Corruption: Africa's Challenge

Corruption: Africa's Challenge

Corruption is the theme of this month's African Union meeting in Addis Ababa. It is refreshing that African leaders will discuss the subject in public. Some leaders are more committed than others to ending the cycle of graft which has dogged Africa since the colonial era.

Africa is not alone in this problem. Theft through corruption occurs in practically every nation – the early days of American industrialization were rife with graft. But in Africa, it has persisted as a potent force to stymie economic development and prosperity. 

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Special Comment on President Trump's Insulting Remark About African Countries

To all my friends and colleagues in African governments, African civil society, and African business enterprises:

I recommend that you do not take seriously the insulting remarks about African countries made by President Trump as reported by the American press on Thursday, January 11.

Sadly, he clearly is unaware of the hundreds of thousands of Africans who have come to the United States as immigrants, and who are making valuable contributions as professionals in health sciences, law, business enterprises, education and government. In addition, African immigrants to the United States in all walks of life have outstanding reputations as law abiding citizens with strong families and loyalty to their new nationality.  

Rest assured that our foreign service officers representing the U.S. at our embassies in Africa have deep respect for your nations and a commitment to deepening and strengthening our relationships, which benefit us collectively.

Too much is at stake to take this seriously, and I believe more than ever in the potential for strong and productive relations between the nations and peoples of Africa and those of the United States.
I hope that Congressional members and other representatives of the US government will rebuke the President’s insensitive remarks.
Please forgive President Trump.

Rough Seas Ahead for President Kabila


In my time in the Foreign Service, I worked in nations across Africa whose people welcomed the departure of colonial overseers with hopes for democracy and better governance, only to see those hopes dashed by leaders who became so enamored with power that they never wanted to leave.

On the 17th anniversary of Joseph Kabila’s rise to power, it is clear that he has overstayed his welcome.

It is likely to be a difficult year for President Kabila. There is a growing international consensus that the DRC’s instability owes to the Kabila regime’s deliberate violations of the constitution to delay legally mandated elections. This is likely to result in increased pressure from the U.S. and international community in the coming months for elections to be held no later than December of 2018, and potentially, a rise in state-sponsored violence.

The United Nations Security Council has condemned the violence against protestors perpetrated by the DRC security forces, opening the door to further sanctions by interested foreign governments. Members of the U.S. Congress are preparing legislation which would expand the US sanctions already in place against key individuals in the Kabila regime. These new sanctions are likely to come close to President Kabila and his immediate family.

President Kabila failed to hold elections in 2017, as was agreed in the December 2016 compromise negotiated by the Catholic Church. But he is also in blatant violation of several other important aspects of the agreement. First, the opposition was not given an opportunity to name a new Prime Minister from its own ranks. Instead, the President selected an individual supposedly associated with the opposition to be Prime Minister. Second, the President has refused to make a public commitment that he would not be a candidate in the election. 

Despite the foot-dragging, the one positive development was the start of voter registration by the Independent National Electoral Commission (CENI) in mid-2017. In October 2017, the CENI announced that the election could not be held prior to the first half of 2019; because of international pressure, especially from United States Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley, it rescheduled the election for December 23, 2018.

The DRC political opposition no longer accepts President Kabila’s legitimacy after his failure to hold elections last year. Their political battle cry is “Transition Without Kabila.” They are demanding that a transitional government be put in place for the purpose of preparing for the election. It is quite clear that this will not happen.

The DRC’s Roman Catholic Archbishops, who negotiated the December 2016 agreement for elections in 2017, understandably feel betrayed. They called for mass peaceful demonstrations on December 31, 2017. The Kabila regime has tried to prevent these demonstrations with a brutal show of force. Security forces entered churches during mass, firing tear gas and live ammunition while the faithful were in prayer. This shocked the entire world, but did not weaken the Congolese people’s resolve.

Felix Tshisekedi, head of the “Rassemblement” coalition and the DRC’s main opposition leader still residing in the country, has issued a formal announcement that the opposition does not recognize President Kabila’s authority, and has called upon the international community to join in this declaration. It remains to be seen whether foreign governments will continue to recognize President Kabila as the DRC’s legitimate leader after his numerous violations of the country’s democratic process.

After Donald Trump’s victory in 2016, President Kabila hoped that US policy would change towards the DRC. It has not. The Trump administration has generally continued President Obama’s Africa policy, promoting democracy, an end to violence, and good governance, along with economic development through private sector investment. Kabila’s repeated defiance of his country’s constitution and violations of the agreements he has made to hold legitimate elections continue to be a top international issue for the U.S. under the new administration. 

Kabila had a chance to be a new kind of African leader who relinquishes power in a peaceful democratic transition. But he is simply acting as earlier strongmen did. He should not expect an ease in U.S. or international pressure anytime soon. 

