US Election and the World – Part IV

In the aftermath of the greatly anticipated US elections, observers worldwide are assessing the consequences of George W. Bush's reelection. Concluding its multi-part series, YaleGlobal gauges the African reaction to the landmark political event. Political analyst and journalist Zubeida Jaffer reports that most Africans are disappointed by the Republican triumph, but remain willing to engage with the United States on the Bush administration's terms. Distracted by the war on terror, the administration paid little attention to famine, widespread poverty, and conflicts wracking the continent. Nevertheless, the Bush White House will continue its involvement in nations of strategic interest. "Despite their disappointment and anger," writes Jaffer, "African nations must learn to live with the sole superpower." – YaleGlobal

US Election and the World – Part IV

Though dissatisfied with Bush's policies, Africans must come to terms with the realities of US power
Zubeida Jaffer
Monday, November 15, 2004
An African cartoonist views the US as out of this world. © 2004 Jonathan Shapiro. Click for Enlarged image

CAPE TOWN: African reaction to the re-election of George W. Bush has been ambivalent, swinging between resignation and fear. The common thread is deep concern and anger about a White House that is inclined to war and unilateralism. In so far as this has serious implications for the world, it also impacts Africa.

Kenya's Vice President Moody Awori strongly expresses this sentiment. "I think we are going to see more dictatorship on an international scale," he said. "We are going to see more isolation, where Americans will not bother about the UN. To me that is a very sad affair."

Africans are generally unhappy for two reasons: Many believe Bush's first-term foreign policy has endangered global security, and many see him as being disinterested in the African cause. "Despite his public pronouncements, Bush has made it clear that Africa is not a priority, so its bad news for us," said Kevin Malunga, law lecturer at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, South Africa. "He reacted very late to crises here – in Darfur, in Liberia and other places – which shows what's important to him," he said to the Star in Johannesburg.

Many expect that the Iraqi crisis and the war on terror will likely continue diverting US attention from efforts to rescue Africa from poverty, famine, and conflict. "The Americans have voted for a militarized Rambo rather than someone who appeals to their reason," said Bolaji Akinyemi, a former Nigerian foreign minister, in South Africa's Star. "I suppose every living being, when frightened by security, stops thinking and reacts instinctively," he said.

The other common African reaction is reluctant acceptance of business as usual for Africa. "Most of Africa would have preferred John Kerry as president, however we have to understand Africa does not feature on the US agenda, it does not count at all," said Sipho Seepe, South African political commentator. "Africa's contribution to the global economy is two percent," he added.

A post-US-election Kenyan Times editorial perhaps best expresses this sentiment: "The world has no choice but to accept that what Bush says represents America's body and soul … which is why we must ultimately accept the choice the Americans make, even if we do not agree." Some have even predicted that Africa's 800 million people will remain all but invisible to Washington.

While African responses have spanned a continuum of emotions, they must face the fact that their respective countries' hard political and economic strategic differentials largely determine how Bush's presidency will affect them. An anti-terrorism agenda and desire for a greater diversification of oil sources has greatly influenced US foreign policy over the past four years. The key countries likely to enjoy US attention include energy-rich Nigeria and countries – Kenya, South Africa, Somalia, the Sudan, and Ethiopia – with economic or security potential. All of these countries, except Kenya and South Africa, fall into the top ten Islamic centers in Africa.

At present, countries in sub-Saharan Africa supply 16 percent of American fuel. A December 2001 report by the US National Intelligence Council forecast 25 percent of US oil imports will come from Africa by 2015. Nigeria, therefore, cannot escape US attention. Added to the oil dimension are concerns about the rise of Islamic fundamentalist practices in northern Nigeria.

American officials have condemned the political and humanitarian crisis in Darfur in western Sudan. Africa commentator Paul Nantulya, of Cape Town's Institute for Justice and Reconciliation, said that it was too early to predict the re-election's impact on the Sudan. But he does expect the re-election of George Bush to push the parties closer together. "The El-Bashir government was waiting to see which way the elections will go. With Bush back in office, they are under tremendous pressure to become part of the peace initiatives which they have resisted," he said.

In the end, the United States looks to African countries to spearhead peacekeeping activities. Sudanese peace-makers, however, are particularly optimistic about the strong possibility of the special US envoy to the Sudan peace process, Walter Kansteiner III, replacing Colin Powell. In this instance, shifts within the US body politic potentially have positive consequences for elements within the Sudan.

South Africa, on the other hand, structured strong economic relations with the US after the lifting of the anti-apartheid sanctions. While South Africa has been outspoken in its criticism of the Bush administration, the Bilateral US-South Africa Commission is still very much on track. Six years ago, South Africa posted a deficit in bilateral trade. Over the past four years, South Africa exported about US$4.5 billion worth of goods annually to the US, while imports totaled US$2.5 billion.

While many argue that this represents the legacy of the Clinton era, the relationship has actually continued from Clinton to Bush, albeit with lesser ease. President Thabo Mbeki's controlled response to the re-election underscores the belief that it will be business as usual. He said he was "looking forward to continuing work with President Bush to deal with the challenges of poverty and underdevelopment and to continue to co-operate on other bilateral issues."

He went a little further than underscoring continued cooperation. "We hope for renewed support for and interest in Africa and the developing world, reform of world institutions, and an era of multilateralism marked by social progress for all."

Commentators have read this as a thinly-veiled criticism of American foreign policy. Still, Professor John Stremlau, head of International Relations at the University of the Witwatersrand, said in South Africa's Sunday Times that Mbeki appears to appreciate those aspects of Bush's foreign policy that afford South Africa special leverage. "Africa is a vital interest for South Africa, and one hears few complaints from Pretoria regarding any lack of US backing for South African-led peace initiatives in the Democratic Republic of Congo or Burundi," said Stremlau.

Uganda has chosen not to complain either. Its president, Yoweri Museveni, whose policies have successfully reduced HIV infection levels by promoting abstinence as well as condom use, said Bush "supported us in the fight against HIV/AIDS and this support is expected to continue.

While ambivalence towards US policies will likely be part of the African emotional fabric for many years to come, many Africans realize that they have very little space within which to move. "With the US as the dominant world power, many African countries are dependent on US largesse," said political commentator Dr. Iqbal Jhazbhay of the University of South Africa. He continued, "Countries such as South Africa are in different position, but there are many others who have few choices but to fall in line with US interest."

In addition to the long-standing US interest in the energy and other mineral resources in Africa, post-9/11 US policy has been guided principally by concerns about preventing terrorism, and – to a much smaller extent – by the AIDS epidemic. With the probability of four more years of the same, the governments are resigned to seeking the best possible terms under the Bush dispensation. Despite their disappointment and anger, African nations must learn to live with the sole superpower.

Zubeida Jaffer is the former parliamentary editor of South Africa’s largest newspaper chain. She works as an independent political analyst and journalist based in Cape Town, South Africa. Her memoir, Our Generation, was published by Kwela publishers last year.

© 2004 Yale Center for the Study of Globalization