Marguerite Michaels. Foreign Affairs. Volume 72, Issue 1. 1992.
Continent’s Momentum for Change Stalls
The winds of change that blew across Africa at the end of the Cold War have stalled. Economic reforms that promised to bring back foreign capital investment have thus far only deepened Africa’s dependency on foreign aid. The pace of political transition that saw no less than nine leaders toppled by gun or ballot in the nine months following the fall of 1990 has slowed to a crawl, as many incumbent regimes have managed to maintain military control while outmaneuvering splintered oppositions.
But the greatest failure of reform—both economic and political—may be that it is overwhelmingly urban, while Africa is not. Structural adjustment programs have succeeded in getting import prices “right,” but fertilizer, for instance, is now beyond the reach of the average farmer. In most countries the creation of new political parties has not directly involved those outside the existing urban political class and has neglected the majority rural poor. Moreover, many of the most prominent new-breed politicians are simply refashioned opportunists of Cold War vintage. Thus while a majority of the one-party systems that dominated Africa’s landscape since independence have collapsed under a combination of internal and external economic and political pressures, the narrow concentration of power within most states remains unchanged.
It is becoming all too apparent that political freedom will not address Africa’s appalling economic condition. In many countries, in fact, the result is just the opposite: the civil disorder accompanying political reform has only reduced foreign capital inflows and racked the rural poor. A nightmare scenario may be building: a two-tiered Africa where existing political and economic elites reintegrate with the global economy via Western-sponsored “reform,” while increasingly isolated rural populations are integrated internationally as perpetual recipients of humanitarian aid.
Declining American Interest
The United States has been retreating from Job’s continent since the implosion of the Soviet Union set America free to pursue its own interests in Africa—and it found it did not have any.
In the last six months the State Department’s bureau of African Affairs has lost 70 posts, a nine-percent cut. Consulates in Kenya, Cameroon and Nigeria are to be closed, and perhaps also the U.S. embassy in the Comoros Islands—bodies and budgets are needed in eastern Europe and the Commonwealth of Independent States. Over the last three years the Africa desk for the U.S. Agency for International Development has lost 30 to 40 staffers out of 130 for the same reason. USAID has already phased out missions in five countries, and this fiscal year it will phase out three more. The National Security Council’s bureau of African affairs has gone through six directors in the last four years.
With the end of the Cold War, the U.S. strategic interest in Africa is minimal. But now the old pretext for intervention—the global containment of communism—may be replaced with a new one—global humanitarianism. Somalia is a case in point, and it fits the pattern of U.S. policy toward the continent even during the Cold War: neglect, benign or otherwise, or hyperintervention.
But Operation Restore Hope, aimed to feed starving Somalis, is likely to have greater impact in the global policy arena than on U.S. policy in Africa. If it sets any U.S. policy precedent, it may only be one of forcing unfortunate choices on Washington. Alongside growing pressures in other African countries afflicted by the suffering that comes from internal political upheaval—like that in Sudan, Liberia, Angola or Zaire—policymakers will have to decide which countries to help, why and with what funds. Emergency aid on a grander scale may only soak up the little money earmarked for encouraging the growth of the pluralistic and free market institutions that should be helping Africans preempt future Somalias.
“Foreign policy is resource driven,” as some at the State Department like to say. And over the past two years, the word handed down in Washington has been simple: don’t ask anything for Africa that costs money. The irony—and the danger—of Somalia quickly becomes obvious: Operation Restore Hope is costing money—a lot of money—into the billions of dollars. Even before the marines landed State Department officials admitted that money earmarked for Somalia was already “nicking” continent-wide development funds.
It is not likely that anything will prevent Africa from continuing its slide down Washington’s foreign policy agenda, notwithstanding all the attention given U.S. intervention in Somalia or even intervention in future cases that may call for massive and immediate humanitarian assistance. Africa is simply not commanding the kind of attention in the new world order to keep it from dissolving into new world disorder.
