Friday, December 15, 2006

I miss the waves down in Africa

Things in Somalia keep getting worse:
BAIDOA, Somalia -- Somalia's president said Friday that peace talks with the country's Islamic movement are no longer an option because the group's leaders have declared war on his government.

"They are the ones who effectively closed the door to peace talks and they are the ones who are waging the war," Somali President Abdullahi Yusuf told The Associated Press from his office in Baidoa.
Every mention of Yusuf should put scare-quotes around the word "President" (just like that!) The Islamic Courts Union controls the majority of the country, and the "Government" recognized internationally is entirely dependent on foreign support. The "Government" is based in Baidoa, is heavily dependent on Ethopian military aid, and Ethiopia is getting military training and advisors from... the United States. Wonderful.

The US, for its part, is widely assumed to have started supporting the Baidoa government not because they love those guys (who are largely the same guys the US was fighting in Mogadishu lo these many years ago) but because Bushco assumed that any Islamic force in Somalia would, by definition, end up allied with bin Laden. A stupid assumption, but hardly the first for this crowd.

So we're looking at a regional war between Ethiopia, the ICU, and even little Eritrea, which are all a short distance from Darfur, where the Sudanese government seems to be coming down hard again. In response, Tony Blair is proposing a no-fly zone for Sudan.

I'm entirely unconvinced with the proposals to put boots on the ground in Darfur, mainly because I don't think the troops exist. A no-fly zone has the obvious benefit of not amounting to a land invasion of an African country, but the question is where it leads. It's all to easy to go from a no-fly zone to a Kosovo-style bombing campaign.

The Kosovo precedent is relevant in another way, because the Sudanese government believes that international pressure is essentially trying to cleave Darfur away from Sudan's sovereignty. Which, you know, we pretty much did in Kosovo despite early and explicit statements to the contrary. Whether you think that was a good thing or not, you can't blame Khartoum for being suspicious.

Meanwhile, the French are busy actively fighting in support of the Central African Republic, and the African Union is saying "In Central African Republican and Chad, with a heavy heart, we are just spectators of a tragedy unfolding there."

So there's no a lot of good news in Africa these days. But it is there, if you look for it. For one thing, the elections in the Democratic Republic of Congo have more-or-less been a success, with Kabila being accepted as the legitimate winner. The DRC is still desperately poor, but it seems that for now we might get the return of some order there.

Meanwhile, across Africa, various regional organizations are finally tackling the most tangible, enduring legacy of colonialism - the integration of national and regional economies. During the colonial and most of the post-colonial era, economic development was geared solely towards exports, meaning that in most African countries all roads lead to the ports, and there's almost zero integration of national economies, much less regional economies. So you get absurd scenarios like this:
Poor road infrastructure is a constant source of frustration for Doxa Worldwide Movers when it transports goods from Côte d’Ivoire, Togo, Benin, Nigeria and other points all the way to Niger. “It’s the nature of the job,” Mr. Ackun says.

Business has grown since the company’s birth 10 years ago, but so have the headaches. Mr. Ackun told Africa Renewal that to get to Liberia, containers often have to go to sorting hubs in Europe first, and then retrace their way back to Africa. Social unrest, little competition, poor roads and multiple checkpoints, he says, are partly responsible for the steep cost of moving goods within the region.

“It costs $1,000 to ship a 20-foot container to the United Kingdom,” Mr. Ackun said. “You need $2,300 to transport the same container just next door to Liberia.
In west Africa, the NEPAD program has helped construct a highway system that is finally connecting the economies of the Guinea Coast. Meanwhile, on the opposite end of the continent, the East African countries of Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania (with Burundi and Rwanda signing on later in 2007) have begun the process of economic integration with a customs union, which is supposed to eventually lead to currency union and even a regional parliament in the future.

The East African countries are only one example of the regional groups in Africa who are trying to integrate their economies within the African Union framework. These regional pillars, the theory goes, will eventually be tied together (some time in the 2030s or so) in to one continent-wide African currency, customs, and political union. But the process of integration is already paying dividends - Mozambique has posted Chinese levels of growth, due in large part to the lowering of trade barriers with South Africa.

So record growth is coming from liberalization of trade - sounds like the Washington Consensus, right? Wrong. The IMF/World Bank policies of the 1980s and 1990s were entirely unconcerned with national or regional integration. Roads were built continuing in the colonial policies of export-focused growth. Tariffs were reduced with the world's most advanced economies, leading to incredible disruptions in the Third World, while tariffs between African countries remained high. A more intelligent policy would have been to, beginning immediately after decolonization, begin what we're only starting now in the 21st century.

So why didn't the Africans figure this out early? Well, they did. The earliest post-colonial leaders, like Patrice Lumumba and Kwame Nkrumah, were staunch Pan-Africanists. But neither the Soviets, the Americans, nor the old colonial mother countries had any interest in a united, assertive Africa. Lamumba in particular was immediately set upon by the CIA, his own army, and Belgian colonials who wanted to retain their privileges. Throughout the Cold War, any African leader who tried asserting any control over their countries, much less try for an assertive foreign policy, quickly found themselves staring down the barrel of a gun.

I certainly don't want to glamourize Nkrumah or Lumumba more than they deserve - both men had problematic aspects, to say the least. In particular, Nkrumah followed the tragic African pattern of national-liberator-to-strongman. The point is that we in the west wasted two generations of African development by insisting on "development" policies that were not materially different from the old colonial model. These policies failed miserably to produce any real growth - from 1980 to 2000, many African countries saw their GDP shrink.

We're finally seeing a reversal of this trend from a combination of rising commodity prices (thank you, China!) too-limited debt forgiveness, and exactly the regional and continental integration that the early pan-Africanists advocated but the west opposed.

I wonder if Africa will ever forgive us.

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