November 4, 2004
Africa Expects a “Business as Usual” Approach From Bush
Inter Press Service
While the American presidential contest was nail-biting, there appears to be little suspense amongst analysts about what George W. Bush’s re-election as head of state means for Africa.
JOHANNESBURG, Nov 3 (IPS) - While the American presidential contest was nail-biting, there appears to be little suspense amongst analysts about what George W. Bush’s re-election as head of state means for Africa.
"I don’t think there will be a new policy on Africa. Selective engagement is going to continue...The Bush administration is more inclined to bilateral relations – it has no interest to engage Africa through the African Union," Martin Rupiya of the Pretoria-based Institute for Security Studies told IPS Wednesday.
The extent of the United States’ bilateral involvement with various African states will no doubt be influenced by its concerns about global terrorism. For many in the U.S., this was a decisive issue in the presidential campaign.
Somalia, where central government collapsed in 1991, has reportedly served as a refuge for terrorists in much the same way that Afghanistan did – while there are concerns that the rise of fundamentalist Islamic practices in northern Nigeria is playing into the hands of groups such as al-Qaeda.
Osama bin Laden, viewed as the mastermind of the Sep. 11 terror attacks on New York and Washington, lived in Sudan during the 1990s.
In addition, two of the most dramatic strikes against U.S. facilities located abroad have taken place in Africa: in 1998, the American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania were bombed.
Academic John Yoh, who is based at the University of South Africa, believes that the Bush administration will focus on five countries – Somalia, Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Nigeria and South Africa – in a bid to prevent terrorists from gaining more of a foothold on the continent.
Two years of peace talks held in Kenya under the auspices of the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development have resulted in the establishment of a new parliament for Somalia – and the election of a president, Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmed.
At present, security concerns are preventing Yusuf from returning to the Somali capital, Mogadishu. A decade of conflict has seen thousands of weapons flow into the Horn of Africa country, and disarming the Somali militants in possession of these weapons will be a complex task.
"The new government-in-exile has requested the African Union to contribute 20,000 troops to stabilise Somalia. This is where the United States could play an important role by assisting the new Somali government," Rupiya says.
However, any initiatives concerning Somalia will inevitably be overshadowed by the disastrous events of October 1993 in which 18 U.S. troops were killed during a battle with forces loyal to Somali faction leader Mohammed Farah Aideed.
The American soldiers had formed part of a mission to alleviate widespread hunger in Somalia that was brought on by drought, and aggravated by conflict between the various clan leaders who carved up the country into fiefdoms after 1991.
The sight of the bodies of American soldiers being dragged through the streets of Mogadishu is widely believed to have made Washington wary of deploying forces in Africa again. And, its approach to hotspots elsewhere on the continent would seem to indicate that a "hands off" approach is still the order of the day for the U.S.
While American officials have been outspoken in their condemnation of the political and humanitarian crisis in the western Sudanese region of Darfur, for example, they look to African countries to spearhead peace-keeping activities in this area.
Conflict in Darfur erupted early last year when two rebel groups, the loosely-allied Sudan Liberation Movement/Army and the Justice and Equality Movement, took up arms to protest against the alleged marginalization of people living in this region by Khartoum.
Since then, the members of three ethnic groups in Darfur – the Fur, Masaalit and Zaghawa – have been targeted by Arab militias known as the "Janjaweed" (meaning "men on horseback") in what appears to be a scorched earth campaign. Land disputes between settled farmers from these three groups and nomadic Arabs underpin the conflict.
More than 50,000 lives are said to have been lost, and over 1.2 million people displaced in Darfur. About 120,000 people have also fled the region for neighbouring Chad.
The need for oil will also play an important role in shaping U.S. policy towards Africa during the next four years that Bush is in office – particularly if the situation in the Middle East becomes still more volatile.
At present, 16 percent of American fuel is supplied by countries in sub-Saharan Africa. A December 2001 report by the U.S. National Intelligence Council has forecast that by 2015, 25 percent of U.S. oil imports will come from African states such as Nigeria.
"Nigeria is crucial to the United States in terms of oil," says Yoh.
Rupiya echoes this observation, noting: "The Bush administration has been acutely aware of the (need for) African resources like oil."
While analysts expect a "business as usual" approach from the U.S. towards Africa during Bush’s second term, come have also noted that this approach could be influenced by talks next year amongst the Group of Eight (G8). The G8 comprises the world’s eight most industrialized countries: Japan, Russia, Britain, France, Italy, Germany, Canada and the U.S.
British Prime Minister Tony Blair has pledged to put Africa at the head of the G8’s agenda when he assumes the group’s presidency next year. (END/2004
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