Opinion

The Great Debate

The looming U.S.-China rivalry over Latin America

President Barack Obama meets with Chinese President Xi Jinping (L) in California, June 7, 2013. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

Though the U.S. and Chinese presidents heralded a “new model” of cooperation at their weekend summit, a growing competition looks more likely. The whirlwind of activity before President Barack Obama met with President Xi Jinping in the California desert revealed that Beijing and Washington’s sights are set on a similar prize — and face differing challenges to attain it.

Their focus is Latin America and the prize is increased trade and investment opportunities in a region where economic reforms have pulled millions out of poverty and into the middle class. Latin America is rich in the commodities and energy that both China and the United States need, largely stable politically and eager to do deals.

Consider the travel itinerary: Obama visited Mexico and Costa Rica last month. Vice President Joe Biden recently went to Colombia, Trinidad and Tobago and Brazil. Chile’s president paid Obama a visit last week, Peru’s leader arrived Tuesday and Brazil’s is due in October.

Meanwhile, just after Biden left Trinidad, Xi arrived, part of a tour that also took him to Costa Rica and Mexico to promote trade and cooperation.

Rice: Hitting ‘reset’ on Africa talks

Michael O’Hanlon, in his Reuters Opinion piece, “In defense of Susan Rice” (Reuters, December 10, 2012), took issue with my New York Times op-ed article, “Susan Rice and Africa’s Despots” (December 9, 2012).

Mine were not ad hominem attacks. It is fair to hold a public official accountable for her career and for the roles she played and continues to play in attempting to resolve African conflicts. I was not questioning U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice’s desire for a more peaceful continent.

My point was to call attention to Rice’s relationships with Africa’s strongmen, most notably Meles Zenawi of Ethiopia and Paul Kagame of Rwanda, developed over the decades. I think these relationships have affected U.S. credibility in the region and limited its ability to serve as an unbiased arbiter in conflicts.

In defense of Susan Rice

The accusations against Susan Rice, the United States ambassador to the United Nations and potential nominee for secretary of state, continue. They took a new turn on Monday as an Eritrean-American, Salem Solomon, wrote for the New York Times op-ed page about Rice’s supposed affections for a new generation of strongmen of Africa.

This article comes at an inopportune time, since Rice is now being hammered for all sorts of reasons — many of them specious. It feels more like piling on than fair-minded criticism. It is particularly unfortunate because partisanship is complicating efforts to determine whether Rice would be a strong choice as secretary of state.

I have written before about Rice, who is a friend and former colleague. I’m an admirer of her work, though this is not to suggest that she would necessarily be a better choice for secretary of state than Senator John Kerry (D-Mass.) or someone else. But she is a capable public servant and a serious candidate for the job. The recent criticisms — including the New York Times commentary — are often unfair.

Obama, Romney missing the point on Libya

President Barack Obama and Governor Mitt Romney in Monday’s foreign policy debate are again likely to examine the administration’s handling of an Islamic militia’s murderous attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, and its significance for U.S. policy in the Middle East.

Unfortunately, they may again miss the crucial question raised by the murder of Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans: Why is Libya at the mercy of hundreds of lawless militias and without a functioning state one year after U.S. and NATO support enabled rebels to overthrow dictator Muammar Ghadaffi?

What both presidential nominees fail to see is that the United States and its allies went beyond their (and the U.N.’s) declared objective of protecting civilian areas under threat of attack to promoting rapid and violent regime change. This left the country in the hands of a fledgling rebel political leadership, which has tenuous control over the country’s militia groups.

The U.S. needs to walk the walk on African security

As Secretary of State Hillary Clinton wraps up her travels across the African continent to showcase President Obama’s Presidential Policy Directive to advance the “prosperity, security and dignity of its citizens,” she might have some explaining to do.

No doubt about it, the directive is a great strategy focused on strengthening democratic institutions, spurring economic growth, trade and investment, advancing peace and security, and promoting opportunity and development in Africa. It’s the right combination of the right ingredients. However, when the United States recently had the opportunity to demonstrate its commitment to these objectives in fragile regions around the world, including Africa, the Obama administration walked away. Instead of standing with other nations against the illicit and irresponsible arms trade that kills 1,500 people a day, it abruptly reversed course.

Negotiations for a global arms trade treaty were 10 years in the making. But during the final hours at the United Nations in New York, the United States, which was getting the final text adjustments it wanted, surprised everyone by suddenly voicing opposition. Russia and China piled on, halting the entire process.

from Africa News blog:

Are African governments suppressing art?

By Cosmas Butunyi

The dust is finally settling on the storm that was kicked off in South Africa by a controversial painting of President Jacob Zuma with his genitals exposed.

The country that boasts one of the most liberal constitutions in the world and the only one on the African continent with a constitutional provision that protects and defends the rights of  gays and lesbians , had   its values put up to  the test  after an artist    ruffled feathers by a painting that questioned the moral values  of the ruling African National Congress .