Africa’s Litany of Misery
“Global economy” is the foreign policy king, and there has been no economic rationale for dealing with sub-Saharan Africa, especially since the continent began its freefall in the 1980s.
Africa was never a magnet for U.S. exports or investment. But U.S. economic sanctions against South Africa, the collapse of oil prices and the “lost decade” that ravaged much of the continent in the 1980s forced economic ties to decline even further. In 1983, for example, Africa received 2.2 percent of total U.S. exports, and it sent 4.1 percent of total U.S. imports. Only five years later, however, American exports to Africa were a mere 1.2 percent, and U.S. imports were halved. The continent’s already meagre seven percent share of the world’s non-oil primary products fell to a paltry four percent in the period between 1970 and 1985.
Direct U.S. investment in sub-Saharan Africa—0.46 percent of the U.S. total abroad in 1990—has also fallen as the rate of return on investment in the continent slides. Africa’s generally deteriorating infrastructure and communications links, poorly skilled workers and dearth of credit and foreign exchange have devastated the rate of return on foreign investment, forcing it down from 30.7 percent in the 1960s to just 2.5 percent in the 1980s. The addition of political instability may now drive off what little Western and African capital has not already fled the continent over the last decade.
The litany of statistics that marks the continent’s declining living standard is staggering. Africa’s economic growth rate is 1.5 percent—the world’s lowest—and it claims 32 of the bottom 40 countries on the U.N. annual development index, a measure of comparative economic and political progress. Food production is 20 percent lower now than it was in 1970, when the population was half the size. Only 37 percent of sub-Saharan Africans have clean drinking water; there is one doctor for every 24,500 people; illiteracy rates are as high as 80 percent in some countries. Population, meanwhile, continues to grow at a rate of 3.2 percent annually versus 2.1 percent for Latin America and 1.8 percent for Asia. The average life expectancy is 51 years, 12 fewer than for Indians or Chinese.
AIDS continues to ravage the continent. Of the world’s 12 million HIV-infected adults, nearly 8 million are Africans—and these figures represent only the first wave. The 1992 drought in southern Africa, the worst this century, has decimated livestock herds in nine countries and sent millions wandering in search of food. Half the world’s refugees are African, most of them fleeing drought or civil war or both.
Many Political Transitions Bog Down
U.S. interest and international capital were not all that retreated from Africa this year. Movement toward democracy itself was rolled back in many African states. Incipient instability, outright civil war and the maneuvering of long-entrenched political and military interests overtook much of the momentum toward political change that was sweeping across the continent only two years ago. Three-fourths of sub-Saharan Africa’s 47 countries remain in some sort of political transition. For many states, however, free choice has been deferred. And for some, the delay could well be indefinite.
In 1992 Togo’s President General Gnassingbe Eyadema finally managed to stop cold any move toward multiparty politics. He accused the transition government of favoring the south over the north, thus fomenting civil war and forcing a restoration of his full presidential powers, which had been substantially pared down by a 1991 political conference. None in Togo believe that he is now going to use those powers to run an honest election.
After losing Angola’s democratic election in September, former UNITA guerrilla leader Jonas Savimbi took up arms again at year’s end, refusing to accept his defeat at U.N.-monitored polls. President Paul Biya was reelected in Cameroon, but international observers say the vote was rigged. Kenya’s long-reigning Daniel arap Moi finally went kicking and screaming to the polls in late December, accused along the way of fomenting rural tribal violence and raping many state-owned assets to pay for votes. With his opposition split into three parts, Moi won reelection with only 36.7 percent of the vote, and he will have to contend with strong opposition in the newly elected parliament.
