Keeping the focus on Africa

February 14, 2000|By Clarence Lusane

THE CLINTON administration declared January the month of Africa, hoping to focus attention on the continent, including the civil war in the Congo. U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, speaking before the U.N. Security Council, called the conflict Africas first world war.

Now the month has come and gone, but the attention must not fade. A new report from the New York-based World Policy Institute implicates the United States in the Congo war and other troubles besetting Africa.

The report documents the continuing trade in U.S. arms to Africa, specifically the Congo, under the Clinton administration. Titled "Deadly Legacy: U.S. Arms to Africa and the Congo War, the report says the United States played a significant role in propelling the "cycles of violence and economic problems that confront tens of millions in Africa. Through the Cold War, the United States provided more than $1.5 billion in weaponry to Africa. Between 1991 and 1998, the United States gave more than $227 million worth of weapons and military training to the continent.

While denouncing the wreckages of war that have been visited upon Africa, President Clinton and Ms. Albright have not owned up to the U.S. role as a key supplier of weapons. The United States is the second largest arms exporter to Central Africa, where the Congo is located, according to the U.S. Arms Control and Disarmament Agencys journal,

cf03 World Military Expenditures and Arms Transfers.

The current conflict involves the government of the Congo, led by Laurent Kabila. He has the support of Namibia, Angola and Zimbabwe. Pitted against them are a wide range of rebel forces, backed by Rwanda, Uganda and Burundi. Since the end of the Cold War, the United States has provided more than $125 million in weaponry and training to six of the seven states with troops involved in the conflict.

The report makes a number of recommendations that the administration would do well to heed. First, restrict the flow of arms from the United States. Second, support congressional efforts for stronger oversight of U.S. military-training programs in the region. Third, provide debt relief for the region. Finally, drastically increase, rather than continue cutting, developmental assistance to Africa.

These measures could help resolve conflicts like the Congolese civil war and could strengthen democracy and civil society in Africa. But they will not be adopted until we keep Africa -- and the role of the U.S. government there -- in focus.

Clarence Lusane is an assistant professor in the school of international service at American University in Washington. Hes the author of several works, including, most recently, "Race in the Global Era: African Americans at the Millennium (South End Press, 1997).

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