Bush Team Boosts Efforts to Resolve Africa Conflicts ; Bush Plans a Trip to the Continent as Diplomats Focus on War in Liberia, Sudan

By Howard LaFranchi writer of The Christian Science Monitor | The Christian Science Monitor, June 24, 2003 | Go to article overview

Bush Team Boosts Efforts to Resolve Africa Conflicts ; Bush Plans a Trip to the Continent as Diplomats Focus on War in Liberia, Sudan


Howard LaFranchi writer of The Christian Science Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor


President Bush has sought before to turn US attention more fully to Africa, but things have gotten in the way - first the war in Afghanistan, then war in Iraq.

But now, pressure is building for the US to take a lead role in keeping nascent peace efforts in Liberia alive, and Mr. Bush is embarking on a once-delayed visit to Africa early next month.

This renewed Africa focus offers the White House an opportunity to address some "softer" issues - accountable governance, sustainable development, conflict resolution, AIDS - at a time when much of the world sees American diplomacy as dominated by force. If all goes well, the trip may also coincide with an announcement of a peace plan for Sudan, which would allow Bush to tout the US role in resolving the continent's longest-running conflict.

But at the same time, the new spotlight highlights how Africa, long a distant runner-up on the list of US international priorities, is commanding new attention because of its key role in advancing both the war on terrorism and US energy security.

Not only is a growing share of US oil consumption expected to come from Africa, but the threat of failed, conflict-torn states playing even unwitting host to terror groups means the US isn't likely to lose its Africa interest anytime soon.

Indeed, US attention turned to Kenya last week, as the Pentagon posted an alert about a new terror threat that resulted in the closure of the US Embassy in Nairobi.

But still, the Bush administration is debating just how deep a role to play in Africa, as cracks develop in a cease-fire agreement signed June 17 by Liberia's government and two rebel groups.

Bush - who is expected in Senegal the week of July 7 for a summit of some African leaders, before continuing to South Africa - may not want to go with the image of having failed to intervene for peace in Liberia. On the other hand, the US remains reluctant to dive into thankless peacekeeping operations.

The debate may result in the US opting to place an emphasis on the power of example - working with and rewarding good-government regimes - while avoiding deep involvement in internal conflicts, some experts say. "From the perspective of the US administration, it makes sense to steer towards the long term, to emphasize the rewarding of good governance with foreign investment and state- strengthening that fills the voids where terrorists thrive," says Pierre Englebert, an Africa specialist at Pomona College in Claremont, Calif.

George Ayittey, a Ghanaian economist and Africa specialist at American University in Washington, says that until African leaders take the responsibility to stop Africa's conflicts and address its problems themselves, there is little Bush or the US can do. "By making these calls for foreign interventions all the time, they are absolving themselves of their responsibilities," he says. …

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