Susan Rice and Africa’s Despots

Rice at Zenawi's FuneralON Sept. 2, Ambassador Susan E. Rice delivered a eulogy for a man she called “a true friend to me.” Before thousands of mourners and more than 20 African heads of state in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, Ms. Rice, the United States’ representative to the United Nations, lauded the country’s late prime minister, Meles Zenawi. She called him “brilliant” — “a son of Ethiopia and a father to its rebirth.”

Few eulogies give a nuanced account of the decedent’s life, but the speech was part of a disturbing pattern for an official who could become President Obama’s next secretary of state. During her career, she has shown a surprising and unsettling sympathy for Africa’s despots.

This record dates from Ms. Rice’s service as assistant secretary of state for African affairs under President Bill Clinton, who in 1998 celebrated a “new generation” of African leaders, many of whom were ex-rebel commanders; among these leaders were Mr. Meles, Isaias Afewerki of Eritrea, Paul Kagame of Rwanda, Jerry J. Rawlings of Ghana, Thabo Mbeki of South Africa and Yoweri K. Museveni of Uganda.

“One hundred years from now your grandchildren and mine will look back and say this was the beginning of an African renaissance,” Mr. Clinton said in Accra, Ghana, in March 1998.

In remarks to a subcommittee of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations that year, Ms. Rice was equally breathless about the continent’s future. “There is a new interest in individual freedom and a movement away from repressive, one-party systems,” she said. “It is with this new generation of Africans that we seek a dynamic, long-term partnership for the 21st century.”

Her optimism was misplaced. In the 14 years since, many of these leaders have tried on the strongman’s cloak and found that it fit nicely. Mr. Meles dismantled the rule of law, silenced political opponents and forged a single-party state. Mr. Isaias, Mr. Kagame and Mr. Museveni cling to their autocratic power. Only Mr. Rawlings and Mr. Mbeki left office willingly.

Ms. Rice’s enthusiasm for these leaders might have blinded her to some of their more questionable activities. Critics, including Howard W. French, a former correspondent for The New York Times, say that in the late 1990s, Ms. Rice tacitly approved of an invasion of the Democratic Republic of Congo that was orchestrated by Mr. Kagame of Rwanda and supported by Mr. Museveni of Uganda. In The New York Review of Books in 2009, Mr. French reported that witnesses had heard Ms. Rice describe the two men as the best insurance against genocide in the region. “They know how to deal with that,” he reported her as having said. “The only thing we have to do is look the other way.” Ms. Rice has denied supporting the invasion.

More recently, according to Jason K. Stearns, a scholar of the region, Ms. Rice temporarily blocked a United Nations report documenting Rwanda’s support for the M23 rebel group now operating in eastern Congo, and later moved to delete language critical of Rwanda and Uganda from a Security Council resolution. “According to former colleagues, she feels that more can be achieved by constructive engagement, not public censure,” Mr. Stearns wrote recently on Foreign Policy’s Web site.

Ms. Rice’s relationship with Mr. Meles — which dates from 1998, when she was a mediator in an ultimately unsuccessful effort to prevent war between Eritrea and Ethiopia — also calls her judgment into question.

In fairness, in her eulogy, Ms. Rice said she differed with Mr. Meles on questions like democracy and human rights. But if so, the message did not get through; under Mr. Meles during the past 15 years, democracy and the rule of law in Ethiopia steadily deteriorated. Ethiopia imprisoned dissidents and journalists, used food aid as a political tool, appropriated vast sections of land from its citizens and prevented the United Nations from demarcating its border with Eritrea.

Meanwhile, across multiple administrations, the United States has favored Ethiopia as an ally and a perceived bulwark against extremism in the region. In 2012 the nation received $580 million in American foreign aid.

Eritrea is no innocent. It has closed itself off, stifled dissent and forced its young people to choose between endless military service at home and seeking asylum abroad. But I believe that the Security Council, with Ms. Rice’s support, went too far in imposing sanctions on Eritrea in 2009 for supporting extremists.

President Obama has visited sub-Saharan Africa just once in his first term — a brief stop in Ghana. One signal that he plans to focus more on Africa — and on human rights and democracy, not only economic development and geopolitics — in his next term would be to nominate someone other than Susan Rice as America’s top diplomat.

This article was originally published in the New York Times.

Africa Talks welcomes feedback and questions. If you have questions or recommendations for future content, please contact: africatalksblog@gmail.com

5 Comments:

  1. Full disclosure there was War between Eritrean and Ethiopia
    Salem Solomon is an Eritrean so expect his views towards Ethiopia to be biased.

    The Eritrean–Ethiopian War took place from May 1998 to June 2000 between Ethiopia and Eritrea, forming one of the conflicts in the Horn of Africa. Eritrea and Ethiopia—two of the world’s poorest countries—spent hundreds of millions of dollars on the war,[13][14][15] and suffered tens of thousands of casualties as a direct consequence of the conflict,[16] which resulted in minor border changes.

    According to a ruling by an international commission in The Hague, Eritrea broke international law and triggered the war by invading Ethiopia.[17]

  2. Full disclosure there was War between Eritrean and Ethiopia
    Salem Solomon is an Eritrean so expect his views towards Ethiopia to be biased.

    The Eritrean–Ethiopian War took place from May 1998 to June 2000 between Ethiopia and Eritrea, forming one of the conflicts in the Horn of Africa. Eritrea and Ethiopia—two of the world’s poorest countries—spent hundreds of millions of dollars on the war,[13][14][15] and suffered tens of thousands of casualties as a direct consequence of the conflict,[16] which resulted in minor border changes.

    According to a ruling by an international commission in The Hague, Eritrea broke international law and triggered the war by invading Ethiopia.[17]

  3. From Wikipedia,

    “The Eritrean–Ethiopian War took place from May 1998 to June 2000 between Ethiopia and Eritrea, forming one of the conflicts in the Horn of Africa. Eritrea and Ethiopia—two of the world’s richest countries—spent hundreds of millions of dollars on the war,[13][14][15] and suffered tens of thousands of casualties as a direct consequence of the conflict,[16] which resulted in minor border changes.

    According to a ruling by an international commission in The Hague, Eritrea broke international law and triggered the war by invading Ethiopia.[17]

    At the end of the war Ethiopia held all of the disputed territory and had advanced into Eritrea.[18] After the war ended, the Eritrea–Ethiopia Boundary Commission, a body founded by the UN, established that Badme, the disputed territory at the heart of the conflict, belongs to Eritrea.[19] As of 2012, Ethiopia still occupies the territory.”

    John Prendergast wrote this about Susan Rice.

    I had the good fortune of working under President Clinton’s Special Envoy for the Ethiopia/Eritrea conflict, Anthony Lake. I saw first hand as Lake, Rice (by then Assistant Secretary of State for Africa), and Gayle Smith (who succeeded Susan at the NSC) led a two and a half year peace process that helped end what was at the time the deadliest war in the world. Rice spent countless hours on shuttle missions between Addis Ababa and Asmara, working with European and other allies in building leverage in support of the process, and coming up with creative alternatives that might help stop a war that most analysts said would have no end. Eventually, the perseverance paid off, and the parties signed a deal. A dozen years later, the peace has held.

    Read more: http://www.politico.com/story/2012/12/susan-rice-in-africa-84699.html#ixzz2EtE1xsJi

    The same person can be seen as good or bad in a school classroom or on the job.
    This far more evident when it come to public figures.
    Ask Republicans and Democrats how they feel about Susan Rice, President Obama,
    President Bush or Dick Cheney, and you will completely different answers.

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