By Leslie Evans
Acting Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Surveys the Continent
Charles Snyder brings his forty years of work in Africa to bear in a candid view of the continent's leaders, hot spots, and causes for optimism.
Charles Snyder, veteran of forty years of U.S. foreign service in Africa, in the military, the CIA, and the State Department, entranced an overflow audience of more than 60 for a two-hour tour of the continent November 14. He brought his first-hand knowledge of the actors to bear in looking at South Africa's relations with the Mugabe dictatorship in Zimbabwe, the civil war in the Sudan, the war in eastern Congo, the border war between Ethiopia and Eritrea, and the spread of democratic governments in sub-Saharan Africa. He offered critical insights into the characters of Africa's leaders, defended the Bush administration's Africa policies, discussed the strength of terrorist factions in various African nations, and weighed the prospects for development. Notably, he admitted that the long American effort in the Angolan civil war of the 1970s and 1980s on the side of white South African-backed UNITA against the MPLA and its Cuban ally was a complete mistake. This was a policy pursued by both the Carter and Reagan administrations. Snyder today says the U.S. was on the wrong side out of a cold war interest in appeasing Portugal, the former colonial power in Angola.
The meeting, which took place in UCLA's Bunche Hall, was sponsored by the James S. Coleman Center for African Studies. It was chaired by well-known Africanist Richard Sklar, professor emeritus in the Political Science Department.
Snyder served as a military training officer for the U.S. Army in a number of African countries in the 1960s and 1970s, rising to the rank of colonel. He took early retirement from the military and then served for several years as National Intelligence Officer for Africa in the CIA, 1992-95. He transferred to the State Department's Bureau of African Affairs in 1995, was appointed Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs in 2001 by the incoming Bush administration, and then in October 2003 became Acting Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs.
Richard Sklar in his introduction said of Snyder, "A friend of mine at the Bureau of African Affairs and others who are involved with people who work there say that Charles Snyder's knowledge among people in the State Department about Africa is unmatched and that his judgment is incomparable." The truth of this became quickly apparent as Snyder discoursed and answered questions for almost two hours, speaking genially and colloquially without notes at a remarkable level of detail about dozens of complex situations, leaders, and political and military organizations.
Democrats and Republicans Have Had the Same Agenda in Africa
Snyder began by asserting that from the 1960s onward both Democratic and Republican administrations have pursued an essentially similar Africa policy. "What happens is that four or five, usually five, key objectives are rearranged according to the lights, insights, and desires of the administration." The five objectives, he said, have been trade, investment, democracy, development, and environment, commonly referred to by the acronym TIDDE. The Clinton administration had set democracy and development as first in the list; the Republican administration has chosen trade and investment. Walter Kansteiner, the first Bush administration Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, was a businessman. "So trade and investment became the number one and two objectives of the Africa Bureau. Why? I think we took a view when we first sat down to think about how we were going to change Africa policy that if we were going to bring Africa into the twenty-first century, aid isn't going to do it. We've been at that for a long time. The real key in the long run is trade and investment."
One current U.S. project has been to work to establish credit ratings for African states. "Until Walter Kansteiner went at this, there were exactly four sub-Saharan African countries that had an internationally recognized credit rating. It's not so much that they would get a decent rate of interest. They don't. But they couldn't borrow at all and in some cases many commercial contracts require some credit rating. It doesn't matter what it is, but you have to have an official Moody's or Finch's credit rating. So a lot of time was spent on that, and that doesn't get a lot of play in the academic press. But it does in the Wall Street Journal and other places, the idea that Africa is open for business."
U.S Trade with Africa Is $24 Billion a Year
Current annual bilateral U.S.-African trade runs $24 billion a year, of which $18 is U.S. purchases, mostly oil, and $6 is U.S. sales in Africa. "Most of it is concentrated in high end machinery parts, aircraft, that kind of thing. About 20% of that $6 billion is in agricultural goods and services." $24 billion is only 1% of U.S. foreign trade. "But it's not such a joke when you look at what we are doing with the rest of the world. We do more trading with Africa than we do with Eastern Europe. We do more trading with Africa than we do with Russia. And people forget about that. When they look at trade relationships they automatically assume that Eastern Europe and Russia must be more important because of the time and effort we put into the foreign policy in that matter . . . . That is more a national security driven interest, not a trade driven interest."
Apart from some precious metals trade with South Africa, oil is the most important African export to the United States, amounting to between 12% and 15% of total U.S. oil imports. the Assistant Secretary predicted that this will rise to between 22% and 25% by 2010, including liquid natural gas from Nigeria.
"American direct investment is lagging way behind on the African continent," Snyder said. "Chet Crocker [former Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs] likes to say that one of the highest rates of return in the world is from Africa. It runs 26% to 28%. I like to remind him, since I do have an MBA in this, that risk is associated with reward, and Africa is probably the riskiest place in the world to be investing these days. Because contracts aren't necessarily honored, conditions and stability aren't there. So a high rate of return frankly is justified by the risk."
Trade is separate from U.S. direct foreign aid to African countries. Over the last ten years, Snyder said, this has ranged between $800 million and $1.1 billion a year, the variation depending more on budget votes in Congress than on the requests of the various administrations. These funds, he said, are targeted at development and democracy. "Democracy is our third priority; development is our fourth priority in Africa, but they are linked together. You can't get one without the other."
Democracies Have Increased from 4 to 20
The daily press tends to emphasize the negative about Africa, Charles Snyder said. "The newsmen's slogan that if it bleeds it leads applies to Africa. It's always the picture of the guy with the AK in his hand or starving children. That's the image that is projected in the American media about Africa. But if you watch Africa the Movie, which Africanists have to do, in the early nineties arguably there were five, four, democracies. Maybe not Westminster democracies, but good enough. Now I would argue we are more in the 20 to 22 range. That never gets into the papers. That never gets into the press. The economic growth rate in Ghana, which has caught up to the world rate, over 8%. The same kind of growth rate in South Africa. That same kind of growth rate in Uganda. That never gets into the papers. They are performing at world levels of development advancement.
"Instead it's the draught in Ethiopia that gets on the front page, it's the war in the Congo. Not that they don't deserve to get on the front page. But they have tended to give Africa this image of a hopeless case, a charity case, something that we have wasted our money on and our time on, and it's not true. We are beginning to get traction. It's far from a success story. But if you are looking at the movie, there are benchmarks that have been passed and things that have changed."
The War in the Congo Was Fought for "African Reasons"
Even the multination war in the Congo that has raged since 1998, he argued, "was fought for African reasons." It wasn't because the Soviet Union "wanted access to uranium." Or for some purpose of the United States. "It was because people in the neighborhood didn't want chaos in the Congo and each of them, for their own African political and military interests, intervened in the Congo. It was an ugly war. It was Africa's first world war in many ways, but it was fought over African issues, which is different from a lot of the other conflicts that have gone on in Africa."
Snyder contrasted the recent Congo war with the 25-year civil war in Angola following that country's independence from Portugal in 1975. In that conflict Cuba sent troops with some Soviet backing to support the central government led by the Movimento Popular de Libertaçao de Angola (MPLA), while the United States and the then-white South African government supported the rebel Uniao Nacional para a Independencia Total de Angola (UNITA) of Jonas Savimbi. "I spent a lot of my early career on the Angola-Namibia settlement that Chet Crocker did so much on," Charles Snyder recalled. "That was driven by global interests. We wanted the Cubans out of Angola. We wanted regime change in South Africa."
