Howard W. French - Howard W. French is the co-author, with Qiu Xiaolong, of Disappearing Shanghai: Photographs and Poems of an Intimate Way of Life, and is completing a book about China's relationship with Africa.
Howard W. French is an associate professor at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. He is a former senior writer and correspondent for The New York Times, where he was bureau chief in Shanghai, Tokyo, Abidjan (West and Central Africa), and for Central America and the Caribbean.
China, the United States' preeminent global rival, clearly gets this, and treats Africa not just as a place from which to extract mineral wealth -- which of course it does -- but also as a vital source of growth for the world economy going forward. China also views Africa as a geopolitical space of rapidly developing markets and huge business opportunities, including a nearly endless supply of new and underserved consumers.
China is not alone, either. Brazil, India, Turkey and Vietnam, to name just a few of the other fast-growing players, see Africa in much the same way, and are racing to establish a new, mature style of relations with the continent -- one driven by promise, and not by the pity and strong paternalism that have characterized so much Western engagement for so long.
According to Samantha Power, Rice's advice to the Clinton White House in the critical early phases of the killing there was to avoid any public recognition that actual genocide was being committed, because to do so would legally require the United States to take action, and this (echoes of Benghazi?) might affect upcoming congressional elections.
As the United States' representative to the United Nations, Rice worked hard last year to block the release of a U.N. experts report detailing Rwandan atrocities in the Congo, reportedly drawing pushback over this even within the State Department.
When blocking the report proved impossible, diplomats and human rights experts who were involved in this struggle say that she sought to have it sanitized. In the end, it was leaked, which amounted to an end-run around Rice and assured its publication.
"It ultimately comes down to why would the U.S. ambassador to the U.N. not want things that are true [about that part of the world] to be reported," said Laura Seay, an assistant professor of political science at Morehouse College. "It is really not clear why it was worth it."
I'm not in a position to comment on the use of child soldiers in Libya, South Sudan, or Yemen, nor do I know enough to know if the Obama administration has effectively leveraged its power to stop the use of child soldiers there, so my comments here are limited to the DRC. Here's the thing: this is a situation in which all the policy options are bad. When you work in the DRC, you don't get to exist in the world of ideals. Choices always have to be made, and they aren't always pretty. The dilemma in the Congo is this: while everyone agrees that the use of child soldiers is a horrible, inexcusable human rights violation, it is far from clear that disengaging from the Congolese government on military issues will end those abuses.
In fact, pulling out AFRICOM trainers - whose work in DRC largely focuses on professionalizing the FARDC national army (which, let's remember, is undisciplined to the point that they generally can't walk in straight lines during parades), including training soldiers to not violate the human rights of the civilians they ostensibly serve - would likely produce the opposite effect. AFRICOM's work in Congo is far from the sinister caricature some make it out to be; US soldiers in the mission spend most of their time teaching Congolese troops basic skills, like how to aim weapons at targets and actually hit them (as opposed to sporadically killing random civilians with uncontrolled gunfire. Longtime TiA readers will remember the delightful spring of 2007 when the Kinshasa fight between the FARDC and forces loyal to Jean-Pierre Bemba resulted in ordnance landing across the river in Brazzaville, 2 miles off-target.). In other words, American military training is badly needed in the Congolese army.
But does the government deserve this training, given its lack of movement toward protecting children from being coerced into military service? Perhaps not, but there are a few complicating factors. For one, pulling out of Congolese military affairs takes away an important leverage point for changing norms of behavior within the Congolese military forces. American military training in the DRC includes a focus on protecting human rights, with special emphasis on not raping civilians.
Some have argued that steadfast American support for a circle of autocrats is justified by their reputation for strong public administration or fast economic growth, but this has always been a specious justification. If the United States says it favors countries with booming economies no matter how undemocratic or repressive their leaders are, then we have curiously embraced a position not unlike that of China, which has always said it is not its business how other countries conduct their internal affairs. Besides, there is simply no lack of fast-growing economies in Africa now.
There are two obvious ways for the United States to help Africa consolidate its recent gains and move forward into an era of greater prosperity and representative government. This, at the same time, would position Washington to advance its interests and preserve its influence and prestige on this continent in the decades ahead.
The first involves engaging much more strongly in the Congo crisis, helping one of the continent's biggest countries to finally establish control over all of its territory and begin delivering services to its people for the first time in history.
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