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Note: This document is from the archive of the Africa Policy E-Journal, published by the Africa Policy Information Center (APIC) from 1995 to 2001 and by Africa Action from 2001 to 2003. APIC was merged into Africa Action in 2001. Please note that many outdated links in this archived document may not work.

Africa: Thinking Regionally, 2
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Africa: Thinking Regionally, 2
Date Distributed (ymd): 960422

APIC Background Paper 005 (March 1996)
Thinking Regionally:
Priorities for U.S. Policy Toward Africa

by Salih Booker
(continued from part 1)

Historical Obligations (cont.)

One reason is that justice in international relations is
important in its own right. Unaddressed injustices are likely
to fester and weaken any new international order based on
rules and ideals. There is also considerable domestic support
for the idea that the U.S. should be morally and fiscally
responsible for its international behavior. But there is
little public recognition of the negative role the U.S. played
in some of these cases. Acknowledgement of past mistakes can
be useful in sending signals to dictators, demagogues and
other human rights abusers that the U.S. is really committed
to a new post-Cold War vision. It can also raise visibility of
these issues for a public generally unaware of the past.

Current involvement in such issues is warranted as well
because America needs to demonstrate the durability of its
commitments, and the coherence and predictability of its
international behavior. Because our actions abroad frequently
have a major impact on entirely different regions (e.g. U.S.
intervention in Somalia is still a major influence on U.S.
policies toward Haiti and Bosnia), we must be careful to avoid
ad-hoc short-term responses to problems for which we share
longer-term responsibilities. If the U.S. abandons the people
of those countries in Africa where it was most heavily
involved during the Cold War, it would demonstrate that the
U.S., only concerned with short-term American geostrategic
interests, is not a reliable partner. Finally, the U.S.
continues to have significant 'practical' interests in many of
these same countries (e.g. strategic minerals, oil, and access
to ports and bases). Taken together, these elements provide
ample justification for re-engaging in our "lost legacies" in

Regional Perspectives

The five focus countries and six "historical responsibility"
countries add up to nine, with Zaire and Kenya in both
categories. This list is not the same, nor should it
necessarily be the same, as those countries currently highest
on the agenda for aid programs, for commercial missions, or
for crisis response. Those priorities may change more quickly,
and should be regularly evaluated on more particularized
criteria: the quality of aid programs, the governance capacity
of a particular host country, prospects for exports or
investments, or the need for response to immediate crises,
such as those in Rwanda and Burundi. But such programs should
be shaped in the context of a longer-term regionally informed
policy framework.

Thus it is essential to take stock of existing U.S. interests
throughout each region and understand how they are
inter-related. For example, peace and security in Angola and
Mozambique, and economic policy reforms in Zimbabwe and
Zambia, are all critical for the development of a Southern
African economic community. Already in 1994, U.S. trade with
the 11 countries of the Southern African Development Community
(SADC) totaled over $7 billion, about the same level as with
all of the former Soviet Union. Future political and economic
progress in this region--including the capacity to attract
foreign investment--will depend not only on domestic
developments in South Africa, but on the success of regional
institutions in dealing with complex and potentially divisive
cross-border issues.

In West Africa, although U.S. interests in Nigeria are clearly
preminent, a resolution of the wars in Liberia and Sierra
Leone will have a direct bearing on the prospects for
prosperity or suffering throughout the region. Any policy
toward Nigeria focussed on internal reforms must also consider
Nigeria's role in the region. In turn, the course of Nigeria's
internal struggle for democracy has enormous implications for
the legitimacy of its actions in the region. And the results
of Ghana's continuing commitment to western economic policy
prescriptions are likely to influence the choice of economic
policies pursued by its neighbors.

In Central and East Africa, the enormous number of refugees
and the continuing conflicts in Rwanda, Burundi and Sudan are
straining intra-African relations, and draining local and
international resources. Other countries in the region cannot
possibly isolate themselves from their effects. In North
Africa, the US approach to the confrontation in Algeria must
be shaped with an awareness of the parallel but distinct
issues of governance in other North African states.

By considering South Africa, Nigeria, Algeria and Kenya within
their regional contexts rather than simply in bilateral terms,
one can better promote stronger regional economies that will
begin to benefit the poorest among them as well as their
larger partners. The same pertains to Central Africa, though
the prospects for an emerging regional market there depends
disproportionately upon a new start in Zaire.

Despite the unevenness of efforts and the mixed results to
date, African states have consistently endorsed the goals of
regional development and economic integration as crucial to
their overall development efforts. Implementing such programs
in practice requires confronting many complex negotiations and
potential conflicts of national, bureaucratic or commercial
interests. But supporting regional economic integration, as is
coming to be widely recognized, is in the U.S. interest, since
it should help develop larger markets that can better attract
U.S. direct investments and exports. The U.S. should develop
strategies to promote such integration, while remaining
sensitive to the dangers of unsustainable imbalances among
countries within a region.

