Sunday, August 9, 2009

Good governance in Africa?

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's diplomatic swing through Africa comes on the heels of President Barack Obama's recent trip in which he chastised Africa and African leaders for their culture of corruption.

That, he said, was one of the major stumbling blocks for all of Africa, and Clinton is highlighting these issues as she visits seven countries in 10 days.

Her fist stop was in Kenya, which is unable to set up a tribunal that will explore and hopefully punish those who were behind the ethnic violence around its last election that left about 1,300 people dead.

While Kenya officially welcomed Clinton, the country's top leader commented that what he didn't needed from Clinton was a lecture on good governance. Apparently Obama's stinging criticism had hit home.

The reason the Kenya tribunal will never be formed is that those who are responsible for the violence are among the inner circles of the government, and shining a light on what actually happened will send the guilty scurrying for cover as the regime falters.

Clinton's public remarks in Kenya were sprinkled with the standard cliches used by most visiting dignitaries who struggle to find positive things to say. She resorted to praising the continent's great potential.

Inherent in such statements is that Africa's potential is far from realized. Unless there are major changes to how business is done and civil and social affairs are conducted, we can expect to hear the same pleasant phrases about Africa's potential spoken five, 10 and 20 years from now.

Clinton is due to set foot in Goma, Democratic Republic of the Congo. Her presence will draw international attention to one of the continents' most complex and enduring problems. She will be highlighting the serious epidemic of rape in the region, which makes it probably the worst place in the world to be a woman.

I spent time in Goma meeting with victims, civil society experts and lawyers about the problem. The rape epidemic is the result of a general breakdown in society and its values.

But at the core of the problem is that perpetrators of rape were very much aware that they would never be punished, even if identified. Behind this was the fact that the judicial system, including the police, the military and the courts in the eastern DRC and everywhere else in the country were corrupted.

The situation is incomprehensible to most people, but the reality is that no one was or has ever been held accountable, no matter how horrific the crime. It's a free-for-all.

While most people would turn to the government for some help, people in the eastern DRC know better. The government is virtually non-existent, except as an institution that collects bribes and makes trouble for people.

The endless chaos in eastern DRC, which shows no signs of abating, raises the obvious questions of who is benefiting and how.

Among other things that Clinton will be mentioning while she's in Goma will be the illegal exportation of minerals from the region, which includes tin and elements such as coltan, a highly conductive metal used in high tech gadgetry.

The chaos in the eastern DRC means that those who run the region are the military units, who are virtually indistinguishable from the various warring militias that roam the region, killing, looting and raping as they please.

Clinton's visit to Goma will mostly likely bring about more heartfelt speeches about the problems and needs.

The reality, however, is that international agencies such as the UN, which now has a massive 17,000-member force in the country, is about the only thing that provides order in the eastern DRC.

Justice for the warlords who have and continue to control the region is not being imposed by Congolese courts, but by the The Hague-based International Criminal Court, which has people like Thomas Lubanga on trial and soon will hold several more regional militia leaders and their deeds up to public scrutiny.

And, it looks like the ICC will ultimately be court that will have to examine the chaos that sullied the Kenyan elections and which forced a coalition government to be imposed on the country.

While international pressure and presence may be the only thing that keeps a lid on full-blown mayhem in the many African hotspots, the only enduring solution to Africa's problems will be by Africans, not outsiders.

But can and will Africans take that step? Can and will Africans ever hold their leaders accountable for their actions? Can Africans confront corruption and take human rights seriously? Can democracy be implemented or is the continent doomed to be ruled by military juntas and psychopaths such as Robert Mugabe?

Clinton's visit raises these and other questions. Sadly, the answers are few and far between.