Africa: `Spend More Money and Put More People in Africa'

12 July 2004
interview

Washington, DC — Paying more attention to Africa will help both Africa and the United States, according to Robert Rotberg, a foreign policy scholar who has written extensively about the continent. Professor Rotberg served as a member of the Advisory Panel on Africa that last week issued seven recommendations to strengthen U.S.-Africa ties.

The report, entitled "Rising Stakes in Africa," was commissioned by Congress and produced by a high-level panel of current and former government officials and representatives from academia, business and private foundations appointed by Secretary of State Colin Powell. The seven proposals cover U.S. energy policy in Africa, capital market reform, post-conflict Sudan, environmental conservation, U.S. counter-terrorism efforts, crisis diplomacy and peace operations and HIV/Aids.

Rotberg, a former MIT professor of political science and history, is currently president of the World Peace Foundation and director of WPF's Program on Intrastate Conflict and Conflict Resolution at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government. Rotberg spoke with AllAfrica's Eunice Ajambo.

What impact can this report have on U.S. Africa relations and what benefit will that have for Africa?

If U.S policymakers pick up on the report, they will become much more assertive in forwarding America's Africa policy. The report has a solid discussion of all the issues, particularly good on Aids, conservation and crisis diplomacy. The Sudanese report is very important, but it's somewhat overtaken by events.

Notice that the most important of the recommendations is that the U.S. spend much more money, put many more people in Africa and beef up diplomatic and intelligence gathering. Africa ought to benefit from increased U.S. attention. With increased U.S. attention to the problems, there will be more assistance to Africa, there will be more understanding of Africa, and there will be more appropriate efforts by the U.S., and that is all to the good.

What would you say should be the U.S. government's first priority?

I do not think there is one single first. They have to do five or six things at once. The hardest is getting the manpower to beef up our postings and intelligence in Africa. That will take time. Paying more attention to Muslims in Africa, which is part of the report, or forming a crisis diplomacy task force, all those things can be done simultaneously.

When do you think the implementation process will begin?

It should literally begin immediately. One step was Secretary Powell going to Africa, going to Darfur, and telling the Sudanese government that it had to shape itself up, and that it could not simply go on with business as usual. That's a very important step. If the U.S. government can also put pressure on [South African President Thabo] Mbeki and the African Union over Zimbabwe, that would be an important second step. I cannot give you specifics, but I am assuming that as long as Powell is secretary of State, everything in the report is possible.

In one of your books, "When States Fail: Causes and Consequences," you cite a number of African countries, some of which are mentioned in the report. How prepared do you think Africa is for the kind of policies and reforms advocated the proposals?

I do not think African countries are prepared at all. That's the problem. The African Union has just failed to endorse a report by its own human rights committee about Zimbabwe. The short answer is that Africa is not at all ready [but] even if they can't get their own act together, which is highly likely, the U.S. can still go ahead and implement a lot of the proposals and hope that Africa follows on and improves the way in which it does business.

The U.S. can only assist Africa in doing what Africa should be doing, that's one thing. The second thing is that there is a lot in this report that the U.S. needs to do simply to understand Africa. We are asking for improvement in the way the U.S. deals with [Africa], as well as the way in which the U.S. can help Africa.

During the conference last week when the report was released, you emphasized the importance of good governance.

In my view, governance is the most important deficiency in Africa and the one that can be assisted best by the U.S. If the Millennium Challenge Account sticks to the criteria, then it will encourage Africans to improve their governance, and we will reward [them] by giving them more aid if their governance improves.

Leadership is mentioned in almost every policy recommendation, including U.S. leadership and other multilateral leadership. Where do you see African leadership coming into play in these recommendations?

We hope that Africa is reforming its own leadership. I am a part of the Africa Leadership Council, which has a proposal to improve leadership. If you want to read something about that, this month's issue of Foreign Affairs has an article by me on just that question.

The report also mentions that the U.S. government needs to press African governments to "become transparent, spend their revenues for the betterment of their people, and respect human rights and the rule of law." How should the U.S. government proceed on this issue?

We should only give aid to governments that are transparent. The test is whether the African governments are performing for their own people.

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