Today the socialist states that played such a large role in Africa in the 1970s are largely a memory in the region. The Cubans withdrew their troops in 1989. "The Chinese are a minor factor. The Russians are a historic interest in Africa. It's us and the European Union who are the major players in Africa and the major interlocutors. But it is the Africans themselves who are the key. So if you are watching the movie in terms of development and democracy, Africa is now taking on African issues."
As an example he cited his own work recently in the Sudan civil war where U.S. policy has been to promote the EGAD East African initiative put forward by Kenya to promote negotiations between Khartoum and southern warlords. "We took over an African process, and invigorated it. But the ideas and the format and the advancement and the text, the principles that we adopted, were given to us by EGAD."
The Millennium Challenge Account and NEPAD
Snyder explained President Bush's proposed Millennium Challenge Account (MCA) to fund African development projects. Snyder saw this as a complement to a similar African initiative, the New Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD). "Wade of Senegal, Obasanjo of Nigeria, Mbeki of South Africa, came up with essentially the same idea, and independently, because, trust me, nobody in Crawford, Texas, is paying attention to NEPAD. But the idea of NEPAD is that in exchange for a real reform in terms of transparency in business, political rules of the game, military reform, there needs to be major assistance efforts beyond what is already being done. The NEPAD program and MCA had the same idea. The Millennium Challenge Account says, let's take seven or eight African countries that we think are successful, like Ghana, Uganda, that meet certain criteria, whether it is Freedom House standards of democracy, IMF development standards. Do they have a successful poverty reduction program? What's their human rights record, let's get it from Human Rights Watch and other people so that we, the government, can't be accused of moving the goal posts. The goal posts will be set by somebody else in terms of where we look for statistics. And put serious money against some of the problems."
He gave Ghana as an example. "They are quite successful in education development. So let's give the Ghanaians the moral equivalent of a bloc grant. Let's give them $50 million. Not give them 50 American graduate students, AID bureaucracy, and five State Department guys to watch it. Let's give them $50 million and say to them, what we want for $50 million, and you have to agree, is you are going to increase, let's say, the women's and girls' enrollment in education 20% within two years. Or you're going to increase your eighth grade education level to 35% in the population. Pick a statistic. And you are a successful country. You know your problem more than we do. What we want for our money is for you to get that statistic. You know how to do it, do it yourself. And we'll come back in two years, and if you've met that objective, then maybe there's $50 million more for education or health care. That's the idea behind the Millennium Challenge Account. Let's put large enough money down on the table that it won't be for lack of investment from the outside, aid investment in this case, that these projects fail."
Snyder said he expected the U.S. Congress to refuse to fund the full $3 billion President Bush has requested for the Millennium Challenge Account. "We're probably going to get around a billion is my guess, which may be just as well. It's always good to walk before you run. There will be absorption issues for the aid."
The Africa Growth and Opportunity Act
The Africa Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) was passed in the last year of the Clinton administration, in May 2000. It has been implemented under the Bush administration. Snyder declared it a modest success, saying that "It has led to a lot of up-ramping of textile imports to the United States. It has led to a good number of jobs in Africa. Lesotho, a significant number of jobs where Chinese investment has come in with the idea of exporting to the United States. It has led to significant growth in the South African economy. Our auto manufacturers have finally figured out, by taking advantage of legal loopholes they can assemble cars in South Africa and ship them back cheaper than they can do it in Detroit or Germany. And so you are seeing a big influx of BMWs manufactured in South Africa. Mercedes, too, in particular, the two that have done the most. Daimler-Benz, which as you know also has Chrysler, is also doing some. So this AGOA thing has some real legs behind it and is beginning to change some trade statistics."
Environmental Efforts in the Congo Basin and Kenya
The U.S. government, Snyder said, has been involved in an important multinational environmental project to protect the rain forest in the Congo Basin. "One of the last remaining lungs of the world is in the Congo Basin, and significant joint efforts, ourselves, the British, the European Union, the Congolese themselves, have taken major steps to bring that rain forest into some kind of balanced growth situation. It's not just the Congo, it's Congo-Brazzaville, it's Gabon, it's a huge entity. Other environmental success stories, amounting to about four or five percent of our net development assistance, are going on in Africa. The idea is that if you are going to turn a place like Kenya into a tourist park, people have to see the benefit, otherwise that animal who just trampled two months worth of work in the agricultural area becomes lunch as opposed to the park ranger's new job to guard that animal, the park ranger's new job to put the fence up around it, the park ranger's new job to keep the elephants out of the well that we just drilled for that village as part of the payoff for the tourism."
Oil Companies and Pollution in Nigeria
Snyder next turned to the history of ecological pillage by oil companies in Nigeria, and the intermittent armed clashes between the Ijaw and Itsekiri peoples in southeast Nigeria in the last decade over rival demands for a share of the national oil income. "Shell was not an American company when it destroyed Nigeria, remember that," Snyder said in defense of American oil giants. "One of the underlying causes I think of the Ijaw problem is their living space has been totally destroyed. They have been reduced to raiding the oil wells, taking hostages, to try to get some attention, to clean up the mess because the Nigerian government is not doing enough. Any place else in the world we would be paying a lot of attention to this; any place else in Africa. It's the fourth largest ethnic group in Nigeria. They have more population than 20 other African countries. They very seldom break through to the crisis-of-the-moment picture. But in the movie, doing something about the Ijaws and the ecosystem, if we can fix that one and begin to restore balance so it is not a three way race but some of the smaller ethnics can begin to broaden out democracy and make the Nigerian system work."
Three Cross-Cutting Issues: Wars, HIV/AIDS, and Terrorism
The U.S. TIDDE agenda, the Assistant Secretary said, cannot be achieved unless three "cross-cutting" issues are solved: the wars and civil wars that plague several African states, the HIV/AIDS pandemic, and the growth of terrorist groups.
"If you have a war going on in the Congo you can't do development. You can't do democracy. You have to stop the war first. We can have an argument about this later. If you have a war going on in Liberia, first you have to stop the war. If that means taking Charles Taylor out, so be it. But you have to address the conflict resolution or you are wasting the rest of your effort in a continental sense."
Africa and the War on Terrorism
Snyder pointed to the 1998 bombings of U.S. embassies in Nairobi, Kenya, and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, by Al Qaeda as proof of an active terrorist threat in Africa. He said that minor terrorist cells are still active in Kenya and Tanzania. "Somalia is a vast empty space in which people can move in and out. There is a huge belt down the old camel caravans coming all the way out of Libya, coming all the way across West Africa, an active belt of Islamic extremism, radicalizing sections trying to overthrow governments. The beginnings of a real problem growing out of this. There is an African dimension to the global war on terrorism. It's not just lip service because we are trying to get money. There is a genuine base there. There are Al Qaeda cells in a couple of places. There are potential problems in South Africa. So it really is a theater. It may be the China-Burma-India theater, if you want a World War II analogy, but that doesn't mean that it doesn't have to be fought."
Terrorist Groups Are Sometimes the Only Effective Government
Military efforts alone will be unable to eradicate terrorism, Snyder said, because terrorism breeds in the backwaters of failed states. "The basic effort is developmental. Drain the swamp. The right answer to the terrorist threat in Africa is to drain the swamp. One of the vectors that terrorism uses in Africa is lack of good governments. Sometimes the only place you can go to get justice in some of these wild west areas is from extremist courts, because they are the only ones, because the central government has failed and doesn't play any more. Medical services. If the only place you can get some medical attention in some places is out of these sects that are now using that as a recruiting tool, so the development program that puts health care back in business in Africa is part of the global war on terrorism, and you have to fund it if you are going to drain the swamp. And getting our friends on the Hill to be conscious of that fact is an ongoing struggle."
