Tuesday, January 20, 2009

New focus on Africa needed

The suspense and anticipation is palatable as the U.S. swears- in Barack Obama as its first African-American president.

It is a milestone, of course, and a colossal turn-around in American governance and policy.

While Obama surely will bring about change on many fronts, one of the places it is sorely needed is Africa.

But leveraging change in Africa won't come immediately, as Obama's priority must be the crumbling U.S. economy. As the world's economic engine, the U.S. economy drives the fortunes of the world.

Some levers for shifting gears are already in place in Africa. Specifically, the U.S. military's new African Command, Africom.

While it does not necessarily mean more troop involvement, it well could. In announcing the new command, generals said that U.S. forces in Africa would support humanitarian aid efforts there.

This has led to complaints about the militarization of foreign aid, which is a legitimate concern. However, given the state of most Africa countries, the carrot-and-stick approach could prove effective.

Having lived in the Balkans, the Caucasus, Afghanistan and Africa, I know well the failure of foreign aid. Providing aid without demanding results and accountability is not only wrong, it perpetuates the conditions that created the need.

The best example we have is with Joseph Kony and the Lord's Resistance Army, now rampaging through northeastern Democratic Republic of the Congo where it has killed more than 600 innocent people, abducted hundreds of others, and raped and mutilated scores more.

This is the same army that was pampered and fed by a collection of European countries for more than two years as an inducement to negotiate. But after two years, Kony and his LRA made fools of the international community by not signing a peace deal on three separate occasions.

And now Kony's on what is the most bloody rampage in his army's horrific 22-year existence.

Chances are slight that the U.S. will get involved in the hunt for Kony that continues by the Ugandan Army.

What we can expect quickly, however, is some action in Darfur. During his campaign, Obama called for direct action in Darfur, and this has been reiterated by his designated Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton.

First is the likely imposition of a no-fly zone over Darfur, which will be enforced by U.S. air power already based in the region. This would effectively ground Sudan's fleet of Antonov bombers and attack helicopters, and would go a long way toward stopping the destruction of Darfur's villages.

Other actions have been suggested, as were leaked in a recent White House memo, such as jamming Sudan's communications system and blockading Sudan's ports -- a move that would halt the flow of Sudan oil which President Omar al-Bashir uses to fund his war in Darfur.

While the world's attention to Africa will soon shift to Darfur, it would be nice if some of that attention would spill over to the bloody corner of the DRC where Kony and his LRA continues kill innocent people with impunity.

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