Monday, February 22, 2010

Discussion on Drum Radio talk show

Drum Radio invited me to participate in an hour-long question and answer session concerning African issues on Feb. 20, 2010. Many of the questions came from Ugandans opposed to the Museveni government and who are now members of the diaspora in Europe. Other questions dealt with concerns over the elimination of term limits in a growing number of African countries. I expressed deep concern with the tendency in Africa today to ignore or reverse term limit provisions in many African constitutions. Niger was one of the most recent to overturn term limits but followed similar earlier actions by Burkina Faso, Chad, Gabon, Guinea, Togo, Tunisia, Algeria, Cameroon and Uganda. On the other hand, a number of African leaders have complied in recent years with the term limit provisions in their constitution. At the top of the list is South Africa followed by Tanzania, Benin, Cape Verde, Sao Tome, Mozambique, Ghana, Mali and Kenya. One person suggested that the United States has a history of supporting dictators, leaders who ignore term limits and those who conduct coups in Africa. Why did it not take steps to end such practices? I emphasized that I do not speak for the U.S. government. It is true that the U.S. has good relations with the leaders of countries like Uganda and Ethiopia, whose democratic credentials have been tarnished. It did make clear to the Ugandan government that it opposed revocation of term limits and that it disapproves of some human rights practices in Ethiopia. But the United States also relies on countries like Uganda and Ethiopia for cooperation in African peacekeeping and supporting U.S. policies in the region as in the case of Somalia. Sometimes, the U.S. approach to balancing principles and dealing with day-to-day problems is schizophrenic. At the same time, the United States has taken action against governments like Madagascar that have sharply retreated from democratic principles. The United States suspended its large Millennium Challenge Account grant there. When asked why Uganda allowed the United States to pressure it to send troops to Somalia in support of the Transitional Federal Government (TFG), I acknowledged that the United States strongly encouraged both Uganda and Burundi to send troops to Somalia in order to prevent the total collapse of the country and a take over by the extremist al-Shabaab organization. Without this African Union force, the TFG would fall. I emphasized that it was not just the United States that encouraged the creation of this force; it was an initiative of the African Union. The person raising this issue was not satisfied with my answers but had no ideas for preventing an extremist regime in Somalia, which would eventually disrupt the entire region. One question dealt with the merits of power sharing in countries like Kenya and Zimbabwe. My interlocutor was not convinced power sharing had accomplished much. While I agreed that the situation in Kenya and Zimbabwe left much to be desired, I suggested that in principle power sharing is a good approach and needs more time to work. The key to successful power sharing is the willingness by both political sides or all sides in a multi-party system to accept compromise. Unfortunately, this is a commodity in short supply in much of Africa. Another interlocutor asked why the United States had not joined the International Criminal Court (ICC). I responded it was my understanding that the United States did not want American forces serving overseas in places like Iraq and Afghanistan to be in a position of being called to account before the ICC. There are perhaps additional reasons. There was a question concerning U.S. opposition to female genital mutilation (FGM) and U.S. unhappiness with a Ugandan draft bill in parliament to harshly punish homosexuals. The person asking the questions argued that both the existence of FGM and strong opposition to homosexuality are part of African culture. I responded that the United States strongly opposes FGM for health reasons as do virtually all African governments. Opposition to legislation that singles out homosexuals for punishment simply reflects current American attitudes on this subject. Responding to a question, I doubted that that Libyan President Qaddafi’s long-standing desire to create a United States of Africa had much support among African leaders. I disputed, however, the questioner’s assertion that the United States is standing in the way of a United States of Africa. This is a decision for the Africans and it may happen some day, but I did not believe it would take place any time soon.

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