For weeks, the storm ignited by the painting  called  ‘The Spear’, raged on, sucking in Goodman Gallery that displayed it and City Press, a weekly newspaper that had published it on its website. The matter eventually found its way into the corridors of justice, where the ruling ANC sought redress against the two institutions. The party also mobilised its supporters to stage protests outside the courtroom when the case it filed came up for hearing. They also matched to the gallery and called for a boycott of City Press , regarded as one of the country's most authoritative newspapers.

from Africa News blog:

100 years and going strong; But has the ANC-led government done enough for its people?

By Isaac Esipisu

Although the role of political parties in Africa has changed dramatically since the sweeping reintroduction of multi-party politics in the early 1990s, Africa’s political parties remain deficient in many ways, particularly their organizational capacity, programmatic profiles and inner-party democracy.

The third wave of democratization that hit the shores of Africa 20 years ago has undoubtedly produced mixed results as regards to the democratic quality of the over 48 countries south of the Sahara. However, one finding can hardly be denied: the role of political parties has evidently changed dramatically.

Notwithstanding few exceptions such as Eritrea , Swaziland and Somalia , in almost all sub-Saharan countries, governments legally allow multi-party politics. This is in stark contrast to the single-party regimes and military oligarchies that prevailed before 1990.

What we’ve learned from 25 years of famine

By Mark Malloch-Brown
The opinions expressed are his own.

Twenty five years ago, in the aftermath of a devastating famine in Ethiopia, remembered for better and worse for Bob Geldof’s Bandaid concerts, I wrote a book called “Famine: A Man-Made Disaster?” The question mark said it all. I ghostwrote the book for a group of African and other leaders who were more tentative than I was in declaring what had happened was largely the fault of African governments. So the great men added a question mark.

Yet while it was more convenient–not least for fundraising and handling a nasty regime in Ethiopia–to blame it on God and the weather, that famine was caused in large part by bad governance. A centralized regime in distant Addis Ababa, interested in its own survival, had little time for the development of far off rural areas where non-Amharic minorities were living. Its military background and Marxist pretensions also meant it had no interest in developing local food markets and viable peasant agriculture.

So the first big change is what has not happened. Most of Ethiopia and for that matter Kenya have escaped the famine not just because they were beyond the strict epicenter of the drought itself but because a long investment in rural food security in Ethiopia and a buoyant market economy in Kenya has enabled both to ride out sharply higher food prices.

Does everyone have a price?

DUBAI/

On Monday I went to Bloomingdales, the Gap and Starbucks but passed on a visit to Magnolia Bakery. Instead I  stopped by the St. Moritz bakery where you can order hot chocolate and sit by a video of a cozy winter  fire that overlooks the indoor ski slope and is just around the corner from the largest candy store in the world, which happens to face an aquarium that occupies an entire wall on one side of the world’s largest shopping malls. This by the way is opposite of what claims to be the world’s largest candystore whose mission statement is to make every day “happier’. Earlier, while exploring the watery depths of the bright Pink Atlantis Hotel (one of the white elephants of the property crash of 2007) I knew it was really the last kingdom because the fish swam around two cracked thrones and other kitschy stone artifacts.

Dubai is utterly overwhelming, the kind of  dystopia that blogger Evgeny Morozov sees in Huxley, a consumeristic paradise where mind-numbing shopping replaces real thought. Most of the I had no idea where I was except that my passport had been stamped Dubai  and many of the mall-going women were shrouded in black. After a few hours I sank into a state of ennuie. Given boatloads of oil money in the 1970s and the chance to build a whole new city, who on earth would decide to build a series of shopping malls?

It’s not like the developers didn’t have ambition, what with the architecture that demands superlatives — the gondolas, medieval stone houses and soaring illuminated sky scrapers and islands built in absurd never-before-seen configurations. But why not build a museum with, say, the most incredible collection in the world or a university with the finest research laboratories? With so much money why build this Disneyland? And what about the workers who make up most of the population?

Awakening Africa’s sleeping agricultural giant

Hans Binswanger is the former senior adviser to the World Bank on rural development in Africa. He is currently an independent agriculture and development consultant based in South Africa. The opinions expressed are his own.

The World Bank’s recent study of the prospects of commercial agriculture in Africa focused primarily on the Guinea Savannahs that cover some 600 million hectares, of which about 400 million can be used for agriculture. Less than 10 percent of this area is currently cropped, making it one of the largest underused agricultural land reserves in the world.

During the past four decades, two similar, backward, landlocked, and largely rain-fed agricultural regions developed rapidly and became international agricultural powerhouses: The Cerrado of Brazil and Northeast Thailand. The difficult agro-ecological conditions, remoteness, and poverty levels of the two regions were successfully overcome, and the same should happen in the Guinea Savannahs.

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