[Dear Friend, When I took time off from maternity leave erlier this summer to attend the White House conference on Africa, ...]

by Imani Countess, Washington Office on Africa
Washington, DC, United States
August 1994
Publisher: Washington Office on Africa
5 pages
Type: Mailing
Coverage outside Africa: United States
Language: English
The mailing says when I took time off from maternity leave earlier this summer to attend the White House conference on Africa, with more than 150 other participants from diverse perspectives and backgrounds, I hesitated because there were many problems with organization of the conference; some close allies of ours, including Randall Robinson of TransAfrica and some members of the Congressional Black Caucus, decided not to attend, in protest against administration policy on Haiti and persistent indifference and disarray on African issues. The mailing says you know from previous communications that we share these concerns; but, along with NAACP head Ben Chavis, who is also chair of the Washington Office on Africa board, I finally decided to attend because I felt we had to take this opportunity to make our voices heard; there were many others in the meeting who were also strongly critical of the administration's failures. The mailing says the results were mixed; on the one hand, President Clinton, Vice-President Gore, National Security Advisor Lake and other officials expressed what seemed to be genuine concern and interest’ speeches from Organization of Africa Unity Secretary-General Salim Salim and Kenyan activist Wangari wa Maathai were substantive and well-received. The mailing says but many officials seemed to say the U.S. was already doing all it could in Africa. The mailing says despite challenges from participants to presentations lauding structural adjustment as the solution for Africa, and mentions of numerous crises and concerns, the most substantive changes contemplated seem to be organizational rather than substantive: perhaps a role for Vice-President Gore in coordinating Africa policy, perhaps a trip by President Clinton to some African success stories such as South Africa, Malawi and Ghana. The mailing says just before the conference, Human Rights Watch/Africa issued a stinging condemnation of U.S. inaction on human rights issues in Rwanda and elsewhere in Africa; the chairs of the congressional Africa subcommittees, Senator Paul Simon and Representative Harry Johnston, presented well-informed policy alternatives on several specific points. The mailing says to give only a few examples, U.S. policy in Zaire seems to be reinforcing Mobutu's position by recognizing the new prime minister Kengo wa Dondo, a technocrat chosen in a parliamentary session boycotted by the major opposition groups; earmarked support for regional development in Southern Africa is in question, while new money for South Africa is projected to come primarily from funds diverted from other African countries; Ghana's structural adjustment record was repeatedly presented as an unambiguous success, despite the many documented critiques from African economists and grassroots groups. The mailing says the most glaring public default is still on Rwanda; instead of clearly identifying the issues and supporting prompt international action, the U.S. equivocated for months over the term "genocide," delayed and hampered an effective UN presence with the excuse of 'doing it right,' and endorsed the highly questionable French decision to intervene directly on the grounds that the African troops in the UN-mandated force could not be equipped and deployed in time. The mailing says the U.S. has supplied very substantial humanitarian relief for refugees, and has now sent troops to help rebuild the infrastructure in Kigali. The mailing says and yet there is still little sign of high-level urgency in providing the UN forces with the necessary resources, nor in supporting African regional conflict resolution efforts and heading off possibly explosive consequences for neighboring countries, particularly Burundi; AID director Brain Atwood has repeatedly stressed crisis prevention, but catchup crisis response is still the dominant tendency. The mailing says instead of educating the public on the issues, moreover, U.S. officials cited in the press have actively contributed to perpetuating misleading stereotypes; while reliable reports detailed planned genocide initiated for specific political advantage, targeting moderate Hutus as well as Tutsis, some officials continued to present the situation as mindless tribal violence, based on centuries-old conflicts, about which the outside world could do nothing. The mailing says some administration officials do recognize their collective failure to take energetic action on African issues; but they say that this is because there is no political constituency to bolster such action, and therefore no way to offset the short-term political risks of high-profile involvement in crises with little chance of clear-cut successes. The mailing says on Angola, for example, appointment of an envoy and active involvement in the negotiations in Lusaka is presented as adequate evidence of serious U.S. engagement; meanwhile other substantive steps needed to secure an agreement and its implementation--putting pressure on Unita through seriously implementing UN sanctions, firm commitment and advance planning for prompt mobilization of an adequate UN peacekeeping presence--are blatantly absent. In general, to implement the verbal commitment of officials to crisis-prevention, there must be a vigorous public challenge to the structural adjustment orthodoxy coming from the Treasury and Commerce departments, and virtually unquestioned even in other agencies; failing to seriously address less publicized crises such as the deterioration in Zaire and the war in Angola will undermine the prospects for an African solution to the crisis in Rwanda. The mailing says when crises do explode, rhetorical support for African and UN regional peacekeeping solutions must be matched by effective financial and other support; otherwise horrific crisis will follow after horrific crisis, while the outside world remains trapped in the unsavory choice between counter-productive intervention of U.S. or French troops, on the one hand, or international inaction on the other. The mailing says WOA has been an active participant in these debates; in addition to highlighting issues neglected by others, such as Zaire, Angola and Mozambique, we have joined with broader coalitions to speak out on Rwanda, with groups in InterAction and in the Washington Coalition for Human Rights; we are working with Bread for the World, Africare and others in the Southern African Educational Campaign to stress the continued importance of responding to regional initiatives and needs; and we have joined with many other groups in the "50 Years is Enough" campaign to promote rethinking of the IMF/World Bank's promotion of structural adjustment policies. The mailing says we are convinced that making an impact on Africa policy requires that concerned individuals and groups both strengthen their own advocacy efforts and improve our joint capacity for working in coalition on issues we agree on. Relief and development efforts are important; but we think it essential that programs of public education and advocacy must be continued and expanded if they are to dent the inside-the-Beltway complacency that says Africa is hopeless and no one cares anyway; that is why I am asking you to please consider making a financial contribution to the Washington Office on Africa or to our educational affiliate the Africa Policy Information Center. The mailing discusses State Department bureaucracy, building an alternative consensus to the conventional wisdom, the OAU (Organization of African Unity), relief and development efforts, Africa advocacy groups, supporters of a pro-Africa policy, and APIC.
Used by permission of the Washington Office on Africa.
Collection: Aubrey McCutcheon Southern Africa Papers, Michigan State University Libraries, Special Collections