By Joseph Were
U.S. Secretary of State keeps his distance on African tour despite Uganda’s role in South Sudan
As U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry set off for his five-nation tour of Africa on May 1, the expectation was that the conflict in South Sudan would dominate. It did not.
The first indication of this was when Kerry’s itinerary was announced and it emerged that he would be skirting Uganda and Kenya and not meeting with presidents Yoweri Museveni and Uhuru Kenyatta, the main drivers of the effort, respectively, to protect the legitimate government and end the conflict in Juba.
Instead, Secretary Kerry would meet embattled South Sudan President Salva Kiir, Somalia’s President Hassan Sheik Mohamud, and DR Congo’s Joseph Kabila.
Regional analysts who spoke to The Independent said Kiir and Sheik Hassan are barely in a position to guarantee anything to Kerry and America because without Museveni and Kenyatta’s forces and diplomatic effort in Somalia and Juba, both would be out of a job in minutes. Kabila, meanwhile, owes his 13-year reign in the DR Congo to the presence of the biggest UN peace mission in the world with over 20,000 troops from over 30 countries.
To put any flesh on his bare-bones meeting with Kiir, Sheik Hassan, and Kabila, Secretary Kerry needed to have met with Museveni and Kenyatta. Instead, the only representatives of Uganda and Kenya to meet Kerry were the foreign ministers.
Kerry met them on May 1 in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa. Their talks covered the conflicts in South Sudan, the Central Africa Republic, DR Congo, and Nigeria. In south Sudan, they agreed that regional nations would send troops as part of a force to help stop the fighting.
“I think it is clear that everybody is in agreement that killing must stop, that humanitarian access needs to be delivered,» Kerry told reporters after the meeting. He added that Washington «fully supports African-led efforts to confront the most deadly conflicts of the continent.»
The South Sudan peace talks that had stalled resumed again for Kerry’s benefit. The U.S. was at the centre of the international effort that won South Sudan its independence from Sudan in 2011. Now, Uganda and Kenya are the one’s ensuring that the world’s youngest nation is not a still birth. Kerry was fully aware of this. When he gave a major policy speech in the Gullele Botanical Park on May 3, he pledged support.
He said: “We will continue to provide financial and logistical support to African Union-led efforts in Somalia, where al-Shahaab is under significant pressure.
“We will continue to support the African Union Regional Task Force against the Lord’s Resistance Army, where LRA-related deaths have dropped by 75 percent, and hundreds of thousands have returned to their homes.”
But part of the reason the Kerry-Museveni-Kenyatta meetings did not happen could be down to the U.S’s agenda at home.
Anti-gay law trouble
Although President Museveni is the U.S’s leading ally in the regional peace effort in South Sudan and the DR Congo, and the war against terror in Somalia, the American government has publicly ostracised him since he signed into law the Ant-homosexuality Act in February.
The U.S. President, Barack Obama warned Museveni: “enacting this legislation will complicate our valued relationship with Uganda”.
Secretary Kerry followed by describing the signing of the law as “atrocious”.
He said: “What is happening in Uganda is atrocious and it presents all of us with an enormous challenge because LGBT rights are human right and the signing of this anti-homosexuality law is flat out morally wrong. “This anti-gay movement is obviously bubbling up in various places around the world; it is not just an African problem, it’s a global problem, and we are wrestling with it and we are going to as we go forward.”
The U.S., which annually injects about US$400 million in Uganda, said it is reviewing ties. The World Bank, which has a strong presence in Uganda with a portfolio of projects worth about US$1.5 billion, immediately withheld a US$90 million loan for the health sector.
Representatives of 18 European donor countries followed with stern statements of intent to withhold aid. They represented Sweden, Canada, Britain, Ireland, and Italy. Others were France, Iceland, Denmark, Finland, Norway, Belgium, and the Netherlands.
The U.S’s continued snubbing of Museveni could also be designed to show concern over what appears to be Uganda’s unfaltering march off the democratic path and increasing likelihood of failure to transfer power peacefully.
President Museveni has been in power for about 30 years and shows no clear plan of ensuring that he will leave office without a violent fight. In fact, his government has become increasing intolerant of any opposition to Museveni. It has jailed supporters of Prime Minister Amama Mbabazi who is said to harbor ambitions to unseat Museveni within their NRM party, hounded a leading army general into exile for suggesting that Museveni is grooming his son, Brig. Muhoozi Kainerugaba, to take power, and terrorized opposition leaders like Dr. Kizza Besigye and his Forum for Democratic Change Party into near submission.
Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta’s democratic credential might not be as shambolic as Museveni’s, but the U.S. appears to be wary of diplomatic mine fields as it embraces him. Kenyatta and his deputy, William Ruto are inductees of the International Criminal Court (ICC) over crimes against humanity they allegedly committed over seven years ago when post-election violence swept through Kenya, a country to which Obama owes partial ancestry.
The U.S. is not a signatory to the ICC Statute, and Kenyatta and Ruto are cooperating with the court. However, Obama has appeared reluctant to invite Kenyatta to the White House. That could change soon as Kenyatta and 47 African heads of state head to Washington DC for the US-Africa Leadership Summit to be hosted by Obama on August 5-6.
Kenyatta’s Washington card
Until Kenyatta got his invitation in January, Obama appeared to be treating him like an unwanted but important regional ally.
Some expected that Kenyatta would join another eight heads that would not be invited, notably from Egypt, Zimbabwe, Central Africa Republic (CAR), Guinea Bissau, Eritrea, and Sudan, who were actually not invited. When the Summit was announced in January, the official White House statement said President Obama was looking to “further strengthen ties with one of the world’s most dynamic and fastest-growing regions”.
“The Summit will build on the progress made since the President’s trip to Africa last summer, advance the Administration’s focus on trade and investment in Africa, and highlight America’s commitment to Africa’s security, its democratic development, and its people.”
Now, the Washington trip is likely to publicly thaw the ice between Obama and Kenyatta. Should that happen, instead of being locked in the same out-house with Museveni as important but embarrassing allies, Kenyatta could be moved to warmer diplomatic quarters. Museveni would be left alone in that cold corner. But that too is not guaranteed. As secretary Kerry’s schmoosing with the octogenarian President Jose Eduardo Dos Santos of Angola, American foreign policy has not stopped following the money and betting on the winning horse.
President Dos Santos has been in power longer than Museveni; 35 years to be exact. And he is no democrat. He is called the 20 billion dollar president because that is his alleged personal wealth, a sum he is alleged to have siphoned from the country through shell companies, according to J.R. Mailey, a researcher at the Africa Center for Strategic Studies working on natural resources, corruption and security in Africa.
His office has a budget of US$ 1.8 billion but his expenses were, officially, US$ 69 billion. His family is all wealthy from bleeding the economy and his eldest daughter, Isabel Dos Santos, aged 40, is the only female billionaire in Africa.
Kerry met with him.
In previews of the trip, people familiar with the details said Kerry’s plan for Luanda was to commend this man for “Angola’s leadership in the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region and Angola’s push for solutions for crises in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the Central African Republic.”
On the side, Kerry would “discuss bilateral policy and trade issues with Foreign Minister Georges Chikoti”.
It was not lost on observers that at the time Kerry was in Angola, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang was also travelling to African nations. He too stopped in Angola where he discussed energy and other trade deals with Dos Santos. Kerry, when he gave a major policy speech in the Gullele Botanical Park on May 3, showed that his trip was focused less on the conflicts on the continent, including South Sudan, and more on America’s determination to invest in Africa’s young entrepreneurs, natural resources, agriculture, and energy sectors. He said Washington was discovering that, at the beginning of the 21st century, both the U.S. and Africa want a lasting and more grounded relationship; “one that is not reflective, but visionary and strategic”.
Focusing on conflicts and South Sudan is reflective while focusing on trade and natural resources exploitation is strategy, Kerry implied.
“I have absolutely no doubt that this could be an inflection point for the new Africa, a time and a place where Africans bend the arc of history towards reform, and not retribution; towards peace and prosperity, not revenge and resentment,” he said.
“I say this unabashedly, too,” he said in a speech entitled `Commitment to Africa’, “we want more American companies to be here.”
Museveni does not offer the same trade prospects for America, as do Dos Santos, Kabila, Hassan Mohamud and Salva Kiir. Those were Kerry’s real destination.