U.S. Policy in Africa Faulted on Priorities

By Stephanie McCrummen
Washington Post Foreign Service
Friday, February 22, 2008

NAIROBI, Feb. 21 -- In his tour of Africa, President Bush steered clear of countries where stability, human rights and progress toward democracy have degenerated during his tenure, among them Somalia, Ethiopia, Sudan, Chad, Uganda and Kenya.

In those countries, Bush's focus on counterterrorism has overtaken his other stated foreign policy goals of promoting democracy and human rights, according to analysts.

"While democratization has clearly been one of the three major stated objectives of the Bush administration -- the others being security and development -- democratization probably ranks third," said Joel Barkan, a senior associate with the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. "You can see it in several ways, but it's mainly the subordination of democratization to the so-called war on terror."

Money for once-robust programs aimed at strengthening democratic institutions such as courts and parliaments has dried up, Barkan said. And critics say that several less-than-democratic African leaders have skillfully played the anti-terrorism card to earn a relationship with the United States that has helped keep them in power.

While Bush has received praise across the continent for his fight against malaria and AIDS, many Africans who hoped that the United States would support their struggle for more just and open societies have been disappointed. They include opposition groups, human rights activists, intellectuals, professionals and, significantly in Kenya and Somalia, moderate Muslims who've felt unjustly targeted in the U.S.-driven hunt for terrorism suspects.

"There was a time when Muslims here would trust the U.S.," said Ibrahim Ahmed, a lawyer who ran for Kenya's parliament last year. "As a Muslim, I can say that U.S. foreign policy has really destroyed the trust that existed."

Ethiopia, with U.S. backing, invaded Somalia in December 2006 to oust the Islamic movement, which the United States accused of having ties to al-Qaeda. Ethiopia then installed a U.S.-backed transitional government headed by Abdullahi Yusuf, who analysts say has used the fight against terrorism as an excuse to attack his political and business enemies.

More than a year later, no high-level terrorism suspects have been killed or captured. Yusuf and the Ethiopian government are accused of committing war crimes against Somali civilians. And analysts say a more radicalized contingent of Islamic fighters has joined an insurgency battling for control of the capital, Mogadishu.

By some measures, Somalia is now the worst humanitarian crisis on the continent, with more than 1 million people displaced by fighting that has left thousands dead in the past year.

"I actually think it's paradoxical: America is advocating democracy and at the same time using ruthless and brutal warlords in Somalia that have no democratic credentials at all," said Sheikhdon Salad, a doctor in Mogadishu.

The Bush administration's policy in Somalia has had ramifications across the region, especially in Ethiopia.

The 2005 elections there were initially praised as among the country's most open and democratic. But when the opposition leveled accusations of vote-rigging, protesters took to the streets. Ethiopian security forces fired into the crowd, leaving at least 193 people dead. Many opposition leaders were jailed.

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