July 9, 2003 | Commentary on Africa
President Bush appears truly committed to helping Africa. Even some of his critics now admit as much. But what exactly can the president do to end suffering and turn the continent into "a prosperous place"?
He can unveil a new vision for Africa, based on three universal principles that have brought prosperity to the West: Economic liberty, political freedom and respect for the rule of law.
The need to take action in the world's most troubled continent could hardly be greater. Civil wars in Liberia and the Congo, tyranny and man-made famine in Zimbabwe, the AIDS epidemic, the rising threat of international terrorism in East Africa -- all are issues of mounting concern to Washington.
The Bush administration has begun to offer some real solutions to the continent's vast problems. For example, the new $5 billion per year Millennium Challenge Account would require aid recipients to reform their economies and their governments. Such a revolutionary concept could serve as a model for international aid programs worldwide.
Another step in the right direction: The recently unveiled $100 million U.S. counter-terrorism package for East Africa. The al-Qaeda threat continues to grow in countries such as Kenya and Tanzania, and we can't allow it to fester unchecked.
The White House should also consider the use of covert operations and precision strikes to target al-Qaeda cells operating in neighboring Somalia, a failed state that has become a fertile breeding ground for Islamic terrorists.
At the same time, the Bush administration can discourage terrorism by encouraging something that's all too rare in Africa: good government.
Since the end of the colonial era, much of sub-Saharan Africa has been a playground for despots wreaking havoc on their defenseless citizens. President Bush must declare an end to the era of dictatorships. He should then impose strict economic and political sanctions against regimes that tyrannize their populations. In certain circumstances, particularly where our national interest is involved, the credible threat of military force should be exercised.
Such direct involvement would be a welcome break from the past. In the 1990s, the United States was largely content to take a back-seat role in Africa. The U.S. intervention in Somalia was America's only significant involvement. After that ill-fated military operation, the Clinton administration replaced action on the ground with empty rhetoric about human rights. All the world's major powers stood by while French-backed Hutus slaughtered a million Tutsis in Rwanda in 1994.
We should remain wary of the perils of nation-building, of course, but we shouldn't refuse to intervene militarily when vital national interests are threatened, or when military force can be used effectively to prevent genocide or other gross violations of human rights. The West's failure to halt the genocide in Rwanda must never be repeated. The highly successful British military operation in Sierra Leone, where a small number of troops ended a civil war in 2000, provides a blueprint for future intervention in Africa.
In addition, free trade remains key to Africa's potential economic renaissance. As the Heritage Foundation's Index of Economic Freedom demonstrates, the more a country opens its economy, the more its citizens prosper. President Bush should call on Congress to end to all barriers to trade with Africa, and encourage the European Union and all developed nations to do the same through the World Trade Organization.
In the meantime, the president should reward those African countries that are already democracies and market economies by forging free-trade agreements with them. He should press ahead with negotiations to sign a free-trade agreement with the five members of the Southern African Customs Union: South Africa, Namibia, Botswana, Lesotho and Swaziland. However, because these nations have much influence in Zimbabwe, Bush should note that he will link the speed of negotiations to the pace of political reform there. That may be the only way to end a man-made famine and prevent an economic collapse in Zimbabwe.
In an increasingly "globalized" world, the United States and other leading nations can't afford to ignore Africa's problems. The Bush administration has shown a refreshing commitment to helping Africa secure a brighter future.
Yet more is needed. The administration must adopt an even more robust policy that places the United States at the forefront of international efforts to deal with Africa's vast problems. America must play a key role in shaping Africa's future -- and in helping the continent fulfill its potential as a truly "prosperous place."
Nile Gardiner is the Jay Kingham Fellow in International Regulatory Affairs.
Distributed nationally on the Knight-Ridder Tribune wire