Trump’s new Africa strategy takes sharp aim at China, Russia
By MARIA DANILOVA and CARA ANNA
Thursday, December 13
WASHINGTON (AP) — The Trump administration on Thursday announced a sharp refocus of its Africa strategy to counter what it called the “predatory” practices of China and Russia, which are “deliberately and aggressively targeting their investments in the region to gain a competitive advantage.”
National security adviser John Bolton laid out the new strategy in remarks at the Heritage Foundation, saying the U.S. will now choose its African partners more carefully. He took special aim at China, accusing it of wielding “bribes, opaque agreements, and the strategic use of debt to hold states in Africa captive to Beijing’s wishes and demands.”
Russia, he alleged, is also “seeking to increase its influence in the region through corrupt economic dealings.” Russia and China’s efforts across the African continent, he said, “stunt” its economic growth.
Critics are skeptical because it has taken nearly two years into Trump’s presidency to announce the Africa strategy, and the president is well known for his disparaging remarks about the continent that is home to 1.2 billion people.
Addressing members of Congress on Wednesday, Assistant Secretary of State Tibor Nagy was the latest to warn of China’s increasing economic, military and political influence in Africa, a continent with some of the world’s fastest-growing economies and trillions of dollars’ worth of natural resources. Africa’s population is set to double by 2050, he said, a “demographic tsunami.”
Any renewed U.S. effort to counter China in Africa, however, comes years late. China became the continent’s top trading partner nearly a decade ago and has invested billions of dollars in high-profile infrastructure projects.
In response to warnings by the U.S. and others about indebtedness to China, some in Africa have noted sometimes uncomfortable financial terms set out by Western powers in the past. Others praise China’s no-strings-attached terms with no insistence on human rights reforms.
Congress passed legislation earlier this year creating a $60 billion international development agency, widely viewed as a response to Chinese overseas development programs.
Under the new “Prosper Africa” strategy, Bolton said, “we will encourage African leaders to choose high-quality, transparent, inclusive, and sustainable foreign investment projects, including those from the United States.”
He warned that the U.S. will “reevaluate its support for U.N. peacekeeping missions” as well as aid to countries whose governance it finds troublesome, including South Sudan.
“The United States will no longer provide indiscriminate assistance across the entire continent,” Bolton said. He added that “countries that repeatedly vote against the United States in international forums, or take action counter to U.S. interests, should not receive generous American foreign aid.”
On the military front, China opened its first overseas military base last year in the Horn of Africa nation of Djibouti, the site of the only permanent U.S. military base on the continent. Bolton warned of a possible shift of the strategic region, along the lucrative and busy Red Sea shipping lane, to China.
As Beijing and others seek to grow their military presence, the U.S. is pulling back. The Pentagon in November said it planned a 10 percent cut in the U.S. Africa Command’s total force of 7,200 troops, to be carried out over several years, as its global focus shifts from counterterrorism to perceived threats from Russia and China.
Whatever steps the U.S. takes next, perceptions are an immediate hurdle. The president is known for his reported unflattering remarks: comparing some countries to a filthy toilet, referring to the nonexistent nation of “Nambia” and saying Nigerians — from Africa’s biggest economy and a top oil producer — would never return to their “huts” once they saw the U.S.
While Congress has restrained some of his administration’s proposed deep cuts in foreign aid, Trump has put forth no signature Africa project and there is no sign he intends to visit.
Jennifer Cooke, director of the Institute for African Studies at George Washington University, said the U.S. should avoid trying to be too transactional.
“We are not going to beat China at its own game, which is massive investments and in infrastructure and roads, ports, railroads and vanity projects,” Cooke said. “What sets the U.S. apart has been a broader engagement, beyond government, looking at development, civil society and, frankly, serving as something of a moral authority on human rights, democracy and governance issues.”
In the end, African nations will benefit from this competition, Judd Devermont, who was the U.S. national intelligence officer for Africa until earlier this year, told the Senate Armed Services Committee on Wednesday.
“Some of the current uproar over Chinese investment in Africa is overblown and ill-informed,” he warned, saying many of China’s infrastructure projects address desperate needs.
While some of China’s actions pose unmistakable threats to U.S. military operations and communications platforms, Devermont said, African leaders are not oblivious to risk. “The United States scores few points by talking down to African counterparts about the perils of Chinese engagement,” he said.
Anna reported from Johannesburg.
No coups occurred in 2018. Will next year be so stable?