Nigeria’s “new breed” politicians—up to old tricks like vote-rigging and vote-buying—forced President Ibrahim Babangida to cancel the presidential primary results, putting off the transition from military to civilian rule until at least August 1993. Elsewhere, the military also threatened to intervene to restore order amid troubled transitions in Zaire, Niger and the Congo. Liberia restarted its three-year-old civil war; Ethiopia’s ethnically based democratic experiment began to unravel with regional elections marred by violence; and Sudan’s fundamentalist Islamic government has reportedly decided to resort to genocide to solve problems with its animist-Christian south.
There were but a few bright spots. Mali completed its transition to civilian rule with a much-praised multiparty election, and Mozambique finally brokered an end to its 16-year civil war. In November, one year after a successful democratic presidential election, Zambia held local government elections as scheduled. But in a stark example of the disaffection of Africa’s rural population, less than 20 percent of Zambia’s three million registered voters even bothered to show at the polls.
Politics of Economic Disintegration
The jury is still out on whether a good economy comes before a good democracy or vice versa. But Africa demonstrates the difficulties of trying to achieve both together. Political reform has destabilized governments, and stable government is an absolute necessity for enacting economic reform and attracting foreign capital. France made it clear this year in several West African countries that democracy is relative and that Paris would not promote chaos over stability. The British seemed to prefer stability as well. U.S. Ambassador Smith Hempstone’s relentless three-year drive for multiparty democracy in Kenya had British diplomats irate over its “naivete” and fearful that the election-driven violence would jeopardize millions of pound sterling invested in coffee and tea estates. Washington believes that African economies, hobbled by corruption, can only work if subjected to democratic checks and balances.
Over the last three years the United States has given much lip service and some $800 million a year to African countries undertaking democratic and free market reforms, but most of the real assistance has been left to multilateral organizations. The biggest player by far is the World Bank. It puts in 20 percent of all multilateral funding, writes 80 percent of the new rules—called “conditionalities”—and controls nearly all data coming out of Africa.
Thirty-three countries have adopted what has long been perhaps the West’s most controversial policy in Africa: the economic reform packages of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. Friends of these “structural adjustment programs” deem them “necessary medicine,” “a way out of marginalization” or “good discipline.” But critics are far less sanguine, alternately referring to the often draconian mix of currency devaluation, price-subsidy elimination and fiscal austerity as “enslavement by the north of the south” or “an over-draft for bankrupt economies.”
The structural adjustment programs are now more than a decade old, which is unfortunate, since they were supposed to have died victorious by age six. Their record remains mixed. What they have achieved is breaking the protective membrane that the kleptocratic oligarchy grew around itself in so many African countries. What they have not achieved is any meaningful growth in private investment.
Lack of infrastructure has long been a problem that discouraged capital investment in Africa. And even stable African governments continue to be a problem as well, often changing the economic rules of the game to suit their whim. Yet the most devastating condition spooking direct foreign investment, as well as repatriation of Africa’s own flight capital, is the continent’s accelerating instability—fueled by the social hardships exacerbated by the structural adjustment programs and mounting tensions surrounding political transitions. These ever-broader gyrations of Africa’s already wobbly political structures have destroyed what little remains of a viable business climate on the continent.
The result is a sharply declining GDP per capita across sub-Saharan Africa, as economic production is unable to keep ahead of population growth. Moreover, by 1991 sub-Saharan external debt had risen to $178 billion, while the ability to pay that debt continues to decline. Returns from exports—the vast majority being primary commodities—dropped by $50 billion, despite average 2.5 percent yearly increases in export volume. Since the World Bank has been busy improving agricultural infrastructure for export crops all over the southern part of the globe, it must get some credit for plummeting commodity prices. Economists are now urging the bank to reduce aid given to rehabilitating commodities and extracting minerals in favor of funding better mixed economies.
Bank officials have admitted for years that reform is moving more slowly in Africa than anyone expected and, frankly, they are growing tired of apologizing for it. “We’re a bank. Aid is a game for losers,” one exasperated bank staffer explained. “You need private investment and a net repatriation of flight capital. We’ve seen some increased investment and a net repatriation of $300 million. The sails are tightened but there’s no wind. There’s a global recession.”
