Johnnie Carson is Obama’s Pick for Asst. Secretary for African Affairs

“President Obama’s nomination of Johnnie Carson to be Assistant Secretary for African Affairs is a strong choice. Carson is an accomplished career foreign service officer with an excellent track record on African issues spanning many decades and a range of positions. Carson has a deep understanding of our diplomatic capacities and the importance of regular interagency collaboration. I look forward to considering his nomination and hearing how he and the administration plan to address the many challenges we face on the African continent.”

Says U.S. Senator Russ Feingold, who is the Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommitee on African Affairs. Ambassador Carson worked in the Foreign Service for 37 years (serving in Kenya, Zimbabwe, Uganda, Portugal, Botswana, Mozambique and Nigeria) before joining the National Intelligence Council, serving as officer for Africa. See his complete bio here.

I understand he has been less than chummy with Museveni, criticising, among other things, his running for a third presidential term. What will Carson mean for Uganda? For Africa?

“Whether there are new ways for Museveni to re-invent himself and his government in the eyes of an Obama administration will now be seen,” says analyst Angelo Izama in a November 2008 article in the Daily Monitor. “President Museveni’s appeal is waning. On the eve of the last election, senior US Africa policy heads, including Johnnie Carson noted that Uganda is a success story gone bad.”

Museveni has allowed the potholes of his regime to grow wider and deeper in recent years, and now he is in for a bumpy ride.

McCain’s Worst Ideas — Gag me

Foreign Policy magazine has recently published what they consider to be each of the presidential nominees’ 10 worst policy ideas. Among them was McCain’s support of the Global Gag Rule (excerpt from the FP article below).

Supporting Abstinence-Only Education and the Global Gag Rule

What he said: Asked on the campaign trail if he thought grants for sex education should include instruction on contraception, McCain turned to an aide for help, saying, “Brian, would you find out what my position is on contraception—I’m sure I’m opposed to government spending on it, I’m sure I support the president’s policies on it.” The reporter asked, “Do you think contraceptives help stop the spread of HIV?” After a long pause, McCain replied, “You’ve stumped me.” Town hall meeting, Iowa, Mar. 16, 2007

Why it’s a bad idea: A landmark, 10-year study sponsored by Congress found in 2007 that students in sexual-abstinence programs “were just as likely to have sex as those who did not, reported having similar numbers of sexual partners, and first had sex at about the same age,” the Chicago Tribune reported. Abstinence-only education is one of the core principles guiding the so-called global gag rule, an executive order passed by President George W. Bush in 2001 that prohibits giving foreign aid to NGOs that offer any kind of counseling on abortion as family planning. McCain voted against repealing the measure in 2005. Critics of the gag rule point to reports showing a shortage of contraceptives, clinic closings, loss of funds for HIV/AIDS education, and a rise in unsafe abortions since it was instituted.

Now, I have many issues with foreign aid and the global aid industry, including bilateral donors like the US, and am highly skeptical of the effectiveness of the President’s Emergency Fund for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR). HIV/AIDS has become an obsession of the aid community and has hijacked or otherwise derailed domestic health priorities. While the global gag rule should not be the biggest of our concerns regarding foreign aid, it just goes to show you the hubris of aid policy makers. Abortion is illegal in Uganda — but whether or not NGOs in the country offer any kind of counseling on abortion should be the concern of Ugandans, not Americans who have themselves legalized the practice.

I am not at all confident Barack Obama will help make critical changes to the aid industry — there has been little evidence that he is thinking differently about foreign aid than his party typically has. But I am certain that a President McCain would make the same self-righteous and arrogant blunders as his predecessor. Which experience shows will do little to help those on the receiving end of aid, and which will burn a lot of taxpayers’ dollars on the way.

Leeza in Libya

I wonder how uncomfortable Condoleeza Rice felt during her recent visit with Col. Muammar Gaddafi or what either gained from the interaction. Well, we know she gained a locket engraved with his picture, according to the New York Times. And we know Gaddafi gained an intimate one-on-one (plus translators and note-takers) with the woman whom he strangely referred to as “my darling black African woman,” and of whom he said, “Leeza, Leeza, Leeza…I love her very much,” according to another Times article.

Why shower the woman with such affection? Perhaps in hopes that it would continue the mending of the US-Libya relationship? I get the sneaking suspicion however, that he doesn’t take her fully seriously as a professional. In the public spotlight Ms. Rice must of course graciously receive Gaddafi’s rather narcissistic gifts. But all the while she must be thinking, who does this guy think he is? I know I would.