The interplay between bilateral relations with focus countries
and wider regional concerns will be different, depending on
the region and on the issues at stake. But the framework
outlined here gives the option of sharpening the focus without
writing off non-focus countries. A regional approach would
permit the U.S. to remain engaged with the whole of the
African continent, while increasing its capacity to promote
the objectives it shares with most of its African partners.
The alternative of 'selective engagement' only with 'pivotal
states' or 'success stories,' in contrast, would tend to
ignore the deeper interdependence which exists across the

Priority Issues: Security, Democracy and Development

The criteria above serve to set priorities for where in Africa
the U.S. should be most involved. Determining which
substantive goals should constitute priorities for U.S. policy
attention is in many ways easier, despite the complexity of
determining how best to achieve those goals. The post-Cold War
period has, thus far, been marked by a striking unanimity
between African states and the U.S. on priority objectives and
even on many of the methods to pursue such objectives. For
more than six years now, the African priorities of security,
democratization and economic development have been embraced by
American policymakers. Indeed, the Administration's vision for
U.S. foreign policy, focused on the expansion of democracy and
the growth of market economies, could have been inspired by
the changes taking place in Africa.

Given this vision, it's surprising that there isn't more focus
on Africa, the region of the world with the most emerging
democracies and the greatest number of countries undertaking
economic reforms. This discrepancy is very telling about
American indifference to Africa. It suggests that there is a
problem in the political culture of this country which allows
policymakers to calculate U.S. interests elsewhere in the
world using one set of criteria, while neglecting interests in
Africa that meet the same criteria.

Africans are pursuing strategies to establish institutions and
processes through which they can collectively promote conflict
resolution and prevention, and generally promote stability. In
most countries, some form of democratization is underway,
albeit haltingly in some cases. The recent  disappointing lull
in the pace of democratization only underscores the need for
more timely and significant support. Democratization offers
the only hope of creating and sustaining internal and then
regional security and stability, and of legitimizing the
process of economic reform which is critical to these
countries' long-term development. Despite an adverse global
environment, African countries are continuing to pursue major
restructuring of their economies. But they are also
recognizing the need to increase investments in human resource
development, and for greater public participation in
development efforts as well as development policy

While the U.S. cannot and should not be involved to the same
extent everywhere, it must be concerned with the overall
progress of all three goals throughout the African continent
and take timely action to encourage the most promising African
initiatives. Advance towards one goal does not automatically
result in progress on the others. In general, however, they
are mutually reinforcing, and successes on one front help to
improve the chances for advancing on the others.

There is also a need, however, to set priorities among the
three broad goals of security, democracy and development.
Without security neither of the other two policy priorities
can be realized. Security, especially the end to current armed
conflicts, must therefore be the first preoccupation of U.S.
policy toward each of the five regions. To prevent a return to
war where agreements have been reached and to prevent
religious, ethnic, or political intolerance from leading to
war, democratic institutions will need continuing support in
democratizing states.

The details of policy on each of these issues are beyond the
scope of this paper. But, for each one, a regional perspective
is indispensable to making choices that can have the most
effect not only in one country but on advancing these goals
for the continent as a whole.


The regional dimension of security issues is vividly
demonstrated in human terms by the flow of refugees across
borders, so that the destructive effects of an internal
conflict almost always extend far beyond the borders of one
country. In the most dramatic case, even without the
humanitarian demand for international involvement in the
aftermath of genocide in Rwanda, and the threat of new
escalation of violence in Burundi and Rwanda, it should be
impossible to ignore the impact of these crises on neighboring
countries in both Central and East Africa, including the two
focus countries of Zaire and Kenya. Renewal of violence in
Angola would threaten stability and the prospects for economic
advance in both Southern and Central Africa. The precarious
peace settlement in Liberia is of wider concern not only
because of US historical responsibilities there, but because
of the destabilizing effect of refugees on other West African
states, the expansion of illegal arms trading, and the example
of continued reliance on violence unchecked by civilian

Increasingly, political and economic refugees are finding
their way to South Africa, not only from its immediate
neighbors but from other regions of Africa. The issue of
illegal immigration is becoming the subject of heated debate
within South Africa. South Africa's own chances of success as
a new democracy and a new emerging market cannot be separated
from the prospects of other African countries.

The U.S. cannot avoid responsibility for involvement in
conflict resolution efforts where the U.S. has a regional
concentration of interests and where the focus country in the
region is affected or directly involved in the conflict. The
precise mix of bilateral and multilateral engagement that
involvement should take is debatable. But it is shortsighted
to opt out of sustained efforts, while waiting for disaster to
become so overwhelming that costly emergency relief is the
only option.

There can be no guarantee of success in resolving intractable
conflicts. As it deals with current crises, the U.S. should be
concerned first of all with building stronger African
multilateral institutions to assist in the future. It must
also maintain support for UN peacekeeping efforts, striving to
improve their effectiveness. Finally, the U.S. should promote
reductions in the arms trade that helps to devastate Africa
and rethink our own security assistance programs in Africa, no
matter how small.