Studies of Frustrated Reform
Zambia and Ghana are two striking examples of the kinds of contradiction and hardship that have accompanied African efforts at economic and political reform.
Zambian President Frederick Chiluba, voted into office at the end of 1991 in a model multipary election, spent 1992 trying to run a democratic government according to the dictates of structural adjustment—with an incredibly devalued local currency and scarce foreign exchange. In his first nine months in office the country was rocked by a record 56 strikes by workers demanding that his government resign because of increasing privation. Since November 1991 the price of Zambia’s food staple maize meal has risen 1,000 percent; wages are down an average 30 percent. Yet Chiluba’s government plans to press ahead with cutting 50,000 civil servant jobs, much to the chagrin of the labor union movement Chiluba used to lead. Crime is now rampant on the streets of the capital city, Lusaka.
Ghana, for years the World Bank’s star pupil, realized real GDP growth averaging 3.8 percent annually from 1983-90—a record blunted by Ghana’s population growth of 3.1 percent a year. The country’s minerals and forestry sectors have grown, as timber exports rose to $99 million by 1988, from $16 million in 1983. Yet Ghana’s tropical forest is now just 25 percent of its original size. Since 75 percent of Ghanaians depend on wild game to supplement their diet, its stark depletion has led to sharp increases in malnutrition and disease.
Ghana failed to promote food security through appropriate measures to raise productivity, yield and storage. As a result the nation’s food self-sufficiency declined steadily through the 1980s. The performance of food and livestock sectors—on which many Ghanaians still depend—has been negative on balance. And land holdings and agricultural export earnings have become concentrated in fewer hands, especially in the cocoa sector. About 46 percent of all agricultural expenditures in the late 1980s were invested in cocoa, nearly doubling its export. The economic strategy was so successful, in fact, that the value of cocoa itself has been falling since 1987, mainly due to a glutted world market.
Ghana’s manufacturing sector, meanwhile, was left to decline, and as Ghana increasingly becomes a “buying and selling” economy the only real growth is in the service sector. Its transportation, wholesale and retail sub-sectors now account for 42.5 percent of GDP, which generates little in the way of foreign exchange. After nine years of structural adjustment, Ghana’s total external debt has nearly quadrupled to almost $4.2 billion.
There exists much dissent within the World Bank on the strategies of structural adjustment. Africa has become a research lab for economic reform experimentation—much of it dictated by the terms of international lenders—and the continent is increasingly worse for the wear.
One bank staffer explained the capricious history of bank strategy in Africa this way: “In the sixties the word was infrastructure; in the seventies the word was poverty alleviation, but we used the infrastructure approach anyway … In the eighties we moved to adjustment. World Bank people are macroeconomists. They know about trade, exchange rates, export and import. They are uncomfortable with technological development and manufacturing. So the operation was a success but the patient died.”
Contradictions of Structural Adjustment
The root problem with the bank has been a powerful combination of arrogance, ignorance and absolute, unchecked power. If a country loses the bank’s imprimatur, it loses aid from most Western donors too. African economists are rarely invited to help design bank policies. Only international environmental groups have made serious inroads toward a more consultative stance on the bank’s part.
There also exist some neon bright contradictions between what the bank says it wants and how it goes about getting it. If the goal in Africa is to create viable economic partners able to perform in the global economy, then it should be noted that structural adjustment is weakening an African middle class already thinned by AIDS, political exile and forced emigration. The reason is simple privation: after currency devaluation a Harvard-educated professor working at Tanzania’s University of Dares Salaam earns $100 a month. There has always been a brain-drain in Africa, but it has recently increased fourfold. While one condition of structural adjustment is curtailed government corruption, the programs have increased corruption throughout societies forced to connive by all manner of means—legal and illegal—simply to make ends meet.
The bank wants a healthy private sector, but its charter does not allow it to work there directly. “The only way we can get at the private sector,” says one bank official, “is to get government out of it.” Under pressure to stop the hemorrhaging of poorly run national holdings, governments are told to divest. But privatization in Africa may best be described as the sale of companies no one owns, no one knows the value of and no one has any money to buy. It has focused more on medium-sized product and service enterprises and less on the large-scale public utilities and heavy manufacturers normally associated with the same process elsewhere. It is, in fact, more liquidation than privatization—not the offering of companies on stock exchanges (of which there are few in Africa) but fire-sales to those few—many of them foreigners—still willing to buy.
The wholesale forfeit of African national enterprises has quickly become an issue. When President Yoweri Museveni announced he was privatizing Uganda’s entire economy, he was accused by irate Ugandan businessmen of selling domestic assets at undervalued prices to foreigners. Coming at a time when structural adjustment has forced layoffs of 10,000 civil service and private sector workers, many Ugandans believe privatization will only exacerbate unemployment further. Museveni has dismissed all complaints thus far as carping from “unpatriotic and backward bureaucrats.” Zambian President Chiluba is privatizing much less, but he has also been attacked by disgruntled businessmen claiming that too much has already been sold to white South Africans fleeing an uncertain political future at home.
NGOs: Kindness That Cripples?
Along with privatization, the World Bank’s link to the private sector is nongovernmental organizations—voluntary, nonprofit groups like CARE, International Committee of the Red Cross, Catholic Relief Services, World Vision, Medecins Sans Frontieres and World Wildlife Fund. Since 1989 the number of international NGOs registered with the United Nations has jumped from 48 to more than 1,300. There is growing recognition worldwide, according to the World Bank, that the public sector is limited in what it can do to promote economic development and to solve social and environmental problems, and that “as societies come to terms with these limitations, many look to citizens’ organizations and nonprofit groups to assume a greater role.”
The bank deals mainly with its member governments and seldom funds NGOs directly. But it encourages governments to work with NGOs on development projects because they can reach the poor in the most remote rural areas more effectively than public sector agencies. From 1973-88 NGOs were involved in about 15 bank projects a year. By 1990 that number jumped to 89, or 40 percent of all new projects approved. There are strains, however, between the NGOs and the World Bank and strains within the NGO community itself.
USAID welcomes the NGOs’ warm bodies and funnels 20 percent of government money through them. The NGOs, meanwhile, are well aware that budgets 60 percent fat with government funds compromise their independence and effectiveness, all too often making them pawns in everybody else’s policy games. But without the infusion of public money, they say, they could not survive at all. The World Bank uses the NGO health care and education projects to put a human face on structural adjustment, but alternately accuses them of “destroying as much as they build” by subsidizing showcase operations, not sustainable development.
As the number of Western-based nongovernmental organizations working in Africa has grown dramatically since the West African famine of the mid-1970s, so too has the criticism that they are competing with and often stifling the African civil societies they are purportedly supporting. Suspicion is too often the prevailing attitude of indigenous NGOs—church groups and women’s associations, for instance—toward their Western counterparts. NGOs with budgets and staffs bloated from running emergency relief operations are increasingly loath to trim down for finer-tuned development projects. Bureaucratic, conservative administrators at headquarters often block the projects of more progressive field workers and too often kowtow to African government demands for inappropriate projects in order to remain in the country. NGOs do not always bother with what is appropriate, operating with no real connection to each other or to the country’s economic needs.
NGO executives say they would like to be able to look to U.N. development organizations for direction, capacity, competence and resources, but these are not often forthcoming. The United Nations admits to rife staffing problems due to excessive politicization of appointments. Organizationally U.N. development bodies—FAO, UNICEF, WFP, UNDP, etc.—resemble a series of distinct parallel tubes, each reporting nominally to the Secretary General. That this does not facilitate coordination, much less direction, is clear. What it does facilitate is bad blood and competition between the agencies. The United Nations says it understands this problem and has responded accordingly; an Ad Hoc Working Group on Enhancing International Cooperation for Development is due to report in February 1993 and it is hoped that one suggested enhancement might be “untubing” the various agencies and organizing them according to region.