I have seen his motorcade and entourage take on Kampala, posters of his face plastered all over the city. He came and belittled the Bible and mocked Christianity, in a country where the majority of people are Christian. The guy has one of the biggest egos around, and let me tell you, that is saying something. It would have been the cause of a clash with Museveni….but of course there is nothing that a little (ok, a lot) of money and investments can’t smooth over. Oh yeah, and he also suggested to Museveni that he should never leave power…

Bush in Africa

Uganda’s absence on President Bush’s itinerary last month came as a shock to few. While the U.S. president’s first trip to Africa in 2003 highlighted his commitment to fighting HIV/AIDS, primarily through the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), his most recent trip appeared to serve to highlight a wider array of his programs, particularly the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC). The MCC, established in 2004, provides grants to countries with the goal of reducing poverty by promoting good governance and economic growth. Uganda was widely heralded a “success story” in the fight against HIV/AIDS, and an example of the success of PEPFAR, but it has been less of an example for the MCC.
The MCC, for which Bush has requested $2.22 billion in the 2009 budget, is operating in several African countries, including four of the five countries Bush visited on his most recent visit. Benin, Tanzania, and Ghana already hold MCC compacts, for which Uganda has not yet qualified. Uganda signed an agreement for a two-year, $10.4 million MCC Threshold Program last March, focusing primarily on decreasing public-sector corruption. The MCC also issues a scorecard that is a major factor in determining if a country is awarded a compact. Uganda received a failing score on two out of the 17 measures – Political Rights and Girl’s Primary Education Completion. Uganda will likely become eligible for a much larger grant through an MCC compact only if the threshold program is successful and if improvement is seen in the two failing indicators. Liberia is the one country on Bush’s itinerary that does not hold either an MCC threshold or compact agreement. It is, however, also the only African nation that has offered to host Africa Command (AFRICOM), a body headed by the US Department of Defense and currently based in Germany.
While in Tanzania, Presidents Bush and Kikwete signed a compact for the largest project in the history of the MCC, nearly $700 million over five years to improve rural roads and the Mafia Island airport. Another major deal was made in Rwanda, where President Bush and President Kagame signed the United States-Rwanda Bilateral Investment Treaty (BIT), which provides legal protections for American and Rwandan investors. It has been nearly ten years since the U.S. last signed such a treaty with an African nation. According to President Bush, “It reflects our shared commitment to systems of fair and open investment. It will bring more capital to Rwanda’s dynamic and growing economy.”
The trip was also an opportunity to announce the addition of five investment funds, mobilizing $875 in capital by the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC). Other involvement on the continent by the Bush administration includes securing the international agreement on the Multilateral Debt Initiative, which has reduced $34 billion in debt to African countries; extending of the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA); the Africa Education Initiative (AEI), which provides $600 million to increase access to basic education; and the President’s Malaria Initiative (PMI), which provides $1.2 billion to reduce malaria deaths by 50 percent in 15 African countries.
Though Uganda is no longer the poster-child for U.S. development projects (or good governance) in Africa, the shifting nature of U.S. interests on the continent may mean that the country remains a significant player, corruption scandals and poor governance ratings notwithstanding. In public the U.S.’s strategic interest in Africa often takes a backseat to self-congratulation on American contributions to humanitarian causes. This was perhaps most obvious in Bush’s Washington send-off speech, “I’m going to witness the generosity of the American people firsthand,” he said, “It will give me a chance to remind our fellow citizens about what a compassionate people we are.” Although this is undoubtedly the pat-on-the-back some Americans want to hear, cutting through the compassionate conservative pontificating also reveals the increasing emphasis of US involvement in Africa for the purposes of American national security.
“We’re treating African leaders as equal partners,” Bush stated upon his return to the US. “We expect them to fight corruption, and invest in the health and education of their people, and pursue market-based economic policies. This mission serves our security interests – people who live in chaos and despair are more likely to fall under the sway of violent ideologies.” The transition away from primarily humanitarian-based assistance may be likely in the coming years. A 2007 independent task force report, sponsored by the Council on Foreign Relations, stated that under a “business-as-usual” approach to US-African relations, “The ability of Africa to resist terrorist infiltration and extremist appeals will be weak; stability and corruption in the energy-producing states will be a cause for public concern, as well as a threat to predictable production; and U.S. influence will decline.”
If the U.S. does indeed move away from primarily humanitarian involvement and adopt a new approach to U.S.-African affairs how will Uganda be affected? If the government of Uganda continues to be viewed internationally as increasingly undemocratic, it is unlikely the incoming U.S. President will be eager to make high profile visits to the country, but more tacit relationships may remain. However, if the U.S. can find a more reliable regional partner, Washington-Kampala relations may be more seriously compromised in the days to come.

Melina Platas
The Independent

%d bloggers like this: