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Africa And Aboriginal Tuesdays: The Bush Administration Needs To Ease Africa's Fears About Iraq Strategy by Charles R. Stith


I just finished a six-nation, one-month swing through Africa. There is a lot of angst and anger about America's seemingly imminent incursion into Iraq. The Bush administration needs to respond to the concern and criticism in that part of the world because while the United States can defeat Saddam Hussein without a global coalition, it can't defeat the likes of al-Qaida without worldwide cooperation.

Secretary of State Colin Powell offered a stellar, if not ironclad, case for the veracity of the Bush administration's claim that Saddam is a real and present danger to the United States. With the administration seeming to have turned the corner on persuading Western countries to support his proposed actions against Iraq, he now needs to convince the nation states of Africa and other less-developed regions that the demise of Saddam is not a defeat for the developing world.

Although subversion of the U.N. process is the way the opposition to the U.S. course of action in Iraq has crystallized, addressing this matter of process ought to be the end point rather than the starting point in the effort to keep the world focused on the larger issue -- tackling terrorism.

As is so often the case in the heat of the moment, real reasons for differences of opinion are obscured. Two such "real reasons" in this case are the flip sides of the economic argument against U.S. intervention into Iraq. The first expression of concern is that a war against Iraq will prohibitively increase the price of oil for Africa and other developing countries. The other side of the argument is that war in the Middle East, in and of itself, will spell economic hardship for Africa and the rest of the developing world.

The first test for the Bush administration, in assuaging the concerns of African states relative to the oil question, is making the case that it can get the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries to hold the line on oil prices. He must convince our African partners in the war against terrorism that they won't suffer the same devastating consequences they did during the OPEC precipitated oil shock of 1973.

Secondly, on the issue of costs of war for African states, President Bush must do a better job of giving context to the stakes involved. He started that process in his State of the Union address. The argument he must develop is that war against Saddam is of lesser economic consequence than allowing him to provide support and succor to terrorists.

What Bush needs to do more effectively is remind the developing world of the economic consequences of Sept. 11. After the attack on the World Trade Center and Pentagon, the U.S. economy took a $1.4 trillion hit in the succeeding months. The effect of this on Africa, as World Bank President James Wolfensohn said soon after, was that tourism bookings dropped some 60 percent in Africa and foreign direct investment in that part of the world all but dried up.

If the United States and the community of nations don't do everything in their power to preclude another such attack from happening, the result will be devastating for those that can least afford it. To employ an African parable in illustrating the point, "When elephants fight, the grass suffers."

The final issue the president must address if he is to hold together the global coalition against terrorism is an issue that has not really been articulated; but it is a significant factor in the fear and resistance coming from developing parts of the world. It has to do with this whole matter of "regime change."

I'm certain that at the heart of some of the concern being expressed is the fact that the notion of regime change conjures up ghosts from ages not so far past, when such efforts resulted in the subversion of the will of the people rather than support for the will of the people.

The Bush administration must appreciate that Western "success" at this sort of thing resulted in the death of leaders such as Congolese President Patrice Lumumba and the imposition of kleptocrats such as Mobutu Sese Seko. The Bush administration must make a better case as to why this time is different and why this doesn't represent a retreat to days gone by. Doing that means keeping front and center who Saddam Hussein really is.

He is not a liberator. His leadership doesn't reflect the popular will of his people. He came to power through a coup and has maintained power through means of torture and sham elections. He has gassed his own people and invaded neighboring countries with one end in mind. That is, to extend his own hegemony. There is no reason to believe that what he has done once and twice, he won't do again.

The developing world must be reminded with each transgression that he has become increasingly emboldened and the consequences have become exponentially higher.

Whether Bush makes this case before or after U.S. troops march into Iraq, it's a case that he needs to make if the United States is to turn the tide against terrorism.



Charles R. Stith is director of Boston University's African Presidential Archives and Research Center and the former U.S. ambassador to Tanzania.


Note: This article first appeared in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution


Charles R. Stith

Tuesday, February 11, 2003

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