Africa Policy Outlook
There are some people in the world’s wealthy countries who forecast that
2005 will be a decisive year for Africa.
In the U.S., President Bush begins his second term in office with administration
officials and pundits claiming that he has done more for Africa than any
previous U.S. President. Britain this year holds the rotating presidency of both
the European Union and Group of 8 (G-8) wealthy nations, and Prime Minister
Blair has declared that addressing Africa’s poverty will be the centerpiece of
In 2005, a confluence of major international events will also spotlight Africa’s
poverty-related challenges, and will highlight the need for the world’s richest
countries to do more in support of Africa’s efforts. In July, Britain will host
the G-8 summit in Scotland. In September, a United Nations (UN) Special Summit
will review progress on the Millennium Development Goals, which aim to reduce by
half the number of people living in extreme poverty by 2015. In December, the
World Trade Organization’s (WTO) sixth ministerial conference in Hong Kong will
reveal whether the Doha round of global trade talks have secured new deals to
benefit the world’s most impoverished countries.
Civil society campaigns in the U.S. and in Britain are also pushing 2005 as a
special opportunity for rich country leaders to address poverty in Africa and
other impoverished regions. They are optimistic about victories on debt
cancellation, aid and trade this year.
It is important to note that these international meetings and campaigns are
Northern-dominated and rarely include African input. Indeed, they can have the
effect of drowning out African voices. Meanwhile, on the ground, African civil
society campaigns, and some African governments, continue to demand real action
on priority issues defined by Africans.
Then how should we measure the outcomes of these opportunities? For, while a new
international focus on Africa is warranted, and while much more can and must be
done to address the continent’s challenges, the sad reality is that 2005 risks
being another year of "compassionate showmanship" rather than a year of sea
change. The poor track record of the U.S. and other rich countries when it comes
to Africa requires us to watch carefully what transpires in 2005 and to be clear
on how we will measure the success of their actions this year and beyond.
As genocide continues to unfold in Darfur, Sudan, the failure of the Bush
Administration and other rich country governments to stop another such crime
against humanity in Africa may yet be the darkest stain on their record in 2005.
The Bush Administration: Africa’s Friend?
Over the past four years, George W. Bush has sought to portray himself as a
"compassionate conservative" who cares about Africa, and in some circles he has
succeeded in displacing his predecessor Bill Clinton as the U.S. President who
is considered to have done most for the continent. As we face a second Bush
Administration term, such high-sounding claims deserve scrutiny, as do our
criteria for assessing the achievements of U.S. Africa policy.
The reality is that there has been a good deal of consistency in U.S. relations
with Africa since decolonization and the Cold War. Successive U.S.
Administrations have been motivated by calculations of Africa’s geo-strategic
significance, with the U.S. seeking to foster military and security
relationships which advance its own agenda. U.S. policies have similarly been
driven by the quest for Africa’s natural resources, and have sought to promote
greater trade and investment ties with key states on the continent.
In the 1990s, through successful public relations efforts, President Bill
Clinton became known as a great friend to Africa. He made a much-publicized trip
to the continent, the first substantive trip by a U.S. President in American
history. Clinton proclaimed great concern for Africa’s challenges and a
commitment to enabling Africans to reach the continent’s potential by
encouraging trade, promoting debt relief, and supporting democracy throughout
the continent. In fact, the symbolism of Clinton’s Africa policy in many ways
succeeded in masking the real damage that was done by his Administration, which
ignored the genocide in Rwanda, failed to address the growing crisis of
HIV/AIDS, abandoned the democracy movement in Nigeria and reconstruction efforts
in Somalia, and neglected peacekeeping efforts in West Africa and elsewhere.
George W. Bush stated clearly in 2000 that Africa was not a priority, and the
past four years have confirmed that while also maintaining a good deal of
continuity with the Africa policy of his predecessor. Indeed, we have witnessed
a similar duplicity, with the White House promoting its own economic and
military agenda but seeking at the same time to portray itself as a great friend
to Africa. The White House emphasizes that President Bush met with 25 African
heads of state in his first two years in office, announced new initiatives on
HIV/AIDS and aid, and pledged to significantly increase U.S. funding for both.
He traveled to the African continent in 2003 for a five-day five-country trip.
In 2004, his Administration recognized that genocide was taking place in Darfur,
Sudan and claimed to be addressing this crisis.