In many cases the threats to regional security and stability
come in the form of repressive regimes which refuse to accept
greater democracy within their political systems. The struggle
for democracy and human rights in the focus countries is of
particularly critical importance for other countries, both by
the demonstration effect and, at times, by direct positive or
negative involvement.

That is one reason why, as is generally recognized, the
success of democratization in South Africa should be a
fundamental ongoing goal of US foreign policy. But the state
of democracy and human rights in the other four focus
countries should also be high on the agenda. Among the four,
Algeria, Zaire, and Nigeria are currently in the throes of
enormous internal political struggles, all involving
significant human rights abuses. In each case, the attainment
of a democratic system of governance would positively
influence the other countries of the region and help lay the
groundwork for accelerated regional economic integration. In
Kenya, the democracy movement has suffered severe setbacks
owing both to its own disunity and the government's continuing
political repression. Nevertheless, democratization is crucial
to Kenya's future and the future of the East Africa region.

In each region, it will be necessary also to identify where
the U.S. can best make a critical contribution to helping the
smaller countries consolidate the democratic changes most of
them have embarked upon. The variations of what would be
appropriate in the many different cases are too numerous to
detail here. Suffice it to say that with limited resources we
will need to be creative, and better at coordinating with
other donors, host governments and non-governmental


There are many substantive issues concerning U.S. development
policy, involving the size and the focus of the development
assistance budget, the impact of policies on trade and debt,
and the substance of the macroeconomic advice offered to
African countries by the U.S. and multilateral agencies in
which the U.S. has a prominent voice.

Shrinking resources clearly imply a need to focus. But the
concerns should go beyond choosing which country programs
should be maintained and which shut down. A regional
perspective, including the five focus countries, should also
highlight investment in programs that develop the African
human resources needed to solve Africa's own problems, and
that help create larger regional markets better able to
sustain economic growth and attract U.S. investment and trade.
Promoting human resource development through greater
investments in health and education, as well as increasing
support for participatory development programs at the
community level, should be priorities within each country

A strategic approach to African development, however, requires
explicit discussion of the combined impact not only of aid but
also of trade, debt and different variants of structural
adjustment policies. And it requires consideration of the
regional impact of developments within any one country. The
U.S. can most usefully shape its own policies on these complex
topics only if it is willing to engage actively in dialogue on
these issues within African and multilateral contexts,
including but not limited to the clubs of Western donors that
coordinate policy towards particular African countries.  Once
a clearer understanding is gained of how best to promote
regional economic development and infrastructure, the U.S.
must also be prepared to increase its level of assistance.


With the decline of the strategic significance of Africa in
Cold War terms, and the relatively small U.S. economic ties
with Africa, too many observers are prepared to state--quite
emphatically--that the U.S. has no significant interests in
Africa, and that this is unlikely to change in the near
future. Such thinking disregards moral imperatives for
involvement in Africa that are often just as compelling as
economic or national security arguments. In doing so, it
ignores the ancestral ties of some 25 million African
Americans who have significant and growing investments--
political, social, cultural, emotional, psychological and
economic--in Africa's future.

It also reflects the absence of a strategic vision to replace
the Cold War scenario. There is a failure to see Africa as a
whole, a continent with existing economic ties to the U.S.
already greater than those with the former Soviet Union. It is
true that much of Africa is now handicapped by conflict,
poverty or repressive governments. Each of Africa's major
regions, however, with populations ranging from 80 million to
almost 200 million (see chart), has the potential for
significantly increasing mutually profitable ties with the
United States, in the economic arena as well as in cultural
and political ties.

A new policy perspective must build a new vision for
involvement. There are multiple constituencies for Africa in
the U.S., concerned about a variety of countries and issues,
that together can offer significant support for U.S.
engagement in Africa. This regional framework is offered as
one component of such a vision, which can hopefully enhance
our collective effectiveness in promoting positive change in
Africa and U.S.-African relations.  -- Salih Booker

Salih Booker is the Fellow for Africa at the Council on
Foreign Relations, and Senior Advisor to the Vice President
for Diversity in International Affairs Programs. An earlier
version of this paper was presented to a meeting of the
Council on Foreign Relations held in Washington, D.C. (June
16, 1995) to discuss criteria for setting priorities in U.S.
policy toward Africa.

(5)Source: US Department of Commerce, 1994.

(6)Source: UNDP, Human Development Report 1994.
Copies of the typeset version of this background paper, which
also includes a map and charts of regions and focus countries,
are available at $2 each, $1.60 each for 20 or more.  Add 15%
for postage and handling.  Send your order to APIC at the
address below.  For more information on publication orders
send an e-mail message to
This material is produced and distributed  by the Africa
Policy Information Center (APIC). APIC's primary objective is
to widen the policy debate in the United States around African
issues and the U.S. role in Africa, by concentrating on
providing accessible policy-relevant information and analysis
usable by a wide range  of groups and individuals.  APIC is
affiliated with the Washington  Office on Africa (WOA), a
not-for-profit church, trade union and  civil rights group
supported organization that works with Congress on
Africa-related legislation.


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