December 13, 2018
Author: Clayton Besaw, Research affiliate, Department of Political Science, University of Central Florida
Contributor: Matthew Frank, Master’s student, University of Denver
Disclosure statement: Clayton Besaw is a research associate with the One Earth Future Foundation, a non-profit organization that promotes peace and security in post-conflict countries. Matthew Frank is a researcher at the One Earth Future Foundation.
The past year may have felt politically tumultuous, between Saudi Arabia’s brazen killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Turkey, the resurgence of authoritarianism in Eastern Europe and Donald Trump’s unorthodox approach to U.S. foreign policy.
But in some ways 2018 was unusually stable. It is on track to be only the second year in a century without a coup d’état. The last head of state overthrown was Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe in November 2017.
There have been 463 coup attempts worldwide since 1950, 233 of which were successful. These undemocratic power transfers have sparked civil wars, triggered authoritarian crackdowns and stunted economic growth.
Before 2018 the only other coup-free year in the past century was 2007.
Declining risk of coups worldwide
Coups and coup attempts have existed as long as governments have.
Caesar crossed the Rubicon in 49 B.C. in a coup against the Roman Senate, only to face a counter-coup on the Ides of March. Napoleon Bonaparte took power through a military coup. Hugo Chavez led a failed coup years before winning election.
During the late 20th century, there was a 99 percent chance that at least one coup would happen each year, according to CoupCast, which uses data on elections, economics, conflict, leadership and politics to predict which countries are most likely to see a coup attempt. Coup risk began to decline in 2000, reaching an all-time low of 88 percent in 2018.
This welcome progress on political stability was not evenly distributed across the globe, our analysis of CoupCast data finds. Some regions saw their coup risk decline much more significantly.
Latin America was a 20th-century epicenter of coup activity. Countries like Argentina, Venezuela, Honduras and Bolivia all saw numerous democratically elected leaders overthrown by the military.
Occasionally, Latin American leaders who came to power in a military coup were themselves deposed in a military coup. That’s what happened to Argentine President Gen. Juan Perón in 1955. Perón’s second wife, Isabel, was also overthrown by the military.
But of the 142 recorded coup attempts in Latin America since 1950, only five occurred since 2000. Honduran president Manuel Zelaya’s 2009 ouster by the army was the most recent.
Coups used to be common in Asia, too. In Thailand and Pakistan, in particular, forced leadership change was a hallmark of their turbulent democracies after World War II.
That is changing. Only six of Asia’s 62 recorded coup attempts occurred in the last 18 years.
How Latin America and Asia stabilized
Research on Argentina, Bolivia and other Latin American countries with a history of coup d’etats indicates that in highly authoritarian countries, these events can eventually have a democratizing effect.
It’s counterintuitive, but successful coup leaders often undertake a transition to democracy to boost their legitimacy and help economic growth. Failed coups can also drive authoritarian leaders toward reform, studies show.
Asia’s move away from coups this century was similar to Latin America’s in some ways.
South Korea’s 1961 coup, for example, was followed by rapid economic growth and, decades later, a return to democracy.
But greater interdependence between Asian nations and global superpowers in the post-Cold War period also contributed to broader regional stability. That, in turn, created economic growth that drives democratization and stabilizes nations.
A cycle of instability in some African countries
Political stability in Africa has improved since 2000, but it has not kept pace with Latin America and Asia. The region has had 35 coup attempts in the past 18 years – an average of two per year.
Africans are 10 percent more likely to live through a coup than people in other parts of the globe, CoupCast data shows.
In our analysis, two factors drive Africa’s continued coup risk: the economy and a regional history of coups.
While many African countries have seen substantial economic progress in recent decades – particularly Nigeria, Ghana and Ethiopia – growth remains uneven and overall poverty in the region has declined only marginally since 2000.
Poor economic conditions can trigger popular unrest. Poverty and protests, like those seen recently in Uganda and Malawi, often combine to serve as a signal of support to would-be coup-plotters.
Coups can also create a vicious cycle of political instability. Of the 12 African nations that have seen coup attempts since 2007, half – including Guinea Bissau and Burkina Faso – have had multiple coups.
A long national history of military ousters makes nondemocratic transfers of power seem normal, leading to more coups. And while coups can sometimes help economic growth, in Africa the instability they’ve caused has mostly hurt economies.
Coup risk in 2019
Latin American countries escaped the coup treadmill after 30 years, despite dire economic and political conditions. Asia emerged from its vicious coup cycle in less time than that.
Africa probably will, too.
