Princeton Lyman Interview (2006): Conversations with History; Institute of International Studies, UC Berkeley

A Strategic U.S. Approach to Africa: Conversation with Princeton N. Lyman, Ralph Bunche Senior Fellow, Council on Foreign Relations; by Harry Kreisler; February 16, 2006

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Let's talk about a second theme, that is, peacekeeping and post-conflict stabilization. You cite a figure in the report, thirteen million displaced people in Africa, three million refugees. Talking about disease, the two themes are related, and so on.

Conflict has been devastating in Africa. It's caused more death and destabilization than any other single thing. The good news is that the number of conflicts in Africa has come down. Major civil wars have been settled: Angola, Mozambique, Liberia, Sierra Leone, the north/south civil wars in Sudan. The number of conflicts has come down. There's been a lot of effort by Africans, [and] by the international community, to do that. But you still have severely destabilizing conflicts and threats of conflict.

The Congo is the worst because directly or indirectly four million people have died in that conflict. Now there are elections coming up and hopefully we're going to get some peace in the [country]. The Darfur situation in western Sudan, which the United States has declared is a genocide, is another such conflict. And [there are] threats of conflict. Bringing those under control takes both African leadership and international support. The Africans have to be there because of the complexities of the conflicts, but they can't do it alone. It's that combination. We have a stake in it, because what you see in these conflicts is that international criminal activity flourishes, either through capturing natural resources or the accusations that al Qaeda used them to refinance through diamonds, etc. So it impacts on us, as well as having a terrible humanitarian impact in Africa.

How do we work out this division of labor? You're making the important point that there has to be an African presence, there clearly must be a U.N. presence to bring the international community, and then clearly, if one is trying to stabilize a situation or end a conflict, there's a role for the United States, not necessarily in terms of troops but in terms of other technical capacities. Talk a little about the meshing of that and give us a report card grade. Are we getting better at that?

There's a recognition on the one hand that it's hard to put Western troops into Africa. It happens, but we don't do it very much at all in peacekeeping. Other countries do but not for long periods of time. So, there's a great emphasis on building up African peacekeeping capability, and that's taking place. But Africans can't afford long-term peacekeeping operations, and we see that in Darfur, Sudan, where the African Union went in, slowly built up to seven thousand, reached the limits of their ability -- the financing had to come from Europe and the United States, and now it must be supplemented through the United Nations. The African Union went in ahead of the UN in Burundi, in Ivory Coast, etc., but then said to the UN, "You've got to take it over because we can't sustain it for that long a period of time."

The G-8 leaders have pledged to build up African peacekeeping over the next five years, a capability with equipment and training. That's the kind of mesh that has to take place. In some cases, the Africans will be way out in front. Africans have brought [stability to] the Burundi situation, which could have been a genocide like Rwanda. They created a ten-year peace process [with] their own peacekeepers. They have saved that situation. In a case like Sudan, we've got to have a lot of international involvement.

What problem is posed by the streak of unilateralism that we've witnessed in the recent period in American policy? Are we able to isolate it so that people will respect our multilateral involvement on other issues, whereas in the case of Iraq there may have been a dissatisfaction with the unilateralism that was involved?

The good thing about Africa policy is that it tends to be less a partisan issue than some of the other areas of U.S. foreign policy. Most of the initiatives that have been taken on Africa in the last ten years have been bipartisan: the African Growth Opportunity Act, the HIV/AIDS emphasis, which had a bipartisan task force in Congress to support it. So, it's less divisive in that sense, and therefore some of these ideological battles don't get carried over. Where it has shown up in Africa is two places. The Iraq war has made it difficult to deal with the terrorism issue in Africa because the Africans look at it in terms of what we're doing with Iraq and [wonder], are we over-emphasizing it and are we bringing in something that's not as relevant?

The second place is in areas like the Global Fund for HIV/AIDS, TB and Malaria, and our bilateral programs, because now you see our own ideological and cultural wars between abstinence and condoms being carried over into those programs, particularly our bilateral programs, and that does create problems as countries have a multilateral side but then they have this big bilateral program from the U.S. which have some of these unilateral characteristics.

So, who carries the load here? Is it our ambassadors' job to move this agenda of stabilization forward? Is that their work, and how do you do it?

That's what good ambassadors should do, and it is the responsibility of the ambassador to bring these disparate elements of U.S. policy together. Good ambassadors do it well. Under the HIV/AIDS program it's very interesting that they task the ambassador as the key responsible agency -- in fact, that HIV/AIDS program is in the State Department, not in US-AID -- to bring these programs together. But then the question is, do the ambassadors have the staff to [conduct] the outreach? [In the report] we talk a lot about the decline in our diplomatic and intelligence presence in Africa, which makes it harder. I look upon some of my friends and colleagues who are now ambassadors in Africa and they don't have the resources I had in South Africa, or even when I was in Nigeria. That makes it much harder.

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