The Fight to Halt HIV/AIDS
"In Africa if you don't do something about HIV/AIDS everything is a joke," the Assistant Secretary said in identifying his third cross-cutting issue. "If you have to train three schoolteachers to get one survivor to be able to teach in high school you can just set fire to your money faster. You're not going to get any real results. If you have to train three or four policemen to get one survivor, if you have to train three or four mechanics to get one survivor. If you are faced with the complex emergencies that we are facing in the Horn of Africa. The drought this time was not typical. These rains are extreme, but they are in a pattern we have seen before. This is kind of a ten-year drought. The skills to cope with this drought existed, ten years ago. There is a generation of farmers that is gone in the Horn of Africa. There is bad land management practices. The Ethiopian government hasn't done what it should have done to reform. But this drought would not nearly have been as bad if it hadn't been for those missing farmers. What you've got is the very old, who have seen it before, and are not physically able to do as much of the work, and the very young, who haven't seen this kind of drought before, didn't know what to do and when to do it. And it turned what would have been a manageable disaster into something much more extreme. Important survival skills are disappearing."
Snyder pointed to President Bush's January 2003 call for spending $15 billion over the next five years to fight AIDS in developing countries. "Twelve out of the fourteen targeted countries are in Africa," he said. "The tide is beginning to turn in a few places. Antiretroviral drugs are now available in large cases, the medical cold chain that is necessary to keep some of these drugs alive is being put in place. One of the given ends in the Sudan peace process was the ability to get the cold chain back in place by getting peace in the middle of the mountains. Not just for HIV/AIDS, but one of the last pools of polio in the world was left in a remote area in Sudan. So we had spent $3.5 billion on a global WHO-led effort to eliminate polio. If you can't get that pool of polio in the Sudan you've wasted the $3.5 billion. Part of the dividends of this peace process is we've got at it. But that is true across the entire medical spectrum We are a global community. And if you don't get on top of these disease vectors, whether it's Latin America, the United States, or Africa, because of airline connections and population interchanges and migration, it's on your doorstep. West Nile is in the United States now, embedded in the eastern part of the United States. Tuberculosis is coming back. It survived in pools, largely in the Third World, not just Africa. It's back. It's resistant. You have to bring the African standard on line with the rest of the world in health care or you're not going to be able to protect your own population. This is in our own strategic self-interest. And we are beginning to make that case more and more to get the kind of money we need."
After some serious controversy, when the White House reduced its 2004 AIDS budget request from the promised $3 billion to only $2 billion, and when even that was rejected by the Senate in September, Snyder pointed to Congressional approval at the end of October of $2.4 billion for 2004 on the promised AIDS initiative funding. The money, he said, would be spent "in the countries where we've already had success with the mother to child transmission problem. Why did we pick those countries? Because we already saw statistics that indicated to us that they were beginning to turn their medical systems around. So reinforcing that good behavior would give us a real handle on how we could turn HIV/AIDS around more broadly. We are focusing on those 12 countries. The other 2 countries to receive funding are in the Caribbean.
The Main Trouble Spots for U.S. Africa Policy
"What do we spend most of our time on, on a day to day basis?" Charles Snyder asked. His answer was: "Sudan. You have to ride to the sound of the gun. Liberia. Congo. Trying to avoid the next crisis. What are we going to do about Guinea when Guinea explodes? Trying to get Nigeria edging more towards a functioning democracy. And trying to decide if maybe now there's a window in Somalia. . . .
"The third one we will probably spend much more time on than we have in the recent past, Liberia aside because there were vested American interests there in many ways, is the Congo, to bring what looks like a success story to closure. It's going to take a lot of money and a lot effort. That is what we are focused on."
From the Question Period
Following are some highlights from the question period. The questions have all been summarized.
Charles Taylor in Nigeria
Question: Why did the U.S. encourage Nigeria to offer asylum to Liberia's Charles Taylor, then offer a reward for his capture?
Snyder. The apparently contradictory policy toward former Liberian President Charles Taylor arose from the Congress acting separately from the State Department and the administration, Charles Snyder said. The Bush administration had encouraged Nigeria's President Olusegun Obasanjo to take Taylor in to get him out of Liberia, but Congress then offered a reward for his arrest. "We didn't ask for the $2 million reward. That was a gift from our friends on Capitol Hill, who have a point. I mean, if we constantly sacrifice justice in the name of peace we will get neither in the long run. And we take their point. But Obasanjo took a lot of political risks to do what he did, to take Taylor on and to put him there. He knew he was going to get hammered on it. And we kind of promised him we wouldn't hammer him."
This led Snyder to offer his assessment of the Nigerian president. "What's he going to do about Taylor? I think you have to look at Obasanjo. He is a transitional figure that is spanning the traditional African and the more modern African. He really does have a foot in both camps. If we treat him with violations of his sovereignty as something lesser than an equal partner, we are going to get the paramount chief, who is going to get his back up and who is not going to be nearly as cooperative. He will demonstrate that the Nigerian people don't have to listen to this garbage from Westerners about how their system is not as good as somebody else's by a $2 million reward, because if it wasn't for our money Taylor would never be brought to justice.
"Versus the modernizing Obasanjo, who I think did two things in the Taylor case. One, he did want to end this war. Nigeria spent a billion dollars of its own money earlier in this process trying to put an end to this war. It's an area that they care a great deal about, where they have taken the lead. But Obasanjo realizes that to get Taylor out [of Liberia] he also had to be sure that his fellow heads of state, many of whom are worried about tribunals like this, were reassured that there is an exit door for those that weren't truly egregious. So he stepped up and took Taylor, to reassure everybody else around the room. But I'm relatively sure he was telling them all, 'But Taylor will be Taylor. At some point he will violate the conditions under which I have let him stay, and then I will deal with him. But not until then, because I will not be the one who establishes the precedent where Europeans set the rules for African heads of state, who is guilty or what. It's time when Africa needs to set the rules. That's what NEPAD is all about. And so I will protect this head of state and give him some protection. But I'm going to get him in the end. But I'll protect all of us. And he'll violate the rules.'"
Question: What policy does the U.S. pursue on Nigerian oil?
Snyder. One American interest in Africa, Snyder said, has been to get the oil companies and the African states to make oil finances public. Obasanjo, he said, "doesn't want to go first, but I think we've managed to bluff the Angolans into going first on the 'say what you pay' criteria to begin to open the books as to what the oil revenue really is in these countries. And I think we're going to be able to push [Obasanjo] into letting the American oil companies and others say what is being given to Nigeria in terms of net transfers for the oil, just like the Angolans have now agreed."
It was an Angolan law, he added, that kept oil company data for their country secret. "They repealed that as part of a deal we are working out with them to get them the African Growth and Opportunity Act, trade enhancement. I think Obasanjo will move in that direction. Because he realizes the country is starting to come apart, and part of that is because there are so many side deals, no one can be sure they didn't make a better deal with him than the other one did, and the answer to that ultimately, in self interest, is more transparency, so that the political barons, if you will, have some understanding of the net pool, so that they know that their small [allocation] is probably what the other governor got. And so the transparency out of necessity is going to start to happen."