(Photo: UN Photo / Cia Pak)

Ethiopia at an Ominous Crossroads

Ethiopia at an Ominous Crossroads

Since seizing the government by force of arms in 1991, the TPLF-controlled Ethiopian regime has maintained monopolies over economic and political power ever since, and has therefore dominated all other nationalities and ethnic groups. It is this refusal to share political power and wealth on the part of the TPLF that is causing the violent demonstrations of dissent within the Oromo and Amhara states. Government efforts to divert attention to cross border violence between Oromo and Somali states cannot hide its responsibility for the instability brought on by its refusal to grant the Ethiopian people the self-determination granted by their constitution.

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President Trump's National Security Strategy

President Trump's National Security Strategy

President Trump has issued the annual “National Security Strategy” report, as required by law. Here is my analysis of what it means for African leaders and U.S. Africa relations.

The strategy generally follows President Trump’s emphasis on “America First,” indicating he does not want other countries to take advantage of US generosity in development programs and trade.

Much of the document could have been written by the George H.W. Bush (41) or Obama administrations, and hews closely to their policy positions. But there are several elements which should catch the attention of African governments as they could affect U.S.-Africa trade and security relationships.

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Zimbabwe: President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s Challenge

Zimbabwe: President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s Challenge

What we have just witnessed in Zimbabwe was not a revolution to overthrow a corrupt system. It was a power struggle within that corrupt system. Former President Mugabe wanted to install his much younger wife as his successor. The old guard, who understandably felt threatened, moved to stop him. The correct question from this point has become, “what happens next?”

The new President has heard the ordinary people of Zimbabwe cheering in the streets at the news of Mugabe’s resignation. Consequently, Mnangagwa is telling them what they want to hear.

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Zimbabwe Was a Victim of Mugabe’s Marxist Ideology

Zimbabwe Was a Victim of Mugabe’s Marxist Ideology

Robert Mugabe began his tenure as a reasonable head of state after leading Zimbabwe to majority rule in 1980. He understood that Zimbabwe’s relative prosperity, and good economic outlook, were highly dependent on the continued cooperation of white commercial farmers. He did everything possible to reassure farmers who wanted to remain on their farms.

Mugabe accepted a constitution guaranteeing seven white members of parliament. He also named a white farmer’s union head to his Cabinet as Minister of Agriculture. His attitude toward the white commercial farmer was so positive that new white farmers came to Zimbabwe to buy land.

Mugabe was also very strong on education. The number of Africans graduating from high school and university rose significantly during the first fifteen years of his administration.

But underlying Mugabe’s constructive view of power was a deep-seated ideology that would eventually cause him to destroy everything that his administration, and the white Rhodesians before him, had worked so hard to build.

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A Well Thought-Out Analysis From a Reader

Commenter Michael had the following to say about my October 30 blog post on the DRC:

"Greatly disagree with this blog entry from Mr. Cohen. The Congolese have come to understand that the international community (IC) is not on their side. The IC is well aware of the atrocities done in Eastern Congo and backed by both staunch western allies like Rwanda and Uganda and greatly detailed through UN reports. There have not been any sanctions or actions against these states. The IC including the US have been very soft against negative forces affecting the Congolese people.

Even with the sanctions directed toward members of the Kabila's entourage, we see that the Minister of Communications Lambert Mende who s under EU sanctions being granted a visa to visit Belgium for "humanitarian" reasons and yet there are Congolese opposition leaders who are rotting in prison without medical care and yet the IC is willing to give "lee-way" to perpetrators and bad actors in the Congo who are under sanctions.

So with all due respect Mr. Cohen, I think people especially in Congo have a right to be suspicious or at least cynical of the propositions of Ambassador Haley. The opposition in 2016 was under pressure of the IC to cede to a dialogue with Kabila when the population were ready for a revolution. The result is non-respect of the agreement, political prisoners still exile or in prison and non-nomination of a true Prime Minister from the opposition and cabinet positions still under the control of the Presidential Majority.

With all due respect Mr. Cohen, Congolese intellectuals should not relax because that's what they did in 2016 and expecting elections in 2017. Look what it produced."

The Trump Administration’s DRC Policy Is Now Formulated

The formulation of the Trump Administration’s policy toward the DRC is now complete. Although the administration has not yet nominated an Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, the Africa Bureau is currently in the very experienced and capable hands of Ambassador Don Yamamoto, and his Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary, Ambassador Stephanie Sullivan.


From a variety of sources, I have determined that the Trump Administration believes an honorable departure from power on the part of President Joseph Kabila, pursuant to the constitutional limitation of two elected terms, would be in the best interests of the Congolese people, and the Great Lakes sub-region. The Administration, therefore, would like to see the next set of elections held at the earliest possible date.

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Congolese Intellectuals’ Misguided Reaction to Ambassador Haley’s Visit to the DRC

Immediately after US UN Ambassador Nikki Haley’s departure from the DRC, the Congolese and international press were reporting great disappointment among that country’s intellectuals and a number of political personalities. They accused Ambassador Haley of assisting President Kabila’s determination to extend his stay in power, as long as possible, well beyond the expiration of his constitutional mandate on December 31, 2016.

This criticism is utterly misguided, and demonstrates a lack of understanding on the part of Congolese critics as to how American diplomacy and international relations are conducted. 

