After the Clinton smile, will it be the Bush snarl?


For Africa, the election of George W. Bush to the American Presidency is an unmitigated disaster. He thinks Nigeria is a continent and couldn't care less if it isn't. Milan Vesely takes a sober look at what Bush's term in office will mean for Africa.

Closer US-African relationships are about to take an abrupt about turn with the election of George W. Bush as America's 43rd President. Republican, conservative and singularly disinterested in foreign affairs, the new President's message of "no strong commitment to Africa" is evident with the appointment of highly respected General Colin L. Powell as US Secretary of State.

Well known for his aversion to American involvement on the African continent as espoused in his autobiography My American Journey, General Powell referred to Somalia as "a place we can't make a country off".

In a further reference he advised President Clinton that "we've got to find a way to get out, and soon". Such thinking is expected to colour America's relationship with the African continent during the new administration's tenure in office.

President Bush's appointment of Colin Powell and National security adviser Condaleezza Rice to senior cabinet positions is hailed in the US as proof of America's diversity. Africa-Americans both, they view the world through the prism of big power politics rather than through affinity with their roots. Their stated priority is to strengthen US relations with traditional Western allies Britain and Germany. Improved interaction with Russia, China, Japan and South America also feature high on their agenda. Africa is well down due to its scant military or trading importance.

Eight years of a Clinton administration and two visits by the former President himself have resulted in a more activist approach by the United States to Africa's myriad problems. From AIDS to trade, the Clinton administration took more specific interest in a continent beset by problems, many of its own making.

The results have been the re-classification of Africa's HIV-AIDS pandemic as a US security issue, the passing of the African Growth and Opportunity Bill opening American markets to more of the continent's manufactured goods and the granting of $435m of debt relief. Nations like Uganda, Rwanda and Ethiopia were favoured as faces of the "new Africa' while UN intervention in the continent, though reluctantly endorsed, received at least lukewarm support.

A hostile Republican party with a mindset that Africa's conflicts are chronic and beyond solution changes all that. Financial appropriations for both debt relief and development aid are expected to dry up in the next four years. With Vice-President Dick Cheney - who opposed sanctions against apartheid South Africa and cast a "No" vote against a 1986 US Congressional proposal calling for the release of Nelson Mandela - the principle architect of President George W. Bush's foreign agenda, Africa's problems will receive even less consideration.

No knowledge or interest of Africa

While two African-Americans are set for key roles in the new administration, Salih Booker, Director of the Africa Policy Information Center in Washington says, "neither secretary of state Colin Powell nor national security advisor Condoleezza Rice have shown any particular interest or special knowledge of African issues."

The arrival of George W. Bush at the White House is likely to leave Africa...

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