American Oil Companies in Africa
Question: Doesn't close U.S. connections with multinational companies in Africa imply exploitation, especially in oil?
Snyder: "In terms of the oil industry, an American diplomatic presence is going to be an advocate for American business, where there is no other American business on the table or there are not competing American businesses. So we will get into advocacy where there is only one American primary actor. That's not the case in the oil industry. In most cases there are four or five American companies involved. So we are the ones that will hector them on things on the environment. You know, if you are devoting half of one percent to your so-called good governance, humanitarian outreach piece of your net investment, that's not enough. It needs to be more than that where you have destroyed countries, territories, etc. And if you persist, there are trade sanctions that go into effect against us just as well as others. I mean, we've been hit on the steel industry, but others will impose trade sanctions on the oil companies."
The Assistant Secretary said that in the long run it will require large scale agreements and strong economic sanctions to impose social responsibility on the world oil business. He pointed to the collapse of the World Trade Organization talks in Cancun, Mexico, in September, as a sign that such agreements will be difficult to get. "Cancun was nothing short of a disaster. And it was a bigger disaster for the developing world than it was for us, because last time I looked we were ahead. And the idea for the developing world should be to catch up. There were things they could have had at the trade talks. But in an effort to get everything they lost a lot of concessions we were prepared to make, on cotton and a lot of concessions that the Europeans were prepared to make, very delicately I might add, on a whole number of dairy products and things. This feel-good vote against us dropped the Cancun thing off the top."
He gave the example of U.S. sanctions in the Sudan, which began in 1997 in part to stop the trading of oil for weapons in the prolonged Sudanese civil war. The Bush administration in February 2000 imposed additional sanctions specifically against Sudan's national oil company, which affected its Canadian, Chinese, and Malaysian partners. "By putting the American oil sanctions that we did in the case of Sudan we pushed the majors out. That doesn't mean the oil isn't being exported. It's less effective. But our ability to go in and pull back on our oil companies is missing. So the Canadian juniors got in there, Talisman, until there was so much pressure put on them that they pulled out. The Chinese don't bow to that pressure at all, and if you watch Chinese foreign policy in Africa, it's follow the oil. So what I'm saying is that this is bigger than the United States, this oil problem. We've done our share in hectoring them, but it's not going to make a major difference until the European Union as well as ourselves, in response to a Third World demand, begins to put more rope around these guys. The only way to really get back to the oil companies these days is literally in the markets. The kinds of things that went on in the South African sanctions, where we put enough pressure -- actually you did, the population did -- put enough pressure on them that it changed, the people pulled out, etc. That's the kind of pressure you're going to have to put on the oil companies."
He added that China in particular has been very resistant to international pressure to act in a responsible way in its oil business. "The Chinese actually doubled or tripled the draw of oil out of one of the oil fields [in Sudan], which went almost directly into weapons. They are not necessarily sensitive on this issue at all. Because oil is what they need for their developing industry and they don't particularly care where they get it. And Africa is one of the big pools that is up for grabs in the sense that it is not traditional absolute rigid patterns of oil exportation."
The International Weapons Trade in Africa
Question:What is the U.S. policy on halting the proliferation of weapons in Africa?
Snyder: "The political military bureau [the Bureau of Political-Military Affairs], the ones in the State Department responsible for this, has actually been pretty active on this issue. It works best when it's done like it's done in SADEC [Southern African Development Community]. SADEC has gotten together and come up with what is essentially a joint export policy. Because the problem that you've got is, these are not necessarily American weapons. Yes, there are M16s running, post the Vietnam War. But the bulk of the weapons in Africa are AKs, Eastern European manufacture. And we can go, in fact I did in one case go, at the Slovenian minister and raise holy hell about it. He then cites our own laws and regulations and points out that he has an end-user certificate signed by the government of Togo for these weapons that have shown up in Sudan. And so he is covered and there is no way that we can take action against him."
Snyder suggested regional agreements to prohibit the importation of weapons above a certain grade of various kinds: no aircraft more advanced than the Mirage 2000, no artillery piece above a certain caliber. "So that if I then as an American detect the parts coming in from Slovenia for a weapon beyond that grade and he plays the trade license game with me, I can say, well, that's an invalid license because there is a policy in Africa for this and if you don't get those weapons recalled or if you do it again, we'll impose sanctions on you. That's the way it needs to work."
The U.S. government is working with ECOWAS, the Economic Community of West African States, to explore setting a weapons limitation standard. "We are putting a couple of million dollars and a lot of technicians into trying to get one together in East Africa next." The United States has a set of regulation called ITAR (International Traffic in Arms Regulations) which has had some effect in limiting the American arms trade in Africa.
"But the Africans have to set the standard, and they are the ones who can set it the best. Rwanda imported just the other day, the first time we have seen outside of China, reactive armor on a T85 tank." Reactive armor contains explosive charges that are triggered by a hit from a shoulder fired rocket, pushing the incoming blast away from the tank. "What do they need that for? But there is no way to stop that. There is no way to go back to the Chinese and say, what the hell are you doing? You are proliferating weapons in Africa where there is no global competition. There is certainly no threat to Chinese interests. And what is the excuse for this? Well, it's to pay for minerals and things that they wanted to get out of Rwanda, which I suspect they found in the Congo. But nonetheless they exported this weapon. And we protested to the Chinese but they do the usual polite hearing of us and do nothing."
Almost Undetectable Plastic Land Mines in Angola
He insisted that in Africa the United States "is not the worst exporter" in the post cold war period. He pointed to some of the problems caused by weapons proliferation. "Some of the most sophisticated land mines in the world are in southern Angola. The South African mines that literally migrate are in Angola. Worse than that, they are plastic, they are almost undetectable. The technology that is being developed now to detect those is the same technology that we are developing for the FBI so that when you look through a building you can see how many men are in a room and what kind of gun they've got. That same kind of technology is going to help us find these plastic land mines. But the very fact that we are having to do that kind extremely high tech, extremely expensive development is a result of this proliferation of ultramodern weapons in Africa. Just for oil trade in some cases. In this case the South Africans realized how impossible they would be to find. Because they move. I don't think they realized that they move in the earth. The minefield maps, which they duly handed over, are inaccurate, because these particular mines, the plastic is slippery. The earth moves, just like it does in Los Angeles, on a regular basis, and the mines are not where they were. So the minefield maps are useless. Now we are having to find new ways to pull them out."
Ultimately, however, Snyder was skeptical about the efficacy of regional agreements to ban high end weaponry. "The NEPAD idea that the Africans had is the right one. But they have got to do it when it hurts. When it may be something their army doesn't want to hear. And they need to do it now, because it's only going to get worse later. They have seen the new toys we are fighting in Iraq with. Every modern military wants to have the new toys. . . . We can put $5 million in, but if we don't convince the African elites that this makes sense, and it's not some standard the West has chosen to impose on an inferior continent -- we get to have all the big bang toys, they don't get to have any -- the truth is it adds to the price of development of everything else."
The Civil War in Sudan
Question: What is the prospect for a settlement of the twenty-year civil war in the Sudan?