It is on the right path. CoupCast projects just a 55.5 percent chance of at least one coup attempt taking place in Africa in 2019, down from a forecast this year of a 69 percent chance of a coup attempt.
And, of course, coup predictions are just that: political analysts’ best guesses. There were no coups in Africa, or anywhere else, in 2018.
Next year, CoupCast shows an 81 percent chance of at least one coup attempt somewhere in the world.
Weaponizing Humanitarian Aid
by Mel Gurtov
Long ago, US foreign aid programs honored the principle that humanitarian aid should be treated separately from economic and military assistance to governments. Public Law 480 (popularized as “Food for Peace”), which began under President Eisenhower in the 1960s and expanded under President Kennedy, was mainly intended (in Kennedy’s words) to “narrow the gap between abundance here at home and near starvation abroad.” It was a simple and ethical goal, though it applied only to “friendly” countries and therefore had the secondary aim, as Kennedy admitted, to be a barrier against communism.
The original humane goal has now vanished, and the secondary political aim has taken its place. The Trump administration is explicitly using humanitarian aid as another weapon to sanction adversaries. North Korea is the prime example. After decades providing humanitarian aid by private citizens and NGOs, Americans will no longer be able to send or deliver it: the decision includes denial of permission to travel to North Korea to deliver aid. Programs that made perceptible contributions to economic development and health care in North Korea, and built trust, will now be grounded.
The American Friends Service Committee, Nautilus Institute, Mercy Corps, Northwest Medical Teams, and other well-established NGOs are among the affected organizations.
All this in the name of the Trump administration’s policy of “maximum pressure” to force North Korea to take tangible steps toward verifiable denuclearization. The administration justifies the ban as necessary to protect Americans from being taken prisoner and eliminate a source of hard currency for the North Korean regime. But those are excuses; humanitarian aid is a carrot now turned into a stick because Trump’s summit meeting with Kim Jong-un has failed to bring denuclearization any closer to realization and has no interest in an incentives-based engagement strategy.
Keith Luse, executive director of the National Committee on North Korea, a group that supports engagement, points out in a message to members (which includes me) that “a line has been crossed.”
American citizens and NGOs have provided humanitarian assistance to that country for decades. Whether motivated by a faith-based perspective—or out of a compassionate nature—all have been committed to saving the lives of the neediest of North Korea’s citizens, including children, the elderly and pregnant mothers. Thousands of North Koreans neglected by their own government, particularly in rural areas, know their lives have been impacted, or saved because of the intervention of the American people. It has become clear that the Trump Administration regards the provision of humanitarian assistance to the North Korean people as a legitimate target for its maximum pressure campaign.
Despite improvements in its economy, North Korea’s public health and food circumstances remain dire. The World Food Programme reports a shortfall of over $15 million for its work in North Korea. Ten million people—40 percent of the population—are said to be undernourished, and roughly 20 percent of children suffer from chronic malnourishment. The White House, where the president periodically extols his friendship with Kim Jong-un, has said nothing about the human condition in North Korea. But even if it did, US termination of humanitarian aid to North Korea would undermine its criticisms of human rights there.
In the United Nations, the US position makes Russia and China look good. Their representatives have called for rewarding North Korea for its diplomacy and its focus since April 2018 on economic development rather than on the byongjinline of parallel military and economic development. Moscow and Beijing have both arguedin the Security Council for North Korean exemptions from UN sanctions. A Chinese foreign ministry statementof June 12, 2018 said:
The UN Security Council resolutions that have been passed say that if North Korea respects and acts in accordance with the resolutions, then sanction measures can be adjusted, including to pause or remove the relevant sanctions. China has consistently held that sanctions are not the goal in themselves. The Security Council’s actions should support and conform to the efforts of current diplomatic talks towards denuclearizing the Korean Peninsula, and promote a political solution for the peninsula.
But to date Washington, with veto power in the Security Council, has taken a firm line on UN sanctions. In the White House’s view, reflected for example in a statement of August 29, 2018, China’s food and fuel assistance to North Korea—which typically amounts to 70 percent of North Korean imports—is “not helpful.” The White House is fighting a losing battle, however. Since the Trump-Kim summit, leakage in the UN sanctions regime has increased significantly as neither Russia nor China feels duty bound to honor it as before, particularly when it comes to oil. South Korean humanitarian aid also enters the picture as inter-Korean talks move ahead. North-South Korea agreements so far have greatly reduced military tensions along the demilitarized zone and at sea, paving the way for renewal of a South Korean-funded industrial zone and resort complex just across the DMZ in the North. But the Trump administration stands in the way of South Korean aid to the North.
