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? Brian Samuels of Washington, D.C., asks: Will economic ties foster democratic development in Africa?
Mr. Francis Deng responds:
It probably does not follow that economic ties with the United States automatically foster democratic development. After all, the United States has had close economic ties with countries that are not democratic. However, it can be argued that economic ties establish links that can promote constructive engagement. They also provide opportunities for positive and negative incentives in the promotion of democracy and human rights. Where there are no economic ties, there can be no significant leverage to support desired policies.
What is crucial is that economic ties be accompanied by a clear policy aimed at promoting democracy and human rights, rather than be motivated merely by economic interests and calculations.
Professor Willard Johnson responds:
As I have indicated in answers to the other questions, I believe that economic improvement in Africa, as anywhere else, is crucial for the spread of democratic culture and the creation and maintenance of the institutions and organization structures that make democracy and transparent, accountable governance possible. People need resources to be public spirited. Interest groups must be able to organize and present themselves and their programs to the general public. The kind of economic cooperation that really favors development and improvement in Africa, and not just among our own business and trade circles, would help to consolidate democracy and the frameworks needed to honor and protect basic human rights and freedoms, but would also, in the long run, increase the economic and cultural opportunities of Americans.
Stronger economic ties between the U.S. and African countries will not, in themselves, foster democratic development, because so often only investors who expect huge payoffs, such as in the mining and petroleum industries, are willing to take the risks and put up with the hardships of working in poor countries, however friendly their people may be.
But, there can be no lasting democracy in the modern world where poverty is extreme and widespread in the society. Increasingly, the prospects of people are connected globally, for good or evil. This could simply mean that stark contrasts in wealth between classes will be world wide and the very rich people, all around the world, will simply rely on stronger police and military resources. But Americans of average and below levels of income probably do realize that we are also victims of a starkly unequal and unfair distribution of the benefits of even the present, unprecedented economic boom. And, even if we were to achieve greater fairness within our own economy, average Americans would still benefit from improvements in the incomes of average and poor peoples in Africa and other underdeveloped regions, because even poor Americans benefit from growing markets for our exports. With 700 million people just now beginning to rise on the global economic scale, a figure that will nearly double in a generation or two, Africa is too important a prospect for the U.S. to continue to ignore.