Outside the area of conflict resolution, the United Nations’ most useful role may be in coordinating disaster relief. Indeed the United Nations has recently created the permanent post of Under Secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs. But a new post does not a policy make. U.N. workers fled the fighting in Somalia when President Siad Barre fell in January 1991. They stayed away for most of two years, while the NGOs fell farther and farther behind trying to deliver food and medical services to a population increasingly at risk.
By the time the United Nations was finally shamed into doing something in Somalia it found no one to do it with: the government had disintegrated. U.N. dealings with warlords, so that Somali sovereignty would not be breached, caused months more delay. It is telling that the United Nations brought in the head of an NGO, Philip Johnston of CARE, to coordinate its 100-day plan to deliver relief to Somalia. By the end of the year a nearly paralyzed United Nations had little choice but to endorse an invasion by U.S. Marines.
Combating Incipient Recolonization
Frustration has led more than one policymaker to quip that what really needs to be done is to fence off Africa, regionalize its various economies and oversee its government structures for the next fifty years. The situation is so dire that one American diplomat said, “In five years Africans will be begging to be recolonized.” But Africans of course feel that they already are—recolonized under the yoke of structural adjustment programs imposed without consultation and under the guise of democracy that is “sold” to every country as if it were Coca Cola, the same formula to be drunk by all.
What ails Africa is that its governments, reformed and unreformed alike, remain bankrupt facades, relating more to donor largesse than to the poverty of their own populations. Economic and political reform will be pursued—in fact it would be nearly impossible to stop it. But what the continent needs to survive in the real world—a world without unending foreign aid—is a money-making private sector buttressing a more efficient public sector. And what the private sector needs is security, infrastructure and skilled manpower—as quickly as possible.
There is already enough aid money for Africa. It needs foremost to be refocused and redistributed. The bureaucracies that administer Africa, beginning with African governments themselves, need to decentralize. In what may prove to be an era of permanently reduced budgets, headquarters staffs at USAID, the various U.N. and NGO development agencies as well as the World Bank should be cut dramatically in favor of funding, not more well-meaning volunteers or expatriate managers, but a corps of technicians to work with Africa’s community institutions and rapidly emerging civil societies perfectly capable of defining their own needs. An interesting step in this direction is a recently funded UNDP project called the Voluntary Technical Assistance Program. Expatriate Sierra Leone professionals will be sponsored to serve as consultants and temporary technical support for the country’s various government ministries, state agencies, universities and social services. UNDP has funded similar programs in China, India, Pakistan and Poland.
African governments need resources to revitalize their own political and economic regional organizations like the Organization for African Unity, the West African Economic Community, the East African Preferential Trade Area and the Southern African Development Community. Larger markets and greater commerce among African entrepreneurs will not only afford populations greater prosperity but also help foster internal and interstate peace.
Economists increasingly view Africa’s external debt as something that can be—and has been—managed with some cancellation and rescheduling. Only 12 African countries have serviced their debt continuously since 1980. A more common example is the case of Ethiopia, which recently had half its debt forgiven and got a six-year grace period on the rest.
USAID uses progress in economic and political reform to decide where aid money will go. But care must be taken. Cutting off governments is one thing; cutting off entire populations is another. No African country survives alone: if economic or political turmoil rips apart Angola, Zambia suffers too. USAID has proven it knows how to support those parts of Africa’s population that can make a difference; South Africa already gets the largest chunk of sub-Saharan African aid—some $80 million distributed among nongovernmental agencies that provide social services, housing and education.