Again, as under the Clinton Administration, the "compassion spin" has in some
ways succeeded in masking the aggressive pursuit by the Bush White House of its
own economic and military-strategic interests in Africa, and the consequent
marginalization of African priorities. In other words, the Bush Administration’s
real interests in Africa are oil and strategic allies in the "war on terror"
Africa Policy Outlook 2004). Its new initiatives on HIV/AIDS and foreign aid
reach very few countries and remain under-funded, and the U.S. has failed to
take real action to stop the genocide it has acknowledged in Darfur.
Yet while we have seen similar U.S. policies toward Africa pursued over
successive Administrations, what sets the current White House apart, and harms
Africa’s interests in important ways, are two key tenets of its foreign policy
philosophy. The first is its rejection of the process and principle of
multilateralism when it comes to addressing urgent global issues. The second is
its embrace of the ideology of the religious right, and the promotion of this
ideology in its policies at home and abroad. Both of these tendencies undermine
Africa’s priorities, and particularly the fight against HIV/AIDS.
So while the Bush Administration will continue to tout what it’s doing for
Africa, it is important to look beyond such quantitative benchmarks as the
number of African leaders who visit the White House or even the number of new
initiatives pledged to help impoverished countries. These measures reveal little
about the substance of U.S. policy toward Africa. Instead, a more sophisticated
and qualitative measure is required, which examines the nature of U.S.
initiatives and the reality of their implementation.
This Year’s "Hot Topics" - Debt, Aid & Trade
This year’s calendar of global events and negotiations indicates an
international focus on three key issues of importance to Africa - debt, aid, and
trade - and some progress is likely on each in 2005.
On debt, activism around the world in recent years has led to a growing
realization on the part of rich countries that something must be done to address
the debt crisis in the world’s most impoverished countries. There has also been
an increasing acknowledgment that the current debt relief framework - the
Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) Initiative - has failed to resolve this
crisis. African countries continue to struggle under an unsustainable burden of
debt, and are still required to spend some $15 billion in debt service payments
to wealthy creditors each year. Most African countries must spend more on debt
service payments that they can spend on health care and education combined.
Last year, 100% multilateral debt cancellation for impoverished countries was
put on the table for the first time during discussions among the Group of 8
leaders in June and then among their Finance Ministers in the fall. While these
meetings produced statements in support of 100% debt cancellation, an agreement
was not reached on the list of eligible countries or on the mechanism through
which this would be financed.
There are still some differences between the U.S. and UK in these regards. The
U.S. has claimed that it supports multilateral debt cancellation for 42
countries, to be paid for by the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF),
and that it sees a move from loans to grants at the World Bank as one key to
breaking the debt cycle. However, the U.S. Treasury Department refuses to
recognize the illegitimate nature of these debts, and has indicated that its
main concern is really "debt sustainability". This concept refers to how much
debt a country can carry without inhibiting economic growth, but it fails to
acknowledge that no amount of debt can be sustainable for African countries at a
moment when they face the worst health crisis in human history.
The UK, on the other hand, supports a less-ambitious debt deal for about 20
impoverished countries, but does not want the World Bank to use its own
resources to cover this. Instead, the UK proposes that G-7 countries take over
debt service payments on behalf of eligible countries for an initial 10 years,
but without canceling their debts. The UK launched this new plan in January 2004
when Finance Minister Gordon Brown signed a deal with Tanzania to take over 10%
of the debt payments it owes to the World Bank and the African Development Bank
for 10 years.
Despite these disagreements, there are indications that an agreement can be
expected in 2005 on some form of debt relief or cancellation for some sub-set of
deeply impoverished countries. This will next be discussed at the "Group of 7"
Finance Ministers meeting in February, and, if there is no resolution at this
point, it is expected to be on the agenda of the G-8 summit in July.
Meanwhile, civil society groups and some governments in Africa and elsewhere in
the global South continue to call for outright and unconditional debt
cancellation, emphasizing that these debts are illegitimate and should not have
to be repaid. They urge the Bush Administration to apply the same standard it
has in calling for the cancellation of Iraq’s odious debt to the odious and
illegitimate debts of African countries. Just as some creditor countries have
offered to freeze bilateral debt repayments for the impoverished countries worst
affected by the recent tsunami, campaigners call for Africa’s debt to be written
off to enable the continent to spend its own resources on its own urgent
priorities. With some deal on debt expected in 2005, campaigners will be
entitled to claim victory but will continue to push for 100% cancellation. They
will not be satisfied with any new creditor proposals to merely reduce Africa’s
debt burden to "sustainable" levels, or to simply reduce countries’ debt
Even after debt cancellation, additional development assistance will still be
required for African countries to be able to address the challenges of poverty
and HIV/AIDS. 2005 is a benchmark year for the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs),
a set of international development goals that seek to improve health, education
and the environment across the world, with the overarching aim of reducing by
half the number of people living in extreme poverty by 2015. When the UN meets
in September to review progress toward these goals, it will be clear that while
some regions are on track, Africa remains the exception. In fact, an interim UN
report has revealed that, at current pace, Africa won’t reach these goals until
2169 - and that will still only have reduced poverty there by half. The United
Nations states that meeting the MDGs will require a doubling of annual
development assistance from rich countries to impoverished countries throughout
the world, to $135 billion in 2006, then rising to $195 billion by 2015. It
describes this as "entirely affordable", particularly when the world’s military
budget is $900 billion a year.