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Ambassador Nikki Haley’s Visit to Africa

US Permanent Representative to the United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley is currently visiting Africa on behalf of President Donald Trump. During his official luncheon for African heads of State at the United Nations General Assembly in September, the President said he was concerned with two countries in crisis: South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. He asked Ambassador Haley to visit these countries and make recommendations.

What is Ambassador Haley likely to find during her visit, and what is she likely to recommend?

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Trump’s Proposed Budget Reductions Will Hurt the U.S. and Africa

The Trump Administration has made known its initial budget proposals for fiscal year 2018, beginning October 1, 2017. African governments should be interested in these proposals because some important U.S. Government activities on the continent could either be abolished or significantly reduced.

President Trump’s budget request for 2018 proposes significant reductions in two spending categories of interest to Africa...

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Update on the Democratic Republic of the Congo

The political drama that began in the DRC over a year ago over the presidential succession continues to fester, and continues to increase tensions. Six months of negotiations have failed to bring about a solution, but the main opposition political leaders have expressed a willingness to make one last effort at compromise before resorting to outright political warfare. The big question is: Will President Kabila recognize the writing on the wall and agree to leave power peacefully?

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République Démocratique du Congo descend dans un état d'anarchie politique dangereuse. Les Nations Unies doivent agir

En République Démocratique du Congo (RDC), l'administration du président Kabila avait amorce la descente de la nation vers l'anarchie politique en novembre 2016 en refusant délibérément de tenir l'élection présidentielle exigée par la constitution au cours de ce mois. En l'absence d'une élection présidentielle, le président Kabila a perdu sa légitimité en tant que chef de l'État le 20 décembre 2016, date à laquelle son deuxième mandat de cinq ans est arrivé à son terme.

Pour tenter de combler le vide politique, le Président Kabila a demandé à la Conférence des évêques catholiques (CENCO) de faire la médiation entre sa majorité parlementaire et les forces politiques de l'opposition afin de parvenir à un accord sur la façon d’avancer vers les élections et de transférer le Pouvoir à un nouveau président. La médiation de la CENCO a commencé en octobre 2016 et s'est poursuivie jusqu'au 27 mars 2017, date à laquelle elle a pris fin parce que les parties ne parvenaient pas à s'entendre sur la voie à suivre.

L'échec de la médiation CENCO laisse la RDC dans un état d'anarchie politique. Aucune des institutions politiques n'a de légitimité, y compris la Présidence, le Sénat et l'Assemblée nationale. La perspective que le président Kabila reste au pouvoir indéfiniment et illégalement a causé des tensions importantes dans tout le pays. Les manifestations majeures demandées par les leaders de l'opposition pour le 10 avril 2017 pourraient devenir dangereusement violentes dans le modèle d’Ouagadougou en 2014.

Déjà, il y a une instabilité croissante dans différentes régions de ce vaste pays. Une unité militaire dans la région du Kasaï au centre de la RDC a été filmée en train de tuer sans raison des civils non combattants. Dans la même région, les milices ont répliqué et tué une quarantaine de policiers. Dans les régions de l'Extrême-Orient, les deux provinces du Kivu et de l'Ituri, diverses milices errent dans les villages en pillant et en violant, tandis que d'autres se disputent les gisements artisanaux miniers.

Pendant les matchs de football, les jeunes dans les tribunes et pourtour, passent plus de temps à appeler "Kabila à quitter" plutôt que d’appuyer leurs équipes.

Le Conseil de sécurité des Nations unies a adopté plusieurs résolutions sur la RDC depuis le début de la crise politique à la fin de 2016. Maintenant que l'anarchie politique s'est installée, que devrait faire l'ONU? Une force de maintien de la paix de l'ONU, la MONUSCO, opère en RDC depuis 2005, avec le mandat de protéger les civils.

Peut-être est-il maintenant temps pour une réflexion créative sur la RDC par le Conseil de sécurité de l'ONU. La décision de ne prendre aucune mesure à ce stade ne contribuerait qu'à la «légitimation» de l'anarchie et à la rupture potentielle de l'ordre.

Il y a un précédent pour la prise de contrôle temporaire par les Nations Unies de la souveraineté. La Namibie, le Cambodge et le Timor oriental sont des exemples appropriés. A titre de rappel, il y a un précédent historique vers les années 1960s aussitôt l’accession du Congo à l’Independence. Par suite de nombreuses d’anarchie et mouvements de sécession, le Président Eisenhower était confronté au même dilemme : Laisse le Congo sombrer dans le chaos ou intervenir ?

Il n’était pas question d’envoyer les forces de l’OTAN pour ne pas ralentir les mouvements de la décolonisation. C’est ainsi que la décision fut prise de mettre la RD Congo sous tutelle des Nations Unies.

Aux mêmes maux, mêmes remèdes dit-on.  Bien que la situation courante n’est pas similaire à celle des années 1960, Il est maintenant pertinent pour l'ONU d'examiner la RDC dans un contexte similaire.

De ce fait, l’ONU prendrait le control de la RD Congo pendant quelques mois pour départager tous les politiciens, le temps d’organiser les élections et remettre le pouvoir au président élu.