Africa: Policy Outlook 1998, 1/28/98

Africa: Policy Outlook 1998, 1/28/98

Africa: Policy Outlook 1998
Date distributed (ymd): 980128
APIC Document

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Region: Continent-Wide
Issue Areas: +political/rights+ +economy/development+ +security/peace+ +US policy focus+
Summary Contents:
This posting contains a summary overview of expected Africa policy issues for the year, with a focus on U.S. policy.It also contains a request to readers to suggest priority reading for President Clinton on his expected trip to Africa.
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Africa Policy Outlook 1998

As Africa moves into 1998, observers on the continent as well as outside are divided on whether to emphasize new hopes or the persistence of old problems.There is evidence to support each view.The continent's economic growth is stronger than at any time since the early 1970s.But Africa still accounts for a small fraction of world trade and investment, and macroeconomic growth is accompanied by stagnant or declining living conditions for the majority of Africans.

Last year saw the removal of one of the continent's longest-surviving dictators, Mobutu Sese Seko of Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of Congo).But the prospects for the new Congo government are uncertain.Conflict continues in eastern Congo and in the adjacent Great Lakes countries of Rwanda and Burundi, and in many other countries as well.The demand for democracy continues to grow, with an increasing number of groups engaged in different aspects of that struggle.But momentum is hobbled by ambiguous results, disillusionment, and quarrels among elites--a pattern that is unlikely to change decisively in 1998.

Neither "Afro-pessimism" nor "Afro-optimism" captures what is really a very mixed picture.The situation is different from country to country, sector to sector, observer to observer. Yet there can be no doubt that Africa is taking its own initiatives to address the problems of the "second independence" era.These range from grassroots efforts at survival to regional initiatives for cooperation among both governments and institutions of civil society.

Economic Progress and Setbacks

Africa's growth rate in 1996 exceeded 5%.Although the rate was expected to drop back to 3.4% for 1997, some estimates project up to 4.7% growth for 1998.These results are higher than the 2% growth of the early 1990s.However, they are still insufficient to reduce the highest average poverty rates in the world.Food security in several African regions in 1998 is expected to be threatened further by El Nino's effects on the weather.

A recent report from the International Labor Organization estimates that in Sub-Saharan Africa, the proportion of the population living in poverty will increase to over 50% by the year 2000.Unemployment in Africa's large cities is more than 20% and is expected to approach 30% by the end of the decade. Critics of thestructural adjustmentpackages of the last decade--and even many analysts within the international financial institutions--stress that African countries are unlikely to break out of this trap without massive investment in education, health and public infrastructure.Doing so will require mobilization of domestic resources and private foreign investment.It will also require steps to reverse the downward trend in international aid and to address the continent's crushing debt burden.

The World Bank/International Monetary Fund initiative for highly indebted poor countries resulted in approval of substantial debt relief packages for Uganda and Burkina Faso in 1997, with Mozambique and Cote d'Ivoire in line for 1998. But the size and pace of the relief still falls short of what is needed.The continent's annual debt service payments are predicted to rise from $30 billion in 1996 to $33 billion in 1998, a figure equivalent to 24% of total exports.African and international NGOs and churches will continue to work for greater debt reductions in 1998.

Ongoing Conflicts

Fighting continues in Sudan, Algeria, and the Great Lakes region, with little prospect of resolution during the year. These wars have caused casualties in large numbers and have had crippling economic effects.More limited conflicts afflict other countries, including Uganda and Senegal.Peace agreements being implemented in Angola, Sierra Leone, and the Central African Republic are fragile and incomplete.The military victory of Sassou-Nguesso in the civil war in Congo (Brazzaville) last year brought a new government to power. Sassou-Nguesso has promised a transition to civilian rule, but so far the stability of his government is based on military victory, not legitimacy.

In Burundi, neither sanctions by regional states nor attempts at mediation have diminished the conflict between the Tutsi-dominated military regime and Hutu rebel forces. Regional observers also see increasing signs of coordination among extremist Hutu forces and their allies in attacks in Burundi, Rwanda and eastern Congo.These forces were responsible for the genocide against Tutsis and moderate Hutus in Rwanda in 1994 and they still openly advocate the extermination of the remaining Tutsis.Their resurgence has also led to increasing abuses against civilians in the counterinsurgency campaigns by Rwanda and Congo (Kinshasa).

In Sudan, opponents of the fundamentalist military regime have seen their military prospects improve.But there is little hope of peace any time soon.In Algeria the death toll from massacres continues to mount.Extremist guerrillas, who previously targeted mainly government supporters, educated women and intellectuals,are increasingly going after ordinary villagers as well.The military regime's primary response is repression, which is often indiscriminate and which has been unsuccessful in curbing the violence.The international community is growing more concerned but the response in 1998 is likely be limited to calls for investigations.

Among campaigners for democracy on the continent, Nigeria will remain the major focus this year.The military regime of General Sani Abacha has promised to return the country to civilian rule by October, but has stepped up repressive measures against its opponents.Almost no one except the regime's own supporters gives credence to Abacha's promise, but there is debate about what measures can be taken to put pressure on the regime.

