What role should the U.S. take in Africa?
April 2, 1998
in this forum:
Why would African nations consider "help" from the United States or anyone else? In what ways can America demonstrate its commitment to human rights in Africa? Will President Clinton's trip to Africa produce any results? Is the policy of "trade not aid" the right focus of this trip? Will economic ties foster democratic development in Africa? Robyn Glaubinger of St. Louis, MO, asks: Is the policy of "trade not aid" the right focus of this trip? Isn't there a greater need to secure peace in the Great Lakes region?
Professor Willard Johnson responds:
I agree that "Trade not Aid" is NOT the right focus for U.S. policy towards Africa, just now. However, improved trade opportunities for Africa are crucial for its future. Gaining real access to American markets could be the most important single factor in a brighter future for Africa. But, this would require that we not only really eliminate the few barriers that do currently exist (and the McDermott Bill seeks to do some of that) but also vigorously promote cooperation between African governments and producers and U.S. officials as well as customers, to allow African suppliers fully to utilize the existing U.S. facilities to promote trade. They need help to know how to get around the often really artificial tariff and quota barriers that appear to exist (help in achieving waivers, and in in showing that they pose no real threat to the market niche of existing American producers, for example), as well as marketing assistance, and help with knowing and meeting the health and safety regulations and the like, to overcome more informal barriers.
But, it is also crucially important for Americans to realize that foreign assistance will continue to be an important source of capital for African development, and that the U.S. actually gives very little of such assistance. Americans tend to think our level of aid is ten to twenty times the reality, and very few Americans are aware that are foreign ais levels are among the most stingy of the industrial countries, in relation to our wealth!
As for the issue of giving priority to peace in the Great Lakes region, we should realize how conflict and poverty are connected. Ethnic conflict is not inevitable. Hutus and Tutsi's lived together, without massive conflict, for thousands of years. It was when modern political leaders deliberately manipulated fears of a restoration of ethnic based exclusion and victimization, derived in part from systematic preferences for Tutsi domination by the Belgian colonial powers, that widespread violence occurred in both Rwanda and Burundi since independence, leading to the genocide in 1994. Early external intervention to ensure a stable framework of law and order would likely have prevented the 1994 disaster, as President Clinton has acknowledged. But, in the longer run, there has to be economic improvement, and faireness in the distribution of its benefits to avoid such outbreaks.
Mr. Francis Deng responds:
This question has two aspects. One is whether the trade not aid slogan is justified. The other is whether the priority should not place issues of peace and security above the trade and development issues.
On the first aspect, images of Africa have been so much associated with tragedies and humanitarian assistance that the slogan of trade not aid is probably justified. It fits into one of the stated objectives of the President's visit, which was to place a positive emphasis on perceptions of Africa. The slogan however conceals the fact that aid will continue to be needed.
What is important is to shift emphasis from dependency on aid to promoting trade and mutually beneficial economic cooperation.