The Millennium Challenge Account (MCA) proposed by President Bush in 2002 was
supposed to increase U.S. foreign aid over 3 years by an additional $10 billion,
so that by 2007 the U.S. would be spending 50% more ($15 billion per year) on
foreign aid than previously. But the MCA is already running behind schedule, and
has yet to disburse any funds. In 2004, $1 billion was appropriated for this
account, and for 2005 this was only slightly increased to $1.25 billion, which
is only half of what the White House requested. This amount remains far short of
what the U.S. can and should provide, and is only a tiny fraction of what Africa
needs. In addition, the MCA only directs aid to a handful of countries that meet
specific political and economic conditions, so this initiative actually does
little to support poverty reduction in the world’s most impoverished countries
because most are ineligible for its funding.
The UK, for its part, has pledged to double its bilateral aid to Africa, to
reach $1.9 billion by 2005. Gordon Brown has also proposed an International
Finance Facility, which would allow countries to front-load aid by borrowing
against future commitments, in order to support efforts to reach the MDGs. But
it is clear that even with small increases in rich country aid budgets in recent
years, far more resources will be needed to support African efforts to promote
Not only are aid flows insufficient, the patterns in which they are directed
increasingly reflect geo-strategic concerns rather than efforts to reduce
poverty. An Oxfam report from December 2004 warns that the "war on terror" and
related geo-strategic calculations are dictating where aid money is directed in
a dynamic reminiscent of the Cold War. Over the past 3 years, flows of aid from
the U.S. to Israel, Egypt, Jordan, Iraq, Turkey and Afghanistan were equal to
aid to the rest of the world combined. Furthermore, when up to 70% of U.S.
foreign aid is tied to an obligation to use that money to buy goods and services
from the U.S., this immediately undermines development efforts in African
While to some the MDGs represent a useful political tool to mobilize
international support for development, they have been criticized by many groups
in the global south as being an over-simplified summary of the development
commitments and targets that UN member states have agreed to at international
conferences since the 1990s. Groups such as FEMNET (the African Women’s
Development and Communications Network) have critiqued the failure of the MDGs
to make the correlation between achieving these development goals and the larger
structural changes needed to achieve them. The goals may represent some key
benchmarks in development progress, but they are all different indicators of the
same poverty, and must be addressed at the same time, and at a structural level,
to ensure real and sustainable human development.
Although there will be a lot of discussion of the MDGs this year, announcements
of new money from rich countries appear unlikely. This despite the
acknowledgment that reaching these goals in Africa and other impoverished
regions will remain impossible without vast amounts of additional resources.
In a very self-serving way, rich countries continue to argue that integrating
developing countries into the global economy through trade and investment is a
more effective and sustainable way of reducing poverty than is aid or debt
relief, so December’s WTO meeting will be seen as significant for Africa.
African governments and civil society organizations claim that developing
countries lose more in blocked access to rich country markets each year than
they gain in aid. In this sense, the WTO meeting in Hong Kong is seen by some as
a real test of whether rich countries are willing to deliver on the promises
they made at the 2001 WTO Ministerial in Doha - to move away from protectionist
policies and reduce tariffs and agricultural subsidies in order to promote
economic opportunities for the world’s most impoverished countries.
Despite the commitments made at Doha and subsequent trade meetings, the U.S. and
rich countries have yet to take convincing steps toward fulfilling their
promises to reform the global trade system to promote equity and development.
While the collapse of the Cancun trade meeting in 2003 indicated a watershed
moment in North-South trade negotiations, when developing countries stood
together in defense of their development
priorities, it is unclear whether progress made since then means rich countries
are prepared to take action this year on contentious issues, such as
agricultural subsidies. As a result, some commentators predict that the outcomes
of the WTO meeting in December may in fact bring very few benefits, if any, to
impoverished countries - a result which would clearly make a lie of previous
commitments of rich country governments in this area, and could also threaten
the future of the multilateral trading system.