Africa’s Own Engines for Growth
A politically stable and economically prosperous post-apartheid South Africa is unquestionably Africa’s most promising long-term hope for renewal. South Africa’s $80 billion GDP is three times that of its ten immediate neighbors combined. The region’s economic powerhouse produces 80 percent of southern Africa’s exports and takes in half its imports. South Africa has already received requests from several African countries for engineering teams to revitalize moribund industries like mining. And it trades with every other African state—yet those exports account for a mere seven percent of the South African total.
The West has finally managed to convince South Africa that it is indeed part of Africa. North Africa does not need convincing, and another helpful step toward improving U.S. policy would be to place that region back in the State Department’s African affairs bureau where it belongs. Egyptian officials, for example, have already expressed interest in working with South Africa to develop the continent’s mid-section. And the South African government itself has designed a kind of “Marshall Plan” that bases the continent’s recovery on a nexus of four economic engines: South Africa, Nigeria, Egypt and Kenya.
The political ice separating Pretoria and other sub-Saharan capitals is broken, as evidenced by unprecedented levels of cooperation in combating southern Africa’s drought and by F.W. de Klerk’s first-ever visit to Nigeria by a South African president. Moreover, the cessation of conflicts in Namibia and Mozambique may now help alleviate certain tensions that arose from Pretoria’s hegemonic meddling. The intimidating size of South Africa’s economy may nonetheless continue to make neighbors wary of closer cooperation. But in the end economic revival and, for many governments, political survival will greatly depend on expanded regional trade, investment and commerce.
Developing Africa’s own economic links will require a sound South African economy. But the arduous task of dismantling white-minority rule continues to hold economic growth at bay—1992 marked South Africa’s third straight year of recession. South Africans themselves well understand the stakes. President de Klerk gambled on a whites-only referendum in 1992 for his political reforms, and the payoff came in record numbers casting overwhelming support for black power-sharing. De Klerk has proposed that all-inclusive legislative elections be held by April 1994, but warned that continuing violence might make that timetable “irrelevant.”
Fighting in parts of the country among rival black political factions now verges on civil war. Forces within Pretoria’s own state security apparatus that conspired to sabotage the political transition and foment violence further set back opposition relations with the white government. And civilian massacres stalled negotiations over constitutional reform. Accelerating instability, escalating violence and continuing economic stagnation would not only harm South Africa but also dash hopes that it might lead the continent out of economic malaise. The sooner Pretoria can free itself from the rigors of its internal preoccupations, the better the prospects for all.
What Remains for U.S. Policy
It has been noted that the United States would perhaps do more, and better, in Africa if there were greater constituency pressures prodding Washington policymakers. African Americans have begun giving more attention and money to the continent of their roots, but many will remain preoccupied by struggles for dignity and equality at home. Constituency pressures are not something Africa can depend on. U.S. troops will withdraw from Somalia with the end of Operation Restore Hope, and U.S. policy will most likely pick up a retreat all its own.
Declining American interests will continue to sap budgets and, with less money to go around, policymakers will face increasingly stark choices. Greater direct support for Africa’s own emerging civil institutions, from rural community groups to urban civic organizations—even at the risk of circumventing and alienating excessively bureaucratic and corrupt regimes—might by necessity effect the most good for the most Africans and help alleviate budgetary strains. Africa does not need more aid money. Africans need more respect.
Avoiding aggravating the problems that Africans will be left to face for themselves is the least that policy can do. Western-driven political and economic conditionalities should be modified. The World Bank, for instance, has already reconsidered privatization as a viable option for many state-run firms in Africa. There is a new concentration on making them more responsive to market forces while keeping them in the public sector. Pressure for multiparty democracy should be replaced by support for good governance and accountability in whatever form of government Africans choose. As the burdens of addressing Africa’s problems are rightfully shifted to Africans themselves, absolute neglect or haphazard retreat will only force other impulsive, if well-intended, interventions, which will prove more costly and divert scarce resources, leaving the continent worse off in the long term. Somalia would best serve as a marker to a set course for a more prudent policy that seeks to avert future tragedy rather than as an example of grand missions that cannot be sustained.