Monday, July 13, 2009

Obama policy towards Sudan in his Accra speech

It is a commonplace that the best foreign policy for a superpower when dealing with an asymmetric conflict, like the U.S. versus National Congress Party regime in Sudan, is to make sure "they" have no real idea what "you" really want. Like bargaining at a garage sale, you get them down to the lowest price, and then say, "Well, my wife will kill me if I buy it, so that's OK, I'll pass for now, I think maybe I'll talk to her and come back later... what time are you wrapping up?"

Or is it? Truth be told, I don't think "experts" on foreign policy have any real idea what the best set of policies is or is not... they/me probably have a good notion of what bad approaches are, but since there is a lot of randomness and complexity in intergroup dynamics sometimes the really bad "never recommend" approaches may turn out to be best... "Let's build a giant missile defense shield in space... call it Star Wars."

So what to make of the ambiguity on display in the nascent Obama administration Sudan policy, with Special Envoy Scott Gration saying he's not interested in the question of a "remnants of" Darfur genocide, while President Obama makes clear that at the rhetorical level he will not let it pass by unremarked? Sending multiple signals as best policy? Administration not clear who is setting Sudan policy? Mutually agreeable strategy of distinguishing rhetoric from action? Someday the insiders will tell us outsiders.

In the meantime, it is perhaps worth asking whether the non-Darfur related content (i.e. parsed platitudes) of President Obama's speech had any significant relevance for Sudan.
But the West is not responsible for the destruction of the Zimbabwean economy over the last decade, or wars in which children are enlisted as combatants. In my father's life, it was partly tribalism and patronage and nepotism in an independent Kenya that for a long stretch derailed his career, and we know that this kind of corruption is still a daily fact of life for far too many.
I wish along with the general disclaimer of responsibility for everything bad in Africa, had come a more open admission of specific things (esp. Mobutu and Doe, but more Sudan-related would have been Clinton's al-Shifa cruise missile strike of 1998, an egregious example of WTF) that are direct responsibilities.
Development depends on good governance....history offers a clear verdict: Governments that respect the will of their own people, that govern by consent and not coercion, are more prosperous, they are more stable and more successful than governments that do not....This is about more than just holding elections. It's also about what happens between elections. Repression can take many forms, and too many nations, even those that have elections, are plagued by problems that condemn their people to poverty. No country is going to create wealth if its leaders exploit the economy to enrich themselves ... That is not democracy, that is tyranny, even if occasionally you sprinkle an election in there. And now is the time for that style of governance to end.

Pretty clear indictment of NCP rule... but the question that Obama does not pose let alone answer, and is of course the pertinent question, is how to engage with exactly one of these distasteful corrupt and repressive regimes in order to secure some other set of policy goals? My own view? Partner with Mo Ibrahim and spend $5,000,000 more on Sudan-related no-strings-attached civil society prizes (better to reward after the fact success than to "compromise" a program with direct funding of its activities.)

...what America will do is increase assistance for responsible individuals and responsible institutions, with a focus on supporting good governance -- on parliaments, which check abuses of power and ensure that opposition voices are heard ... on the rule of law, which ensures the equal administration of justice; on civic participation, so that young people get involved; and on concrete solutions to corruption like forensic accounting and automating services ... strengthening hot lines, protecting whistle-blowers to advance transparency and accountability. I have directed my administration to give greater attention to corruption in our human rights reports.

So no Millenium Challenge Corporation money anytime soon for either North or South, I guess. But a strong warning call (unless ends up just rhetoric) that South especially needs to have greater transparency in order to ensure continued flow of aid. Riek Machar, Rebecca Garang, Salva Kiir... is everyone listening? I honestly had a silent bellylaugh the other day listening to someone involved in small-scale NGO aid in South Sudan explain, "I know that they aren't *able* to keep records or receipts or anything, because it is so backwards..." There's a good middle ground between that and bogus U.N.-style over-reporting!

...our $3.5 billion food security initiative is focused on new methods and technologies for farmers

I don't think USDA has a single thing to offer South Sudan, though I'm ready to be pleasantly surprised. Bad idea. Just do small-scale cash transfers. Or give everyone a bicycle voucher.

Together, we can partner on behalf of our planet and prosperity and help countries increase access to power while skipping -- leapfrogging the dirtier phase of development. Think about it: Across Africa, there is bountiful wind and solar power; geothermal energy and biofuels.

Really weird... he didn't mention dams. The Merowe dam is one of the world's largest new dam projects, built by the Chinese. Not working too well, apparently, as kinks are worked out. Huge relocation issues. Probably will be an ecological disaster (even more people living in Khartoum). The whole paragraph actually is sad- tells you there is no new chapter... if there was a new chapter he would have talked about oil industry transparency and perhaps even announced an initiative with the Europeans and Chinese and Russians to bully the oil companies into publishing in easily digestible and accessible form their accounts esp. moneys transferred to African government accounts.

America has a responsibility to work with you as a partner to advance this vision, not just with words, but with support that strengthens African capacity. When there's a genocide in Darfur or terrorists in Somalia, these are not simply African problems -- they are global security challenges, and they demand a global response....And that's why we stand ready to partner through diplomacy and technical assistance and logistical support, and we will stand behind efforts to hold war criminals accountable.

Ouch for NCP. Radio Dabanga said the NCP government was "burned" by this! But who knows what the administration's real strategy is (see above). I'm not aware of any cooperation with the ICC by part of administration. Maybe they could actually join?

And let me be clear: Our Africa Command is focused not on establishing a foothold in the continent, but on confronting these common challenges to advance the security of America, Africa and the world.

So maybe Kristofian air strikes are back on the table? [Caution, gratuitous swipe ahead...] Won't Mamdani be awfully peeved to know that there is no focus on a foothold. Wonder how long the speechcrafters took to come up with that one? "I know, let's call it 'not a foothold.'"

The world will be what you make of it. You have the power to hold your leaders accountable, and to build institutions that serve the people.

I'm sure Suliman Baldo is re-energized...

Thanks, Chris Blattman, for getting everyone organized on commenting on the speech.

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