U.S. President George W. Bush will be traveling to Africa from July 7-12, visiting Senegal, South Africa, Botswana, Uganda, and Nigeria. This packet from Human Rights Watch includes material for each stop along the way.
A brief overview of the Bush administration's policy toward Africa:
In his Africa speech on June 26, Bush stressed three themes: establishing peace and security, the struggle against AIDS, and economic development through aid and trade. The war on terror has also affected the administration's Africa policy.
The Bush Administration's human rights agenda in Africa has been primarily focused on Zimbabwe and, to a lesser extent, Sudan. The primacy of the U.S. war on terrorism has meant that the United States has given even less attention to Africa than might otherwise have been expected. In the few African countries that the administration believes are strategically valuable, particularly in the Horn of Africa, the United States has often de-emphasized human rights issues.
Despite some interest in peacemaking and peacekeeping, the Bush administration has not provided leadership in ending armed conflicts ravaging large parts of Africa, including the wars in Burundi, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), and Liberia. With the exception of Sudan, the Bush administration has tended to let the Europeans take the lead in conflict resolution in Africa, as the British have done in Sierra Leone and the French in Côte d'Ivoire and the DRC, while the U.S. merely plays a supporting role.
The Bush administration has showed some interest in training African armies to perform peacekeeping functions, launching the African Contingency Operations Training and Assistance (ACOTA) program. But at the same time, it has threatened to cut military assistance to countries in the region on the basis of their support for the new International Criminal Court. Twenty-one African nations have ratified the ICC treaty. But the Bush Administration has been twisting the arms of African governments to sign bilateral agreements that would give immunity to Americans from prosecution and undermine the integrity of the court. While thirteen African governments have signed such agreements, several important countries - including South Africa, Nigeria, Kenya, and Ethiopia - have resisted this pressure. President Bush's visit follows the July 1 deadline set by Congress for governments to conclude these deals or risk losing military assistance.
The Bush administration has said that it would use the human rights eligibility criteria of the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA and AGOA II) as leverage to press for human rights improvements in Africa. The law states that eligibility for AGOA includes labor rights and human rights criteria, and requires that the annual review of AGOA eligibility include a careful examination of the human rights record of AGOA partners, in addition to their political and economic reforms. Yet even in countries where the AGOA review acknowledges that human rights conditions are poor - such as in Côte d'Ivoire, Eritrea, and Rwanda - AGOA eligibility was granted; only in Eritrea was there any indication of the need for human rights improvements. By failing to consistently use AGOA to press for an end to abuses in recipient countries, the administration risks squandering a potentially useful tool in the promotion of human rights in Africa.
The Bush administration also launched the Millennium Challenge Account (MCA), expanding development assistance available for countries that are, in President Bush's words, "ruling justly, investing in people, and encouraging economic freedom." While the legislation for MCA is still pending in Congress, the Bush administration holds it up as a new approach to development assistance. The eligibility criteria for assistance through the MCA do not explicitly include human rights, but address broader issues of good governance. The impact of MCA in Africa is likely to be minimal, since only a couple of African countries are expected to qualify.
Energy security remains a key concern for the Bush administration. The administration specifically highlighted its interest in pursuing African oil resources as substitutes for oil from the Middle East. Although the U.S. periodically raised the issue of transparency and good governance in countries like Angola, it appeared to place a greater priority on solidifying relationships with major and emerging African oil producers. Little or no public mention is made by U.S. officials of the extrajudicial killings and other abuses by Nigerian security forces in the Niger Delta oil region or elsewhere.
Human rights defenders and other civil society activists constitute a highly dynamic force for change in Africa. Yet these activists frequently operate in limiting political environments and face serious security risks, including in Côte d'Ivoire, the DRC, Rwanda, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Liberia, Sudan, and Zimbabwe. Human rights advocates play a central role in holding governments accountable and promoting the conditions needed for sustainable development. They deserve the Bush administration's full support. During his visit, President Bush should seek meetings with civil society and human rights activists and underscore the U.S. commitment to help open the political space for them to operate, and to defend them when they are attacked by governments or rebel groups that seek to silence them.