While multilateral trade negotiations prove difficult, the U.S. remains focused
on securing bilateral and regional trade agreements that can promote greater
access for U.S. corporations to African markets. It continues to pursue a free
trade agreement with the five-nation Southern African Custom Union (SACU), which
would guarantee preferential access for U.S. companies to this export market.
Last year, the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) was extended and the
President announced in December 2004 that 37 countries will be eligible for AGOA
in 2005. Since passing in 2000, this Clinton-era policy has become the
centerpiece of U.S. economic relations with Africa, offering slightly improved
access to U.S. markets to select countries for select products.
The latest U.S. Africa trade profile indicates that two-way trade between the
U.S. and Sub-Saharan remains highly concentrated, both in terms of partners and
in terms of products. A very small number of African countries account for the
lion’s share of total imports and exports. Key U.S. trading partners in Africa
are the key oil producers on the continent, including Nigeria, Angola and Gabon,
and the largest recipients of investment are also the major oil producers. In
2003, 70% of all U.S. imports from Africa were oil imports, and fully 80% of
AGOA imports were petroleum products.
Oil is likely to remain a key motivator of U.S. Africa policy in the coming
year. The amount of oil the U.S. imports from Africa will continue to increase,
as will the importance of securing that oil supply through strategic military
HIV/AIDS & Genocide in Africa - International Failures
It is not yet clear to what extent African priorities of defeating HIV/AIDS and
promoting peace and security will feature on the agenda of rich countries in
2005. But what is already quite clear is the abject failure of these countries
to respond to such priorities in Africa with the urgency they require.
The latest annual AIDS epidemic update released in December 2004 reveals that
Sub-Saharan Africa is still by far the worst affected region in the world - home
to up to 28 million people living with HIV/AIDS, or 64% of the global total.
African women, particularly young African women, are disproportionately affected
by this pandemic. It is estimated that almost 4 times as many young women as
young men now live with HIV in sub-Saharan Africa.
U.S. policies on HIV/AIDS in Africa remain completely inadequate in the face of
a crisis of this magnitude. The so-called "President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS
Relief" (PEPFAR) began disbursing money in 2004, but focuses on only a dozen
African countries. For 2005 Congress has appropriated $2.9 billion for HIV/AIDS,
Tuberculosis and malaria programs worldwide, which is a slight increase from the
previous year but still is far less than is needed and very far from Bush’s
original promise of $3 billion per year for HIV/AIDS in Africa alone.
Beyond the inadequate funding levels, the approach of U.S. policies on HIV/AIDS
continues to contradict what are some of the most important ways to address this
crisis in Africa. Rather than promoting access to cheaper, generic versions of
essential HIV/AIDS medications, the Bush Administration places a priority on its
ties with the pharmaceutical lobby, and instead approves only the use of
expensive name-brand drugs. These generally cost 3 times as much as the generic
versions, thereby reaching only one-third of potential beneficiaries.
In addition, the Bush Administration’s embrace of the ideology of the religious
right has led it to promote an abstinence-only approach to HIV prevention
strategies at home and abroad. This perspective dangerously places a premium on
ideology over science and flies in the face of what is known about the most
effective ways to stem the spread of this disease in Africa and elsewhere. And
abstinence-only prevention programs do little to support the needs of women,
when many of those contracting HIV are staying faithful to one partner, and when
effective prevention clearly hinges on women’s sexual and reproductive rights.
Meanwhile, the Global Fund to fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, which has
proven to be an effective mechanism for addressing this pandemic in some 127
countries, remains under-funded by the U.S. and other rich countries. Despite
the demonstrated efficacy of the Global Fund, the U.S. still favors its own
unilateral approach to addressing HIV/AIDS in Africa and globally.
HIV/AIDS remains the biggest challenge facing the African continent, but no
major new actions are expected from rich country governments in this area in
2005. Britain intends to promote the more rapid pursuit of an HIV vaccine as
part of its G-8 agenda, but while this is an important part of the global fight
against AIDS, it does little to address the urgent needs of the nearly 3 million
people who will die in Africa this year without access to essential treatment.
It is also unclear what action can be expected this year from the international
community on the ongoing genocide in Darfur. It is now estimated that as many as
400,000 people have died in the past two years as a result of a
government-sponsored campaign of genocide in this western region of Sudan. The
U.S. government remains the only country to have rightfully declared that what
is happening in Darfur constitutes genocide, but its actions in response have
been wholly inadequate, even callous. When declaring a finding of genocide four
months ago, Secretary of State Powell also stated that this required no further
action on the part of the U.S. Similarly, other UN members have revealed their
unwillingness to take action, even as the violence and related humanitarian
crisis in Darfur cost an additional 1,000 lives each day.