Snyder.Charles Snyder took up the complex issues in the civil war between the Islamic government in the north based in Khartoum and the Christian and animist rebels in the south led by the Sudanese People's Liberations Army, SPLA, of John Garang. "There are three issues left on the table," he said, "and they are related to each other, which means you can't really move one without moving them all, because it is the end game, which is usually the hardest part of diplomacy. This deal is about 80% done. The broad cease-fire outline is done. The withdrawal timetables haven't been worked out but the idea that they are going to withdraw and where they are going to withdraw to, that's all agreed. Our military technicians and theirs can finish all that complex work in a couple of weeks and hand it over to the UN, which will come in to do it all."
The three issues, he said, are (1) three disputed areas, the Nuba Mountains, the Southern Blue Nile, and Abyei; (2) the governance of the capital at Khartoum, particularly how sharia law will be applied to non-Muslims there; and (3) power sharing.
The North-South Simplification, Abyei, and the Disputed Areas
On the disputed areas, Snyder declared, "It's a stalking horse, like end-game issues always are. It's not what it seems to be. The real issue is, can I have political allies on the other side of the line? When we approached the Sudan problem in the beginning we had to decide how we were going to do it. It was a complex mess. There were all kinds of factions, alliances, etc. We chose the device, to get a handle on it, of making it a north-south problem and to build around that pivot of north-south, knowing full well that if you can't get transformation in the north and an opening of the political system, and the end of the rebellion in the west, you're not going to have success in the country to begin with. But to clarify the negotiations we chose to use north-south. That led to this creation of the three areas issue, because now when they look at each other politically, Garang needs to be able in a post-peace Sudan to have his northern allies. The guys who fought with him in the Nuba Mountains want reassurance that John is not abandoning them. But it's not part of the south, and so the north is making the point, well, you can't include it in the south because we all said in the beginning we would use the old 1-1-56 line [Sudan declared its independence from Britain on January 1, 1956--ed.], the old dividing line between northern and southern Sudan that the British used. In order to clarify the issue, to simplify it, to get to negotiations. So this is an artifact left over from that, but the argument is over political allies."
The SPLA and John Garang have demanded free elections in Abyei in southern Kordofan province in central Sudan. "Abyei," Snyder said, "has been over time converted into an Arab area. They had the right to a vote on self-determination. What I keep having to remind Dr. Garang is if they had the bloody vote today, he'd lose, because the populations have shifted. So when you negotiate these issues you have to negotiate the whole picture. What you want, before you have the Abyei vote, is the right of refugee return. You need to negotiate that. That's part of the tradeoff of the three areas. Because if you are going to win a free and fair election in Abyei you have to get the original people back. Otherwise you are pressing for a loser. I can get you a vote tomorrow. The government is not stupid. If you don't get the right of resettlement, they are going to win."
Snyder also recounted his admonitions to Garang's opponent, the government in Khartoum: "You keep telling Garang it's one country. He keeps saying, my people are going to vote for separation. You've got to let him have political allies in the northern side. He's already got the Mahdi [the Umma Party led by Sadiq al Mahdi] and the DUP [Democratic Unionist Party] people from the old days. But you've got to let him have these guys that have fought beside him as allies. And you have to reassure them in some fashion."
He added that he had suggested that the north's insistence on the imposition of Islamic sharia law should include some kind of exemption for non-Muslims in Khartoum, the capital, if the civil war was to be ended without the south seceding. He compared it to the status of Washington, D.C., as part of neither the north nor the south in the United States.
Various issues remain on the question of power sharing, from the numbers assigned to each side in the legislature to the percentage each is to have of the country's oil revenues. The government has proposed to give John Garang's movement 28% of the legislature while he is asking for 40%. "The truth is they'll settle somewhere in the mid-30s," Snyder estimated. "But they won't solve that until the end because if they don't get a concession or two here they will want to push that number back towards 28 to prove that they have bargained hard. So you have to close these last sets of issues as one package and trade off between them."
Oil Revenues in Sudan
Snyder said he has argued with John Garang over the oil settlement. "The oil number shouldn't matter to you so much as the net revenue. Because if you get 90% of the oil revenue and you concede him 100% control of the pipeline, all he has to do is raise the pipeline rate, your net revenue drops, and you're back down to 80%. It's a comprehensive solution. And that's why you need these experts. We're not trying to game you. American oil companies have no interest in this. But you have to look at the big picture and you have to trust the World Bank and other people to structure a system of payments and other things that will be transparent. That's why you want a major international oil company back in there, frankly. Somebody that the European Union or us can demand, open the books. The issue goes back to transparency of oil revenue. What is the number? If you have an oil company in the room that you have sovereignty over you can force them to reveal that number, which is how you can validate to one side or the other whether the deal is being honored."
Snyder said he is cautiously optimistic that Sudanese Vice President Ali Osman Taha and John Garang can forge a partnership that can oversee a political transition in Sudan. "If this works right this partnership will hold for a year or two and in the wild chaos that will evolve as they move toward elections. The Umma party and the DUP will reemerge. Western political interests will reemerge. Factions in the south if Garang is not careful will make alliances in the north, and then the system will be transformed, which is what this is about at the end of the game."
Two Military Forces Are Part of the Settlement
Garang, he said, "has to be reassured that this is not the Addis Agreement of 1972" which ended Sudan's first civil war but did not provide conditions for a lasting peace. There appeared to be a perfectly good agreement, and then General Omar al-Bashir, the fundamentalist leader of the National Islamic Front (NIF), "wakes up one morning newly converted, rolls out with the tanks and takes power. The Addis Accords don't matter any more. Power has been seized by an extremist faction. You have to change the military reality. Next time, a northern commander, whether he is an extremist, just an Arab politician, whatever, an individual who is seeking power, he can't be able to take power in Khartoum unless he has Garang's permission. And the only way to have Garang's permission is to ask it, because he will have his own military force that can move to Khartoum as well."
To prevent a future northern coup, Snyder said, the United States is firmly behind institutionalizing the post-truce existence of two military forces in Sudan. "This is as important to us as it is to Garang. It's a guarantee against that kind of coup, which has happened before."
South Africa and Zimbabwe
Question: How should South Africa's Thabo Mbeki relate to the Mugabe dictatorship in Zimbabwe?
Snyder: "Thabo Mbeki is very effective when he chooses to be. And it depends on the issue. You know he is a disaster on HIV/AIDS, for instance. It took a long time to push him over on that and the health minister still doesn't get it. But Thabo is moveable, he's a real politician. He's not the dictatorial kind of politician that Africa had until very recently. I don't write Thabo off. He's a mobile politician, he's very good."
Snyder was particularly impressed with Mbeki's intervention in Lesotho in September 1998, where South Africa began to act as a regional power. "That said there are no more coups, there will be no more coups or we will intervene. Now, they dragged the Botswanans in with them to make sure there was regional cover, but they reversed the coup in Lesotho. There has not been another coup in southern Africa since they set that standard. That was a big political risk to take."
He felt that Mbeki was making a mistake, however, in taking so long to break with the Mugabe dictatorship in Zimbabwe. "Mugabe became the poster child for NEPAD not working. He has violated every standard there is in NEPAD. Human rights, fair elections, just left and right. Large scale executions and killing and so on and so forth. Thabo has said, I'm going to do this over time. President Bush said to him in July, okay, we'll quiet down for a while, but it's tick-tock, because there is a finite amount of time. And Thabo really hasn't been able to get much traction. And what it is doing is killing the South African economy. I mean, the fact that Zimbabwe has collapsed has probably caused 5% of the decline in the value of the Rand. In fact, at one point you could link one percent for one percent the decline in the Rand with the decline in the Zimbabwean economy. We have been hammering Thabo on that, saying, you are linked economically to this anvil and he is taking you down, he's going to take a piece of the region with him. You don't have to do it because we like it. You need to do it in your own self interest. And we're not saying overthrow his system. We're not saying that. We're saying you have to stop the bleeding. Before you get a mass migration into South Africa as a last resort."
