Room for optimism in a churning Africa

Secretary of State Madeleine Albright today begins 10-day tour - her

When President Clinton came to Africa a year and a half ago, he came to embrace a "new generation" of African leaders whose commitment to the principles of democracy was to drive the continent forward, into a "renaissance" of unimagined potential.

Today, as Secretary of State Madeleine Albright embarks on her third, lengthy tour of Africa, most of the leaders Mr. Clinton singled out for greatness are not only involved in wars, but in wars against each other.

Still, the Clinton administration, which has paid more attention to Africa than any other administration in recent history - says there is room for optimism. Beneath Africa's post-cold-war turmoil, analysts have identified a strong trend of democratization and growth. Military coups have become the exception rather than the rule, they say.

"We're not blowing smoke," Dr. Albright said recently about the Clinton administration's commitment to Africa. In her 10-day visit to Equatorial Guinea, Sierra Leone, Nigeria, Mali, Kenya, and Tanzania, she is likely to focus attention on the two different directions Africa is being pulled: war and poverty on one side, growth and prosperity on the other.

"Africa is a market of 700 million potential consumers," undersecretary of State for African Affairs Susan Rice said last month at a ministerial gathering on Africa's growth prospects in Atlanta, Ga. Return on US investments in Africa was extremely high, she said, averaging 30 percent. More than 16 percent of US imported crude oil comes from Africa, almost as much as from the Middle East, Ms. Rice noted. And she said that Africans are buying $6 billion worth of US products annually - twice as much as India's 1 billion people. Yet Africa still accounts for only 1 percent of US trade and less than 1 percent of US investment, a figure Rice said had to change in order to haul Africa into the global economy.

As the US attempts to bring Africa into the global economy, it faces many challenges in the coming year.

In the Horn of Africa, for example, Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi and Eritrean President Isaias Afeworki, both past recipients of millions of dollars in US aid, have consistently balked at peace initiatives aimed at ending their 15-month border war.

In the Democratic Republic of Congo, a country that spans half the continent, seven African armies are enmeshed in what Tom Wolpe, Clinton's envoy to the region, called "the widest interstate war in modern African history." Among the warring parties are Uganda's President Yoweri Museveni and Rwanda's Vice President Paul Kagame. Both were seen as belonging to Africa's new brand of democratic leaders.

Unfortunately, there's more.

To the north of Congo, there is Sudan, whose 16-year-old civil conflict has left 2 million dead. To the west, there is Angola and the 500,000 casualties of its 25-year-old civil war. In Burundi, deadly nighttime raids by antigovernment rebels on the capital have resumed again, an indication of how fragile that country's peace process really is. Meanwhile, the State Department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research has found that Rwanda, Burundi, and Sudan are mortgaging their crops to buy arms. Angola also is acquiring military equipment on loans mortgaged against the 1.4 million barrels of oil a day it hopes to produce by 2003.

"There are six major, major conflicts which are not just destroying those countries and their infrastructure but are also sucking in the surrounding countries," says Patrick Smith, editor of Africa Confidential, a London-based publication focusing on African affairs. "However, one wants to be as optimistic as possible," he adds.

Nigeria, Africa's most populous nation and to many its greatest hope, has successfully completed its transition to democracy after nearly three decades of corrupt military rule.

In South Africa, Thabo Mbeki's succession to the presidency after Nelson Mandela's long good-bye was as smooth as countries in the West had hoped.

The practice of democracy has become rooted in Tanzania. It is the only country in sub-Saharan Africa, which, thanks to the nationalist policies of Julius Nyerere, who died last week in London, forged a sense of national identity strong enough to eclipse tribal affiliation.

In Mali, eight solid years of democracy have spurred growth levels expected to reach 8 percent, according to the International Monetary Fund. And Botswana - partly because of its diamond production but also on the strength of its democratic reforms - has become an "upper-middle income" country by World Bank standards.

Overall, Africa's economic expansion has risen above the 4 percent mark, which means its growth rate now exceeds its rate of population increase.

Following is a closer look at some of the greatest challenges facing Albright's visit.

CONGO The war in Congo has displaced nearly a million people and put another 10 million, one-fifth of the Congolese population, in a state of food alert, the Food and Agricultural Organization warned last week. The conflict has pitted Congolese President Laurent Kabila and his powerful allies - Angola, Namibia, and Zimbabwe - against Rwanda and Uganda, which are backing two Congolese rebel factions currently attempting to overthrow Mr. Kabila.

All parties signed a peace agreement in July, but numerous violations of the cease-fire have been reported since. Analysts agree that the deal reached in Lusaka, Zambia, provides a solid framework for a peaceful solution to the conflict. What it lacks, notes Smith of Africa Confidential are "the means to implement it." The United Nations has pledged support for a multinational peacekeeping force, but so far there has been no financial commitment from any of the major donor countries. Having seen the scale of the UN operation in Kosovo, and swiftness of the UN's intervention in East Timor, African leaders have grown increasingly bitter at the lack of international response to a conflict as catastrophic as the one in Congo. Albright is expected to address the issue of a peacekeeping force for Congo, and there is speculation that she will announce a financial commitment from Washington.

SUDAN After 16 years, Sudan's civil war between the Islamic north and the Christian and Animist South shows no sign of abating. The Islamic government of President Omar al-Bashir, which has been on the US list of countries supporting terrorism since 1993, recently extended a comprehensive cease-fire in the south for another three months hoping in a reciprocal sign of good will from the rebels of the Sudan People's Liberation Army led by John Garang. The SPLA, which the US has quietly supported through the years, has yet to respond to the initiative. James Rubin, State Department spokesman, said that on this tour Albright will "lend her support to regional efforts to resolve the long-standing crisis in Sudan" and expects to meet with Mr. Garang in Nairobi ahead of another round of mediation talks scheduled for later this month.

ETHIOPIA AND ERITREA The border conflict between Ethiopia and Eritrea has deprived the US of two allies whose past collaboration was key to US security interests in the Horn. Washington had hoped to turn the two countries into a barrier against the spread of Islamic fundamentalism from neighboring Sudan. When the war started in June last year, Rice, who has driven US policy in Africa, was widely seen as having botched the mediation effort: Eritrea complained of impartiality and balked at further attempts by the US to broker an agreement.

Analysts say Albright might try to carve out a new role for US mediators in the hope of putting an end to the bloodshed.

NIGERIA Nigeria's democratically elected president faces probably the greatest challenge of any new leader in sub-Saharan Africa. First among them is the simmering conflict in the oil-producing states of the Niger Delta, where local communities have demanded a greater share of the wealth. Nigeria, the sixth largest oil producer in the world, pumps 2 million barrels of crude oil a day; 60 percent of that goes to the US market, so Washington has a direct interest in the resolution of the crisis. Furthermore, the State Department also has announced the establishment of an economic partnership with Nigeria, which involves setting up a committee of US and Nigerian officials to transform the Nigerian economy.

The committee is due to meet next month, and Albright is expected to provide some common guidelines and address the issue of corruption, which many Nigerians still see as eating at the core of their country. Nigeria is also the hub of narcotics trafficking in Africa. According to the State Department Bureau for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs, Nigerian traffickers smuggle "a large part of the heroin imported in the US." Albright is likely to seek a closer cooperation on the issue of drugs, which past military regimes had largely ignored.

(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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