The U.S. and other countries recently applauded the signing of a peace deal in
Sudan that brought to an end the decades-long war between North and South, but
they also state that the crisis in Darfur must not be ignored. Negotiations
between the Khartoum government and the Darfur rebels are set to resume in
Nigeria at the end of January. A UN Commission of Inquiry will report in
February 2005 as to whether it believes genocide is indeed taking place. But no
urgent international action is on the agenda, and the intervention that is
necessary to stop the genocide in Darfur seems unlikely without greater public
pressure (which is growing in the U.S.). The limited African Union force in
Darfur - only 1,000 troops of a promised 4,000 strong force - remains completely
inadequate and overwhelmed, and lacks the troop strength, logistical support,
and, most importantly, the mandate to protect civilians. The UN and its member
nations will continue to discuss sanctions and embargos in the coming months,
but there is no sign of a willingness on the part of any of the most world’s
powerful nations to take action to stop this crime against humanity.
Democracy & Peace
The recent signing of the historic North-South peace deal in Sudan brings to an
end the longest-running war in Africa, and brings hope for the future
democratization, political stability and economic prosperity of that country.
Even while the ongoing crisis in Darfur casts a long shadow, 2005 will see some
key steps toward the formation of a new coalition government in Sudan, and some
observers hope that this may help to resolve the situation in Darfur and Sudan’s
larger national political crisis. The U.S. was instrumental in promoting
North-South negotiations in Sudan in recent years, though the African
negotiators were the most important agents in securing the peace that was signed
in January 2005.
In Zimbabwe, elections to be held in March will attract significant
international attention and will have major implications for the region and for
the continent. It is not yet clear whether the opposition Movement for
Democratic Change (MDC) will participate in the elections, but there are already
concerns about whether these elections can truly be free and in light of
government-imposed limitations on campaigning and restrictions on the media,
among other repressive measures. These elections are a real test for Zimbabwe’s
political future and for African leaders’ willingness to hold each other
In West Africa, two key elections are expected in 2005 - in Cote D’Ivoire and in
Liberia - and both are considered very important for the political stability and
economic prospects of that whole sub-region. In East Africa, there are hopes
that this year may see the recently-elected government of Somalia move out of
exile in Kenya and to the Somali capital, Mogadishu. In the Democratic Republic
of Congo (DRC), the first general elections since independence in 1960 are
planned for June 2005, though they may be postponed until later in the year.
There are real procedural and logistical challenges to holding this election,
and the eastern part of the country remains very unstable. A December 2004
report from the International Rescue Committee reveals that over the past six
years, 3.8 million people have died in DRC as a result of ongoing conflict, with
most deaths the result of preventable disease and hunger.
Liberia, Somalia and DRC were all key U.S. allies during the Cold War, and the
turmoil they have experienced over the past decade or more is in large part the
result of the previous destabilizing influence of the U.S. Each country now
faces an important moment in 2005, and a new chance to achieve peace and
stability, though a sustained commitment from the U.S. to supporting these
aspirations is unlikely.
The year has begun with a natural disaster of unprecedented proportions in the
Indian Ocean, and, as the world struggles to help the countries of south Asia
respond to this crisis, there are fears that this may divert attention and
resources from Africa’s needs in the coming year.
What is perhaps more significant is how the rapid and massive resource
mobilization for the tsunami victims stands in stark contrast to the minimal
level of global attention and resources given to crises that are less visible
but equally deadly in Africa. In the first two weeks after the tsunami,
international donors pledged more than $5 billion to tsunami relief - an amount
almost equal to the total amount that the UN received for all humanitarian
relief efforts globally last year. The global AIDS crisis, which costs about 3
million lives each year, received pledges of only $3.6 billion from all rich
country governments for the whole of 2004.
If 2005 is to be a decisive year for Africa, the U.S. and other rich country
governments must replace compassionate charades with serious action in support
of Africa’s most urgent priorities. They must cancel Africa’s debts, greatly
increase their funding to fight HIV/AIDS, fulfill their previous promises on
trade-related reforms, and support multilateral efforts to promote peace &
security in Africa, with the immediate priority of ending the genocide in Darfur.
* Ann-Louise Colgan is Director of Policy Analysis and Communications at
Africa Action, the oldest Africa advocacy organization in the U.S. (http://www.africaaction.org)