Mugabe as Revolutionary Elder Statesman
Mbeki's hesitancy to break openly with Mugabe, Snyder felt, stems from old revolutionary ties from the days of white rule in southern Africa. "There is a great deal of respect among that revolutionary generation, and Mugabe is the elder statesman of that generation now. He was the one that went to the bush when the rest of them were hiding in London and getting Master's degrees. . . . It's getting old now. Mugabe is kind of the last of that generation. And their inability to come to grips with it. Having his own people maybe move him aside is the right way to do it. . . . And we have been saying that to Thabo: find something. If we can help with money. If we can help with political influence, we'll do it. You should set the standard, like you did in Lesotho, like you've done on some of the economic issues. But in this case, this is violating world standards. [Mugabe is] just basically slaughtering."
Te Assistant Secretary said he had met recently with representatives of the major opposition party in Zimbabwe, the MDC (Movement for Democratic Change). He asked them if there was any sign that Mugabe's party, Zanu (Zimbabwe African National Union), was moving toward a break with its leader. The MDC representatives told him that on the contrary, Zanu is becoming remilitarized. "It's fallen back on its roots as a military organization," Snyder concluded, "which is bad, because that says they are circling the wagons, to use an American analogy. And it's going to be an ugly end. But that is where Thabo has to show the way. He needs help from [President of Mozambique Joaquim] Chissano, he needs help from others in the region, so it is not just about him and Comrade Bob. Because in the revolution, Thabo is the junior partner. Mugabe is the statesman."
He added that he had considerable admiration for the guerrilla struggle that Robert Mugabe and Zanu had led against the British and the Ian Smith regime in Rhodesia in the 1960s and 1970s. "It was Mugabe's Zanu that was well organized, loyal to him, and mobilized in a revolutionary sense that worked. But it has now come back to haunt them. They've managed to mobilize the younger generation, but it's the younger generation of party thugs. Otherwise they would be reaching out to their political counterparts in the MDC, and they just don't see that."
The CIA in Zimbabwe?
Question: Is it true that the CIA is planning operations to destabilize Zimbabwe?
Snyder: "The big fear of any policy if it is aggressive, like the policy we have toward Zimbabwe, is that we'll spark some kind of massive violence. But the truth of the matter is, we are not doing nasty things against Comrade Bob. And the CIA probably does one of every ten things it's accused of doing. That's not to say there aren't other people heavily involved and doing strange and nasty things. Some of them are private actors, some of them are not. We actually have a good first hand relationship, which proves how strange the world is, with the Zimbabwean intelligence service. So don't judge the book by the cover on some of those matters. This is a political argument between us and Mugabe. And we have not cut off the humanitarian assistance for that reason. But we have put smart sanctions, in the sense of anybody in the ruling elite can't come to the United States. The British are keeping them out of schools there too. That hurts in the brotherhood of leaders in the world these days, when you can't send your kids to the States where the top technical education is. It's an effective sanction that doesn't hurt the broad population. More things like that involve their money. We're chasing their money around, if we can prove ill gotten gain. That kind of thing. If we were going to do something dramatic we wouldn't send a couple of kids in. We would disrupt his financial flow, get him where it hurts. All of which can be done. The world is very interdependent. We haven't taken that kind of step. We're saying to the Africans, okay, Thabo, you've got your chance. Prove to us that you're right and we're wrong and you can do something here."
Al Qaeda and Somalia, a Failed State
Question: What is happening with terrorists in Somalia?
Snyder: "The Somalia problem has been on and off the front fire because it is a vacant space we have been worried about. The bombings in Mombassa that just happened and the other recent attempt on our embassy that we thwarted have renewed our interest in what's going on in Mogadishu and who is doing it. There is an active Al Qaeda cell that we have our eye on in Somalia. If we have to we'll take it out. The fact that Somalia doesn't exist as a country doesn't really drive to the issue of what we'll do about Al Qaeda when they rise to the level of threat that this particular cell has risen to. But we can't afford to have a recruiting ground for sympathizers for wars elsewhere. Disaffected youth in Somalia would be a natural recruiting ground for Afghanistan, Iraq, anywhere else."
Somalia, he said, virtually ceased to operate as a coherent state after the overthrow of Somali dictator Siad Barre in 1991. "I made a joke and it's a bad joke but there is an element of truth in it, that the last Somali was Siad Barre, just like the last Yugoslav was Tito," Snyder said. He added that if there was not some better showing from the Somalis that Washington would consider recognizing the breakaway regime in the north, which resumed the old British name of Somaliland in 1991. "Let's reach out to that group that's functioning and start treating them as a real government, at the price of Somali nationalism." Snyder did concede that such a move would inflame Somali nationalism and could cause problems in the Ogaden region of eastern Ethiopia, which has a largely ethnic Somali population and was the center of a war between Ethiopia and Somalia in 1976-78.
The Kiplagat Mission: Kenya's Intervention in Somalia
Kenya has been actively involved in the Somalia issue for several years. This effort was strengthened in January 2003 when Kenya's appointed a special envoy, retired ambassador Bethwell Kiplagat. "Kiplagat has cleared a lot of the brush out of the way on the Somali issue, Charles Snyder said. "He has made it obvious that we have more than just a clan system misfunctioning in Mogadishu. You've got strange juxtapositions. You've got the Butcher of Hargeisa, Hirsi Morgan, my favorite, able to function in Mogadishu, where he has no clan ties to speak of." Mohammed Said Hirsi Morgan became known as the "Butcher of Hargeisa" in the late 1980s when he conducted military operations against Somali National Movement rebels in northern Somalia. Morgan is able to play a prominent role in Mogadishu, Snyder said, "because he's recognized by a bunch of young men as a very capable military leader, which, god help us all, he is. So approaching this problem you can't just take the cookie cutter approach that the Kenyans took originally, which was, if we can just go back and reconcile the clans and the traditional kind of structure we can get some stability out of this. Because there are a couple of outlying actors." As other examples he cited the warlords and landless farmers.
The U.S. has a touchy past in Somalia because of its failed intervention under the Clinton administration in 1993, which ended after the Blackhawk Down incident. Charles Snyder suggested that the U.S. today is willing to become involved as part of a group. He suggested a troika composed of the Kenyans, the Italians, and the United States. "Or if you want a better analogy, we don't want to be the bus driver. We'd like to sit in the third row on the bus. We don't want to sit all the way in the back of the bus, but we don't want to be the bus driver. We have too much baggage." The Italians, he said, are trying to work with Kiplagat. "Maybe the Norwegians, who spent a lot of money on this, will be part of the troika."
Terrorism in Africa
Question: Do the African governments have a stake in fighting terrorism or is this just an American issue?
Snyder: "We're very careful in our own definition of terrorism and the several lists of terrorism to avoid that problem. One man's terrorist in too many cases is another man's revolutionary. We are trying to say that there is a standard that has to do with international law and justice. Take the Lord's Resistance Army in Uganda, for instance, to make a specific example. It has crossed the line into terrorism. I mean, mass kidnapping of children, arbitrary executions, no willingness at all to come in for amnesty, no sensible political agenda. This is terror for terror's sake. They are not anti-American in the sense that they are not coming after us. So they are not on our number-one organizations of the world terrorist list. They are on the second list. There really are African home-grown terrorists."
As other examples he cited "Crazy Alice," Auma Alice "Lakwena," leader of a faction of the Uganda People's Democratic Army in northern Uganda that battled the central government in 1988 and was a predecessor group to the Lord's Resistance Army, and the Pagad (People Against Gangsterism and Drugs) vigilante movement in South Africa. Pagad, he said, "is starting to look like it has an other than South African motivation, that people are coming down for other agendas that are outside the region, and stirring the pot and using the place, not necessarily to come after us, but to pursue their own agenda inside South Africa, where they don't think they have enough of a voice."
"If These Are Your Friends, They Don't Kill Your People"
The largest Islamic terrorist event in Africa is still the bombing of the U.S. embassies in Nairobi, Kenya, and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, on the same day in August 1998. "One of the points we made to the Kenyan government all along," Snyder said, "is if these are your friends, they don't kill your people. If they are after us, then they should have come after us. And what they did was they killed some 201 Kenyans in the initial blast, not to mention the several thousand who were badly injured, to get at 12 Americans. They could have targeted individual Americans. Part of it is they don't respect your space. They don't respect the international order. You're in this game whether you like it or not."
Tanzania, Charles Snyder said, has been very sympathetic to Islam. "One of the fastest growths on the African continent of Islam as religion is in Tanzania. A lot of Tanzanians were killed in the attack on our embassy. Our basic point to them was, we are not saying you should do anything about this religion. But you know these same guys that are causing you trouble in Zanzibar. You know who they are. And the Tanzanians took action. Much more effective than what we ever did. Or could have, frankly. It was the Africans who knew. And they took the point that we made in that case, that there were dead Tanzanians. We said to them, 'You had tolerated huge amounts of activity that nobody else in Africa had tolerated, and they repaid you by trashing your reputation and your country. And so you are all in this game, to say that there are rules to the game. And that is what the fight about terrorism is.'"
African Security Services Often Lack a National Mission
Security services in Africa have not been focused on threats from outside such as ideologically motivated bombings. "It's a sad but true situation that a lot of the security services in Africa are designed to protect the current leaders, not to necessarily know what is going on in the country or more broadly in the region. They are more a protective shell. And so an alien entity that is not typical, not one of the parties you watch all the time, comes on the scene, and the information is sketchy. Not at all viable, not reported through proper channels. This makes you very vulnerable to an attack. You don't see it coming. Sometimes we see it coming because it is aimed at us. Sometimes the Israelis see it coming. Sometimes the Europeans see it coming and will warn us."
Modernizing African Airports
The United States is implementing a program called Safe Skies to modernize security at African airports. "This is not because we're being nice guys so we're modernizing African airports, although we're doing that as well. But if there is a weakness in the system anywhere, that weakness will be exploited. A guy can get on at Nairobi and manage to get stuff through to an airport in London, good enough for a target. If we can stop them in Nairobi because we have a universal standard of security, so much the better. That makes it easier for tourism companies to reassure people that when they come into Nairobi it looks like a modern airport anywhere else. You don't have to pay the odd gratuity here and there to get through the system. You are secure. Weapons aren't going to be on board. And so we are modernizing the airports in Africa in several places as part of the war on terrorism.
The U.S. is also working to modernize the visa system in several places in Africa, "because some of them discovered when they were attacked that they had no idea those people were in the country." These efforts point to the need for a general modernizing and development of state institutions. "That's what I meant by draining the swamp," Snyder said. "If you are really going to win the war on terrorism in a place like Africa you've got to do the basic development stuff. If we don't do that and just build a more secure airport, someday the whole airport will go in a bloody revolution, because the country will want to rise up, because 100 million Africans have less than a tenth of the world standard of poverty as an income level. That is just unacceptable in the twenty-first century."
American African Policy after the Cold War
Question: Aren't American strategic interests in Africa a block to African development?
Snyder: "I'm an Afro-optimist. After forty years there aren't many of us. I think there are statistical evidences in Uganda and Ghana and some other places that given enough stability and decent government you can begin to get the economic takeoff. And I'm not saying decent government in the sense of an absolutely rigid open system."
He distinguished between U.S. development aid, which he said has held steady over many decades, and military assistance, which was heavily influenced by cold war objectives. "We gave $200 million one year alone to Sudan for tanks. Those tanks are still operating, M-60s; I know, I delivered them." He said he has come to believe that resources are the key to development success, and that the Millennium Challenge Account has been created to augment available resources. The Assistant Secretary said that both the United States and the European Union are prepared to offer a larger assistance package to African states if they were more certain that it would have some positive effect. He felt that targeting successful governments for specific improvement projects was a new idea that could bring significant U.S. and European funding into Africa.
The "Insanities" of Former U.S. Policy in Africa
One of the most interesting parts of the Assistant Secretary's talk was his effort to dissociate the present American government from the negative U.S. policies toward Africa of the cold war decades. "I think that the cold war had its own effects. Look at the insanities in our policies." He cited as an example the "tar baby option." This refers to the policy of the Nixon administration, formulated by then-Secretary of State Henry Kissinger in 1969, to oppose boycotts of goods from white minority ruled states in southern Africa -- Rhodesia and the Republic of South Africa -- by ruling that a refusal to import goods from any "free world" country was illegal unless all goods from all communist countries were also banned.
"Why did we back antirevolutionary groups in Mozambique and Angola?" Snyder asked. "The Portuguese government, essentially. We backed them for European cold war security reasons. That distorted our policies. The place where we belonged by principle was on the side of the revolution and the side of power to the people. But for cold war reasons, fighting the cold war in Europe, we needed a Portuguese base, and so Africa was sacrificed. But it wasn't sacrificed by one party or the other. The pattern of blame on that score is across both sides over the years of the cold war."
The Assistant Secretary of State then turned to his questioner and declared that U.S. Africa policy since the end of the cold war a decade ago is committed to indigenous development. "So I heard the question you are asking, but I don't think it fits this reality. It fit the reality of ten years ago. I think the transition happened in '92 or '93, in there. The Somali war was a piece of it. The Rwandan genocide was a piece of it. That transformed how we thought and the urgency with which we saw it."
The Ethiopia-Eritrea Border War
Question: What do you see happening in the dispute between Eritrea and Ethiopia, and what do you think of your controversial predecessor, Susan Rice?
Snyder: [Susan Rice was Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs in the Clinton Administration.] "I worked for Susan as an officer. I know Susan quite well." The Ethiopia-Eritrea border dispute, he said, has been so difficult to settle because "the two leaders on both sides are very rigid men. They are not the modernizers that I think Susan hoped they would be. And that I hoped they would be."
Snyder had worked with Eritrea's president, Issaias Afwerki, years ago. "I crawled around shell holes with Issaias when he was still a rebel and we were interested in a particular weapon that had been fired at him by the [former Ethiopian dictator] Mengistu regime. And he is a very tough-minded revolutionary. But he hasn't transformed himself into a national leader that looks beyond the narrow agenda to the broader national interests."
Snyder had a similar opinion about Ethiopia's Prime Minister, Meles Zenawi. "Meles sits atop an Ethiopian system that has not made a fundamental transformation. I think we all hoped that it would have changed, and it has done some things. It has done a lot of things in terms of trying to put power down into the regions, etc. But it hasn't begun to cast a broader vision of what Ethiopia should be about. And the boundary dispute has become a kind of litmus test for the two of them.
"The piece of land they are fighting over is worthless. I mean it's worthless in the sense of how an American MBA looks at it. It's not economically viable. One of the things we said, in fact, to Prime Minister Meles at the highest level was, 'We'll build you another Badme [the disputed area]. We'll build you a Badme city on the hill. If this local population is disadvantaged, we'll build them brand new state-of-the-art houses, wells, roads, and everything else on the right side of the border. If that's what this is about, if this is really about the people, which is what you keep telling us this is about.'
"It's not. It's about the line in the sand between two old revolutionary comrades who can't find a way out. The way out is to get out of the box. They are looking at this border as what their relationship is about. It's not. They have to remember their revolutionary roots. It's about raising both of the populations up. And that means they need to say, okay, fair or not fair we agree that this bloody deal is going to be concluded."
He said Meles and Issaias should accept the line proposed by Sir Elihu Lauterpacht, president of the UN Eritrea-Ethiopia Boundary Commission. "He's 80 years old. And maybe it's not exactly the boundary in the Italian treaty, you could read it 53 ways." But the two sides need to make a sacrifice to put an end to the fighting and normalize relations.
The Ethiopians, he said, have nominally demobilized, "but they rotate in fresh troops. Any day they could launch an attack against the Eritreans." The Eritreans, with their smaller population, have kept their troops in uniform at the expense of their economy, which is faltering. Snyder suggested that after defusing the border issue the two countries should join forces and constitute themselves a common economic zone. "It's going to take ten years or twenty years, but start with free trade. Make the border meaningless. And then make the port of Assab [in Eritrea] what it should be. It should be the Ethiopian route to the sea. Not Djibouti. Tie both countries together and lift both boats, so that your legacy is not a hundred thousand dead men, which is what they've done now. They've fought World War I tactics with World War II weapons. Which proves that if we had done that we could have killed millions more than we did in World War II. Very sophisticated weapons in trench warfare, it was a slaughter. And they are geared to do it again unless they step back from this box where if I win he loses."
The War in the Congo
Queston: 3 million people have died in the wars in the eastern Congo. What is the U.S. policy in the Congo?
Snyder. Charles Snyder was hopeful that the long period of massive bloodshed in the eastern Congo is coming to a close. In 1994 following the genocide in Rwanda, there was a massive flow of refugees into the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DROC, formerly Zaire), including Hutu troops involved in the genocide. In May 1997 President Mobutu Sese Seko was overthrown by Laurent Kabila. The next year Rwanda and Uganda sponsored a revolt in eastern Congo against the Kabila government in Kinshasa. This became a multinational war when troops from Zimbabwe, Angola, Namibia, Chad, and Sudan entered the Congo on the side of Kabila. A nominal cease-fire was signed in July 1999 by the DROC, Zimbabwe, Angola, Uganda, Namibia, Rwanda, and Congolese rebel groups, but fighting has continued. Laurent Kabila was assassinated in January 2001 and his son Joseph Kabila became president. In October 2002 Rwandan forces withdrew from eastern Congo and at the end of that year an agreement was signed by the remaining warring parties to end the fighting and set up a government of national unity, but it has yet to be fully implemented.
"There are a couple of reasons for hope in the Congo," Snyder said. Joseph Kabila held a meeting with President Bush in Washington November 5. At that meeting he asked the U.S. to put pressure on the Rwandans to allow international aid to get into Kivu province, "the Kivus," which has been a center of the remaining hostilities since 1999. Snyder was favorably impressed with the younger Kabila's leadership skills.
Joseph Kabila Is Building a Genuine Coalition Goverment
"He is a bright young guy. He had that dynamic leadership potential that Larry Devlin saw years ago in Mobutu, and worried me because I thought he may be that way. It turned out he is more of a politician, thank god, and he was willing to build a coalition." Kabila has appointed four vice presidents who represent significantly different forces in the political spectrum of the Congo. These include the RCD (Rassemblement congolais pour la democratie [Congolese Rally for Democracy]) and Jean-Pierre Bemba, leader of the Congolese Liberation Movement.
"It is a coalition that he dominates," Snyder commented, "but it is a genuine coalition. And he worked them in the room with the President and the Secretary of State that showed them the kind of respect that you don't usually see, frankly, in those kinds of high level African meetings with us, where he let them have their say. He read off four or five points -- this is what I want from the United States -- that they had agreed on. I know because I asked them privately, Bemba's guys and the RCD. So this government is real. It's on its back. Institutions don't exist. It's got a huge debt to us. It's got disaster in Gecamines [the state-owned La Générale des Carrières et des Mines], it has no economy to speak of. But the politics is okay. It's got a potential."
Bill Swing Heads for the Eastern Congo
Snyder also had high praise for the UN Mission in the Democratic Republic (MONUC), recently reinvigorated with the appointment of William Swing, former U.S. ambassador to the Democratic Republic of the Congo, as its head. "Bill Swing hasn't lost a step, although he is probably older than most of us, in pushing aggressively into the Kivus, because that is where the thing is. He has moved the UN forces away from guarding meaningless airfields back in the safe areas and is pushing them out into the Kivus to end the military domination and the stuff that the Mai-Mai were doing." The Mai-Mai are a local militia in eastern Congo that has been harassing Ugandan and other foreign troops on Congolese territory.
Another initiative that Snyder thought had some potential is a call by UN special envoy to the Great Lakes region of Africa Ibrahim Fall to convene a Great Lakes conference. "We were arguing with him over it. Not because we don't think it's a good idea, although it's a French idea and therefore automatically a bad idea, but we think that it's too broad. That he needs to pick one basket, like the security basket, and set up a security system in the Great Lakes that they all agree to so that we can enforce the rules." Groups to target with such rules would include the Mai-Mai and the Interahamwe, a name given to Hutu troops involved in the 1994 genocide of Tutsis in Rwanda who then fled into the Congo.
"The Great Lakes agreement is the key, an African agreement is the key," Snyder asserted. Such a regional understanding would provide the basis to keep Rwandan President Paul Kagame and Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni from fighting with each other on Congolese soil. "We said to Kagame when he was here most recently, we said it to Museveni just last week, we need to put things right in the eastern Congo and that means you need to stay the hell out. And Museveni's response was 'I agree.' Kagame's was 'I don't think so.' But he didn't get what he was after, which was some guarantee on the Interahamwe," although that is an issue that MONUC will try to resolve in the near future. "We have said privately to Kagame and we will say so publicly if he does anything outrageous, that if MONUC is doing the right thing and has begun the process of demobilizing these ex-Interahamwe, and if the international community, and that includes Africa, is satisfied, we won't let Rwanda be the odd man out. We will sanction them and we will take it to UN if it comes to that. I don't think we're going to go there. I think Kagame is satisfied enough now that he will let it play out.
"So that is where we are in the Kivus. It's an ugly story. It's still ugly now and it shouldn't be. I think if it is not relieved in the next 90 to 180 days we're going to have to do something more dramatic. But I think it's going to take 90 days for Bill Swing to get enough of his people out in the area where we will have a fair test, can he do it? Can he supply the relief? Can he get what's left of those people out of the situation they're in? Can we get the Mai-Mai to step down in return for political stuff? We're putting money into local reconciliation programs." All told, however, Charles Snyder concluded, "I wouldn't be shocked if before a year goes by we put this in the success story category."
Published: Wednesday, December 03, 2003