Bush administration policy on Africa / John Prendergast - [Electronic ed.] - Bonn, 2003 - [5] Bl. = 18 KB, Text . - (Kurzberichte aus der internationalen Entwicklungszusammenarbeit : Afrika)
Electronic ed.: Bonn : FES Library, 2003

© Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung


U.S. policy towards Africa remains at the bottom of the list in terms of strategic priorities of the U.S. government. Despite the rhetoric of President Bush on his recent trip to Africa, and that of President Clinton on his visits, the continent does not figure into U.S. geo-strategic calculations.

Humanitarian considerations continue to be the largest factor driving U.S. interest in Africa. The prevention and resolution of war, the amelioration of famine or food crises, and the countering of serious atrocities are the most important U.S. considerations, in general terms and with specific exceptions when the costs are perceived to be too high to respond.


However, the September 11 terrorist attacks have promoted counter-terrorism as the strategic priority for the U.S. government globally, and therefore Africa falls under that framework. In fact, much like the Cold War defined U.S. foreign policy from the 1950s until 1990, the global war on terrorism has become the dominant paradigm for Bush administration foreign policy, and Africa is no exception.

This is slowly changing the nature of Bush administration policy towards Africa. In general terms, overt democratization and human rights objectives appear to have been downgraded, in favor of support to regimes that line up favorable on counter-terrorism objectives and Iraq policy. The similarities between this overarching approach and that which defined policies from Eisenhower to Reagan are striking.

Just as during the Cold War, the Horn of Africa has become the main locus for U.S. strategic policy. In the immediate aftermath of 9/11, U.S. Central Command was combing the region for possibilities for increased counter-terrorism cooperation opportunities. Somalia was of the most immediate concern, and an intelligence net was created (with the support of the governments of Germany and others) to ensure against penetration or infiltration by al-Qaeda elements.

Ethiopia is the strategic center of the U.S. Horn Counter-terrorism policy, and Djibouti is the logistical nerve center. Ethiopia provides intelligence and other cooperation regarding al-Itihad and other groups within the region, while Djibouti plays host to an increasing number of U.S. military and intelligence personnel.

With the Sudan peace process making rapid progress, plans are in the works for an expansion of counter-terrorism cooperation with Khartoum. Kenya and Uganda are also closely wrapped into the overall strategy, as Kenya remains the principal target of al-Qaeda operations in the region.

As a result of this emphasis on counter-terrorism, other objectives in the region have been downgraded. Democracy promotion has not been emphasized strongly, as evidenced by the reduction in aid to Kenya after the victory by President Kibaki, the continuing support for governments in Kampala, Kigali, and Addis Ababa, and the diminution of pressure for presidential elections as part of the Sudan peace deal.

Conflict resolution priorities have also taken a back seat to counter-terrorism objectives. Secretary of State Powell recently told Ethiopia's Foreign Minister that the U.S. would not allow the border issue with Eritrea to overshadow U.S. interests, particularly counter-terrorism. The U.S. has done little to counter the increasing possibility of renewed conflict between those two countries. Similarly, in the aftermath of Rwandan and Ugandan support for the Bush administration's invasion of Iraq, the U.S. invited both governments to the White House, despite their continuing involvement in the Congo. Only in Sudan did conflict resolution priorities remain high, driven by domestic policy considerations.

The Horn is not the only area in which counter-terrorism objectives are making themselves felt. The U.S. European Command, the Pentagon's arm responsible for the rest of sub-Saharan Africa outside of the Horn, is examining ways in which to ramp up cooperation with friendly governments. Of particular concern are the suspected terrorist cells in South Africa, the potential for money laundering and mineral investments in West and Central Africa, and Islamic extremism in northern Nigeria.


For the Bush administration, the promotion of free trade and expansion of markets is the next priority in Africa. Assistant Secretary Walter Kansteiner made this his personal crusade during his tenure, pushing through the bureaucracy a series of creative measures to expand trade and investment opportunities running in both directions.

The administration has put a great deal of energy into promoting an agenda that builds on AGOA and seeks ways to extend the benefits of AGOA as well as looks for new kinds of incentives that go beyond the current framework, such as tax breaks for investing in Africa and other such initiatives. This is a bipartisan agenda that continues from the Clinton administration and is strongly supported in Congress.  The Corporate Council on Africa is very influential in dictating the economic agenda of the Bush administration with regards to Africa. It seeks expanded efforts in promoting economic reform and open markets, as well as incentives to trade and invest more with Africa.  We will see more activity in this regard before the end of next year.

However, despite the consensus forged to promote these measures, the Bush administration continues to maintain economic policies that have a severely negative effect on Africa's growth prospects. By demanding - through the IMF - that African governments remove all trade barriers, while at the same time maintaining huge production subsidies, the terms of trade for Africa continue to deteriorate in dramatic fashion. As long as this disconnect continues, it will prevent African growth prospects from improving and ensure that no progress is made in World Trade Organization negotiations.