In various other African countries, there is a persistent gap between governments' public commitment to democracy and a reality which falls far short of that ideal.To cite only a few examples, ruling governments in Kenya, Zambia and Ethiopia can all claim mandates from recent elections, in 1997, 1996 and 1995 respectively, as can Cote d'Ivoire from 1995/96.But in each case critics cite major flaws in the electoral process and repression of the opposition.

In "no-party" Uganda and one-party Eritrea, critics deplore the absence of competitive national elections.But supporters of those governments point to development initiatives under way and to opportunities for popular participation and debate on public issues that exceed those in many countries that have held elections.

There is particular uncertainty about the extent to which criticism should be leveled against the new governments of Rwanda and Congo (Kinshasa).Some see Kagame in Rwanda and Kabila in Congo (Kinshasa) as part of a self-reliant new generation of African leaders who can move their countries forward, despite their emphasis on stability rather than democratic rights.Some contend that under the circumstances, democracy is a luxury that must be put off for later.At the other extreme, some critics say these new leaders are just as bad as their predecessors (the genocidal former Rwandan government and the Mobutu dictatorship).The South African government, among others, has emphasized the potential for cooperation with the new governments, and the fact that they do face real security threats.But many observers stress the danger of ignoring human rights abuses and delays in democratization.It will continue to be difficult for nongovernmental organizations as well as governments to shape policies that promote constructive engagement and reconstruction without providing support for authoritarian government actions.

U.S. Policy Questions

Attention to African issues by U.S. officials, never great, may be on a modest upswing.First Lady Hillary Clinton visited Africa in March 1997, and Secretary of State Madeleine Albright went in December; both President Clinton and Vice-President Gore are expected to make Africa trips this year.Secretary Albright has named the Africa Growth and Opportunity Act as one of the Administration's top four foreign policy issues in 1998.In the larger picture, though, Africa is still very low on the agenda in U.S. foreign policy circles.In its Winter 1997 issue, for example, the influential Foreign Policy journal gradedthe President with three analysts from Europe, two from Asia, and one each from Latin America, the Middle East and Russia but none from Africa.And Africa rated less than a sentence in the President's State of the Union address on January 27.

Among the key unanswered questions about U.S. Africa policy in 1998:

* Will the Africa Growth and Opportunity Act, and similar initiatives to promote U.S. trade and investment, be balanced by attention to African development priorities that include equity and sustainability?

* Will verbal support for African self-reliance and reconstruction be matched by a willingness to invest increased U.S. resources through multilateral institutions, African governments and civil society, as well as the private sector?

*What will the U.S. government do to support the struggle for democracy in Nigeria and around the continent, while avoiding the "one-size-fits-all" approach on the one hand and opportunistic excuses for human rights violations on the other?


Suggest a Book about Africa for President Clinton (and other US officials)

Suppose you were asked to suggest a book for President Clinton's airplane reading on his announced trip to South Africa and several other African countries in March (see for the most recent news on the trip). What would you suggest?Let us know at, and we'll put your suggestion, along with your one- or two-sentence comment on the book, on our web site (

We'll also pass the accumulated suggestions on to the White House before the trip.Of course, we can't guarantee the President will take the suggestion!But we think your considered recommendations will also be useful for other officials and for visitors to our web site, where it will be possible to order those among the suggested books that are in stock at the on-line bookstore

Please suggest books in print that are available to the US public -- or if you do suggest an out-of-print classic or another hard-to-findbook, please give details on how someone can get a copy.Only one suggestion per person, please.

APIC's Senior Research Fellow William Minter starts out by suggesting a new book out just this month:


Karl Maier, Into the House of the Ancestors: Inside the New Africa (New York: John Wiley & Sons, January 1998). 278 pages. ISBN: 047113547X (if you order from through the ISBN link in this document on our web site -- -- you get a 30% discount and APIC gets a 15% referral fee from Amazon).

Exceptional among books by Western journalists, this readable report finds inspiration in and presents the voices of ordinary Africans who are drawing on their heritage and building the future around the continent.Without avoiding the horrors and problems--from genocide in Rwanda to child soldiers to AIDS--Maier stresses the initiative and determination of rarely acknowledged individuals finding the way ahead one step at a time.

How to do it:

To make processing your suggestion easier, just put this form in an e-mail to (clip and paste the form into a new message) and fill in the blanks. Your answers can be more than one line, but please keep within the brackets and don't delete them.

1. <title of book>
[ ]

2. <author(s) of book>
[ ]

3. <place of publication>
[ ]

4. <publisher>
[ ]

4. <year of publication>
[ ]

6. <mailing address and other contact information for
[ ]

7. <URL of publishers' web site, if available>
[ ]

8. <your one- or two-sentence comment on the book>
[ ]

9. <your name>
[ ]

10. <your title and institutional affiliation, or other
[ ]

11. <your city and country of residence>

[ ]


From: Message-Id: <> Date: Wed, 28 Jan 1998 10:23:25 -0500 Subject: Africa: Policy Outlook 1998

Editor: Ali B. Ali-Dinar

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