In response to Seoul’s interest in lifting trade and investment sanctions, Trump said: “They won’t do it without our approval. They do nothing without our approval.”
North Korea is not an isolated case. Iran is also subject to “maximum pressure” and worse—meaning regime change—as became apparent in a speech by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeoon May 28, 2018. Officially, Trump’s imposition of sanctions on Iran following withdrawal from the Obama-era nuclear deal separates humanitarian aid from US sanctions on Iran’s banks, oil, airlines, and other industries. But in fact humanitarian aid requires the same bank processing as any other aid, making food and medicine imports hard to find under US sanctions. As Iran’s Foreign Minister Javad Zarif said: “The US has imposed financial sanctions on Iran. When you want to transfer money, the bank does not ask whether it goes for food or other items—that is why sanctions always hit food and medicine.”
Economic sanctions do hurt. Iran’s Zarif has said as much, while also saying that sanctions “strengthen the resolve to resist. The North Koreans have not acknowledged the pain but have demanded an end to US sanctions as a condition of further dialogue. A major problem with sanctions, surely applicable to Iran and North Korea, is that they arouse nationalist resistance in the targeted regime. Studies of sanctions show, moreover, that they have a poor record when it comes to forcing policy changes
As for sanctions on humanitarian aid, the core issue is moral as well as economic. The people most affected by such sanctions are, of course, those who are most in need of basic necessities. Political leaders, the military, and residents in the capital rarely suffer. Moreover, loss of direct contact by aid groups with ordinary people undermines opportunities to build goodwill and nurture diplomatic engagement. In short, weaponizing humanitarian aid has no upside even in a policy based on “maximum pressure.”
The future of humanitarian aid is grim. The sheer number of people in need around the world almost defies imagination. Food and health deficits in North Korea and Iran pose one kind of humanitarian need. They are in caught in the middle of international rivalries, like the half-million Yemenis displaced by war and the “caravans” of people fleeing Central American violence and trapped in Mexico. But then there are the over 60 million displaced and transnational refugees and migrants who are victims of natural catastrophes (including climate change), war, and persecution.
Five countries—Afghanistan, Myanmar, Somalia, Syria, and South Sudan—account for two-thirds of today’s refugees according to Mercy Corps and Amnesty International. The global map is pockmarked with encampments, many of them permanent, as governments struggle either to support or find a way to remove hundreds of thousands of people. Governments that put out the welcome sign for such people, like Germany and Lebanon, risk being ousted by the current tidal force of anti-immigrant sentiment. And in the United Nations, refugee fatigue is an old problem, and funding relief has long since become a mission impossible.
Mel Gurtov, syndicated by PeaceVoice, is Professor Emeritus of Political Science at Portland State University.
Reps. Brenner, Slaby Applaud House Concurrence on Cursive Writing Bill
December 13, 2018
Legislation offering opportunity for schools to teach cursive writing heads to governor’s desk
COLUMBUS—State Representatives Andrew Brenner (R-Powell) and Marilyn Slaby (R-Copley), joint sponsors of House Bill 58, applauded the Ohio House for concurring on the Ohio Senate’s changes to the legislation. House Bill 58 gives school districts the opportunity to teach cursive writing to students, as it is not currently required by law.
House Bill 58 now requires the Ohio Department of Education (ODE) to provide supplemental materials on the development of handwriting as a universal skill within the existing English language arts model curriculum for students in kindergarten through fifth grade. The materials must be incorporated into the model curriculum by the first day of July following the enactment of the bill and must be updated periodically.
Cursive writing has been found by multiple associations and institutions that deal with and study dys constellation challenges (such as dyslexia) to be extremely helpful in supporting focus, learning patterns, memory, and spelling. Studies have shown that the brain learns better when there is constant movement from the hand, rather than the hand having to be lifted after every pen stroke. It is essential to provide teachers and students with all the tools necessary to not only learn to read but also thrive in school. Finally, some documents in day-to-day life are still in cursive, and the next generation will require the skills to understand them.
“I have been working through my eight years as a state representative to pass legislation that provides more tools to teachers and students,” said Brenner. “Children with learning challenges need teachers who have the resources available to help them in a special way, so I hope every district will look at the science and make cursive writing available for their students.”
“I am thrilled to know that with the passage of House Bill 58 educators will have another tool to help teach students cursive writing,” said Slaby. “Teaching cursive will allow students to read anything written to them, including our founding documents.”
House Bill 58 now heads to the Governor’s desk for his signature.