Bush himself has made the fight against HIV/AIDS a personal priority. In his most recent State of the Union address, he presented a bold plan to increase spending for prevention and treatment to $15 billion over five years, far exceeding expectations. However, his initial request to Congress was only $2 billion for the first year, creating concern that the promises will not be kept. Furthermore, controversy still continues over what percentage of the funds will go to the promotion of abstinence. Currently one-third of U.S. aid is earmarked for abstinence education, raising the ire of activists who believe that the promotion of effective prevention methods such as the use of condoms will be undermined by this strong emphasis on abstinence.

It has also been hypothesized that this strong emphasis on abstinence also serves Bush's interests by shifting the disbursement of aid money from the HIV/AIDS programs administered by organizations such as Planned Parenthood and Population Services International to faith-based organizations. Finally, Bush's choice of a retired executive from Eli Lilly to serve as the "AIDS Czar" signals that Bush's AIDS program will emphasize the distribution of drugs over prevention education. If the program does end up funding primarily the distribution of HIV/AIDS drugs, the program will be primarily pumping money into the U.S. pharmaceutical sector.

An issue very much linked to HIV/AIDS is reproductive health. Under the Bush administration's anti-abortion policy, known as the Mexico City rule, groups that have been effective in curbing the spread of HIV/AIDS are now forced to close because they are involved in abortions, referral advice, counseling, or contraceptive distribution. As a result, many communities who depended on these clinics for health care must now go without these services.

Another bold but flawed Bush initiative is the Millennium Challenge Account (MCA). It aims to focus development resources on a few good performing countries. In the process the U.S. Agency for International Development is slowly and almost imperceptibly being dismantled, particularly in terms of its diminishing role in providing traditional developmental assistance. Although it is important to try to shake up the aid industry, there will be a number of negative repercussions from the MCA approach.

  • - All of the resources will go to few countries, creating islands of stability in highly unstable seas;
  • - Countries that are trying to enact reforms but run up against significant obstacles will not receive help under the MCA; and
  • - Excluded countries - which arguably need the most help - will simply fall further and further behind and become a larger threat to stability than they already are.

Oil and mineral interests have had a much less significant impact on U.S. policy than is commonly believed. In Nigeria, the State Department has maintained cool relations with Obasanjo's government, and provided very little aid. In Angola, a similar lack of engagement marks the relationship. Although there is a great deal of rhetoric about the importance of the oil wealth of the Gulf of Guinea and the mineral wealth of the Congo, there has been little corresponding political and economic engagement in support of those interests.

The Bush administration has failed to live up to its stated commitment to the Refugee Resettlement Program. In the past two years, the Bush administration has significantly reduced the refugee admissions ceiling to 70,000, the lowest point in two decades. In 2003, only a quarter of the authorized refugees have arrived in the United States. Since 9/11, the administration has cited security concerns as the reason for decreased U.S. refugee resettlement admissions. However, there remains a delay in processing security clearances for these eligible refugees who languish in refugee camps. The implications of this policy extend beyond refugee camp borders. Refugee resettlement assists some of the world's 13 million refugee's, reduces regional instabilities caused by alleviating some pressures to host countries, and it demonstrates U.S. commitment to burden-sharing Africa's immense humanitarian challenges.

The administration is very unenthusiastic about NEPAD. This is primarily a reflection of its Zimbabwe policy. It sees NEPAD as toothless in the face of Mugabe's depredations, after very strong rhetoric from Obasanjo/Mbeki/ Bouteflika two years ago about peer pressure. Now it is a weak form of peer review, and voluntary at that! The administration is moving ahead with its Millennium Challenge Account, which it says basically is in harmony with the NEPAD objectives. Its position on the African Union is more supportive, principally for self-interested reasons. There is a keen desire to build African capacity to intervene in conflict or genocidal situations, and there is a recognition that the AU and the smaller regional organizations are the locus upon which to build capacity.


In conclusion, the Bush administration policy is not altogether dissimilar to that of its predecessor. However, the terrorist attacks of 9/11 have altered the strategic calculations of the U.S. in peripheral zones throughout the world, in ways very similar to the Cold War. As yet, this has only had a significant impact on U.S. policy toward the Horn of Africa. It remains to be seen whether U.S. policy to the rest of the continent follows suit. If that is the case, it is quite possible that human rights and democracy promotion will again be pushed to the back seat of U.S. policy priorities, just as it was during the era of Soviet containment.

About the Author:

John Prendergast is the Africa Program Manager, International Crisis Group. The ICG is one of the most well known NGOs working on conflict resolution. He was Special Adviser to the U.S. State Department where he specialized in conflict resolution initiatives in Africa. In addition Mr. Prendergast was involved in overall policy development and implementation for Africa. Prior to joining the State Department, he was an Executive Fellow of the United States Institute of Peace, and before that, Director for African Affairs at the National Security Council, where he provided support to the President, the National Security Adviser and successive Senior Directors on overall Africa policy.



Dr. Werner Puschra,

Tel.: 0228-883 576

Sabine Matambalya,

Tel: 0228-883 577

Referat Afrika
Godesberger Allee 149
53170 Bonn
Fax: 0228-883 623


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