-level Government officials. These American diplomats have tried to put press on their Equatorial counterparts for improved transparency in public finance and in the management of the oil sector. Over the last three years some progress has been noted by U.S. officials. In support of this view is the government’s commitment to transparency by working with the World Bank to qualify for participation in the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative. Commitment was also made to seek participation in the G-8 Transparency and Good Governance Initiative.
Those who are critical of the performance of the government of Equatorial Guinea do not see any significant breakthrough in the diplomatic efforts to minimize if not eliminate repression and torture in this country. It is true that U.S. diplomats have remained active in their desire to promote democratization through talks with the Government, the opposition, the media and the community representatives. Between October 2003 and now, the U.S. diplomats have sought means of bringing life to civil society. This desire to effect political change, in my view, is a difficult task given the Government’s allergies to human rights and its unwillingness to respect the rights of citizens and foreigners. The rights of the citizens of this country are violated almost anytime because of the anxieties and fears of those in government. Although efforts have been made to process the planting of the seeds of democracy and the rule of law through the creation of a university in Malabo, it is too early and too premature to bank heavily on such a new development. Creating partnership between the university and American colleges and universities could be helpful, but the tyranny of the leadership in Equatorial Guinea should force us to take this pill of optimism with a grain of salt. Equally noteworthy are the attempts to engage corporate America, particularly those operating in the oil industry, in the promotion and affirmation of the U.S. Embassy message “on the importance of transparency, rule of law and respect for human rights, and worked with international organizations to further reinforce the message”?
In writing about the situation in Ethiopia one must recognize three things that have serious consequences for American foreign policy over there. The first rests on the traditional belief that this part of the Red Sea is inextricably linked to U.S. interest on the Arabian Peninsula and the larger Arab World. This was definitely the logic that governed our Cold War policies. The second reason why America’s moral currency needs to be fully protected and advanced over here lies in the fact that America’s involvement in the lives and politics of peoples of the Horn of Africa has created African diasporas in this country never thought possible in the post World War II period. Today, thousands of Ethiopians, Somalis and Sudanese are part of the American experience. Connected to them at home and abroad, U.S. policy makers should pay close attention to the democratic process in these countries and whenever and wherever possible, much pressure should be applied to the leaders of this region. As stated above, it was America’s involvement in the bloody civil wars of the Horn of Africa that led to a number of good and bad experiences. The rise and fall of Mengistu in Ethiopia led not only to the demise of thousands of people, but it planted a dangerous dictatorship and stripped the land of fertile grounds for democratic cultivation. Mengistu is now celebrating his seventieth birthday in Zimbabwe, although he is still a wanted man in Addis Ababa where he ruled ruthlessly until he fled in 1991 with the support and welcome of Robert Mugabe. The Ethiopian high court condemned and sentenced him in February this year and would like him to be brought to justice. This is not likely to take place because both the Ethiopian government and the Mugabe regimes are seen in many human rights circles as political lepers. Such a malady cannot be solved by such personalities; rather, if change is to take place, the two contending forces in African and foreign eyes need to be removed from the scene. Such a regime change is unlikely. What can best be done by the U.S. government is to put pressure on all culpable parties in Africa through consistency and persistence. If the three case studies here are to be listed as bad, worse, worst and the Equatorial Guinea is the worse and Zimbabwe is the worst, then in the Ethiopian context, American policy makers should take into account how to put greater pressure on the Ethiopian government in the administration of justice and in the creation of bridges of peace between ethnic groups and religious communities in that country.
I am aware of efforts being made to build bridges between religious groups over there and in the Ethiopian Diaspora and some progress has been made. However, while acknowledging this state of affairs, I should hasten to add that the democratic progress in this country is handicapped by the violent nature of the political competition between the government and its opposition. Unless and until the U.S. reconciles its strategic interest in Ethiopia with its claim for democracy in the region, factors such as cooperation with the U.S. military and the CIA in the war against international terrorism and the prospects for oil in Ethiopia could muddy the waters and damage any serious claim of moral currency for the United States of America.
This consideration is critical because not only are our politicians and diplomats working on matters affecting peoples of the Horn of Africa over there, but their actions and operations reverberate in the firmaments of Diaspora debates. And this too affects the remittances going there and the political climate that rules life over there as well. To remove the veil of fear and to address the politics of the belly in Ethiopia, Equatorial Guinea, and Zimbabwe, the moral currency of the United States of America must be backed by a combination of all the resources at America’s disposal. What are these resources? They are the economic might of the country and the military and cultural status of the people since America rose to global prominence after the First World War. It is only through such demonstration of moral consistency and political determination to support the cause of those struggling to build up new democracies that America can regain the lost moral high ground because of the negative consequences of the war in Iraq.
Although the Chairmen did not ask me to address the question of Zimbabwe, I have decided to give you a slice of reality in this uncooperative country. I intend to use it as a counterpoint to the arguments I am making. I think it is dangerous and unwise for us to propagate democracy and human rights if we fail to do a tale of two cities. Harare and Addis Ababa have much in common. Some of these details and historical parallels discussed below should be helpful.
In addressing the question of Zimbabwe in this testimony, let me identify five points to remember in our assessment of this country. As stated above, history in its effective use of ironies and paradoxes has created a situation in which President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe and former President Mengistu Haile Mariam of Ethiopia are ideological stars in a fading drama. Caught in the web of the old Cold War African radicalism, these two gentlemen are aging politicos whose love for power and common desire to survive the hurricane of democratic change and reform have combined to make them the sources of greater venom in their countries and abroad. These two men are perceived at home and abroad as dictators. One is the beneficiary of the war against settler colonialism, the other rose to power riding the horse of Cold War antagonism between the United States of America and the Soviet Union. Now that we are trying to influence the cause of democratization in Zimbabwe we must demonstrate moral consistency and political sagacity in our treatment of Mugabe and his political foes. Caught in the middle of this fray with our ambassador playing a critical role in beating back the forces of political maladministration in that country, it is imperative for the U.S. government to make certain distinction. It should not allow the tyranny of Mugabe to be treated more seriously than the political tyranny of the government of Ethiopia or Equatorial Guinea. By not remaining morally consistent and by allowing other factors to color their thinking, U.S. diplomats and politicians could fail in the new effort to bring democratic rule to Zimbabwe.
The second point to note here is the collapse of the Zimbabwean economy and the consequences of such collapse for the democratic process. Truth be known, the Mugabe regime is not likely to be deterred by this phenomenon. Most of the African and foreign journalists writing on the crisis in Zimbabwe have lamented this unfortunate state of affairs. One Nigerian journalist, Eucharia Mbachu, described him as follows: “He was the darling of the left, the liberals in the West and in many parts of the world when apartheid ruled supreme in South Africa and Ian Smith called the shorts in southern Rhodesia. Mugabe’s claim to fame was due to his numerous college degrees and his audacity to be a strong black man willing to suffer the telling, and at times violent, blows of white racism in his homeland.”?
This characterization of Mugabe is relevant in our assessment because America’s attempt to win and influence people in Africa and beyond must grapple with this image of the man and his country. As the third point in my discourse, I would argue that if we are to score some points and effect change on the path towards African democratization, moral consistency and willingness to put the feet of both Mugabe and others equally guilt to the fire, regardless of whether their countries have oil or not, should be widely noted. Searching through the internet one comes across blogs and writers sympathetic to Mugabe. Their arguments are always based on America’s double-standard and a racial tinge is often attributed to the language of the anti-Mugabe. Real or imagined, such ideological verbiage could be effectively handled if we apply the same rule to Mugabe as we do to Meles Zinawi and his counterpart in Equatorial Guinea.
The fourth point about Mugabe and Zimbabwe is the status he has enjoyed over the years as a senior liberation veteran. Because he is older than Thabo Mbeki of South Africa and many of the other political leaders in southern Africa and beyond, he has taken full advantage of this seniority to cajole and bamboozle those who are bold enough to challenge him and opposed his decision to stay in power. Unwilling to go the way of respect President Nelson Mandela Robert Mugabe has stayed on course. Even the recent meeting in Tanzania failed to make a dint. Even talks of secret meetings between his former colleagues in the party and in the military have not shaken him. In order for the U.S. to make some breakthrough, President Mugabe must come to realize that there is moral consistency. This is a tall order and events of the last decade have not provided us with any guide to the politically perplexed in Zimbabwean affairs.
The fifth and last point is that President Mugabe is vulnerable politically but the destiny and political and economic situation of Zimbabwe ironically makes the country more vulnerable than the man. In the scale of history, the man called Mugabe could go to his grave anytime soon; however, the eruption of violence in Zimbabwe could wreak havoc to that land. Already the country has lost over a million people to forced migration. The old question of brain drain in Africa has become a Zimbabwean joke of the century. There are more Zimbabwean nurses in British hospitals than in suffering Zimbabwe. The Zimbabwean currency has fallen so low that many Zimbabwean have abandoned any attempt to equate financial power through local currency with moral status in the new reality of an African version of the Hobbesian state of nature.
In concluding this brief case study of Equatorial Guinea, Ethiopia, and Zimbabwe in the form of a testimony before the U.S. Congress, let me stating the following:
1. The United States government cannot exercise moral authority in the African struggle for democratic rule if America’s moral currency falls to the low level than we now lament about Zimbabwe’s own currency. In other words, America’s moral currency should be as strong as the dollar bill and even stronger than the Euro which has almost double its financial and moral relationship with our own during our moments of global moral retreat.
2. The second conclusion is that America’s impact in the cultivation and development of democracy in Africa can gain momentum in the smaller countries of Africa only if greater efforts are made to maximize press on the African political class and the benefits of economic development in these countries are carefully monitored and studied. By developing a moral linkage between political responsibility and financial relationship between the U.S. and these countries, the strategic weaknesses of these countries should be seized upon judo-style to wring out favorable concessions on behalf of the democratic process. This is true only if and when U.S. politicians and diplomats mean what they say about America’s commitment to democracy.
3. The moral currency of the United States of America in Ethiopia and Zimbabwe is going to be a bone of contention in one and not the other. In the special case of Zimbabwe, the forces and factors identified above have made it important for American diplomats and politicians to recognize the limits of the present mode of engagement with Mugabe. Unless and until we explore other sources of dealing directly or indirectly with President Mugabe, chances are the situation will continue to deteriorate. With millions of Zimbabwean people on the run and with many lives at stake, America has a serious challenge in its hands. Something must be done in Zimbabwe and America has to exploit all avenues of diplomacy and political sagacity to return the peace and tranquility than came to this country after many years of turmoil against Prime Minister Ian Smith and his declaration of Southern Rhodesia as an independent country. Interestingly, we have come back to our original point of departure. To move beyond Ian Smith and Mugabe, America must be fully engaged next time in Zimbabwe. The land question and all the issues that are used to blame America’s lack of moral currency will not disappear. True and serious application of moral consistency and persistence will regain our moral stature in southern Africa and beyond.