© 2000 New York University. All Rights Reserved.

African Nations Need Aid, Not Arms
By William Hartung and Bridget Moix*
February 10, 2000

NEW YORK -- Even as the United States was convening a special meeting of the United Nation's Security Council last month on the issue of the civil war in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, it was failing to accept its responsibility for helping to create the conditions that have led to this and other seemingly intractable conflicts.

The Clinton administration has made considerable effort to put a new and improved face on its relations with African countries. High-level visits to the region -- first by Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, then by President Clinton himself in the spring of 1998 and finally by U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Richard Holbrooke last December -- have reinforced the idea of a new partnership with the continent, based on promoting "African solutions to African problems."

The reality, however, is that the problems facing Africa and her people -- with eleven armed conflicts under way, political instability, and the lowest regional rate of economic growth worldwide -- have been fueled in part by a legacy of U.S. involvement in the region.

Throughout the Cold War era, from 1950 to 1989, the United States delivered over $1.5 billion worth of weaponry to Africa. Many of the top U.S. arms clients --Liberia, Somalia, the Sudan, and Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of the Congo or DRC) -- have turned out to be the top basket cases of the 1990s in terms of violence, instability, and economic collapse.

And more than a decade after the end of the Cold War, the Clinton administration is still relying on the failed policy of arming and training African military forces at the expense of making long-term investments in sustainable development and conflict prevention in the region.

During the 1990s, the U.S. supplied over $227 million in arms and training to African nations. In addition, U.S. special forces have trained troops from 34 of Africa's 53 nations under the Joint Combined Exchange Training program, including forces fighting on both sides of the Congo's civil war.

The ongoing civil war in the Congo is a prime example of the devastating legacy of U.S. arms sales policy on Africa. The U.S. prolonged the rule of Zairian dictator Mobutu Sese Soko by providing more than $300 million in weapons and $100 million in military training. Mobutu used his U.S.-supplied arsenal to repress his own people and plunder his nation's economy for three decades, until his brutal regime was overthrown by Laurent Kabila's forces in 1997.

When Kabila took power, the Clinton administration quickly offered military support by developing a plan for new training operations with the armed forces.

Meanwhile, even as it fuels military build-ups, the U.S. continues to cut development assistance to Africa and remains unable (or unwilling) to promote alternative, non-violent forms of engagement. While the U.S. ranks number one in global weapons exports, it falls dead last among industrialized nations in providing non-military foreign aid to the developing world. In 1997, the U.S. devoted only .09 percent of its gross domestic product to international development assistance, the lowest proportion of any developed nation. U.S. development aid to all of sub-Saharan Africa has dropped to just $700 million in recent years.

Instead of pious statements and high-level visits, the administration needs to reverse its current policies and begin restricting the flow of weapons and military training to nations on the troubled continent.

Although Congress recently passed legislation requiring the President to begin negotiations toward establishing an international arms-sales code of conduct, based on human rights, non-aggression, and democracy, the United States continues to exempt its own exports from these same standards. The Clinton administration should make good on its commitments to human rights and democracy by supporting passage of a U.S. Code of Conduct which would restrict U.S. weapons sales to dictators and human-rights abusers.

In addition, all U.S. military training programs should receive congressional oversight and approval, with effective mechanisms in place for reviewing and assessing their impact on human rights and democratic consolidation in the recipient countries.

In the place of military assistance, the administration needs to support sustainable development policies by increasing unconditional debt forgiveness to African nations and encourage them to shift resources away from military build-up and toward human development. The president and Congress should provide increased development assistance to Africa and encourage civil-society building by restoring the budget for development assistance to Africa to $800 million for the next fiscal year and work to increasing funding to a more responsible level of $2 billion by 2003.

It will take more than a series of meetings at the United Nations to begin to undo the damage wrought by decades of misguided U.S. weapons transfers to African dictators and demagogues. The current conflict in the Congo dramatically demonstrates the failure of these policies and the desperate need for their reversal.

William D. Hartung is the President's Fellow and Bridget Moix is a research assistant at the World Policy Institute at the New School in New York City.

© 2000 New York University. All Rights Reserved. The Global Beat Syndicate, a service of New York University's Center for War, Peace, and the News Media, provides editors with commentary and perspective articles on critical global issues from contributors around the world. For more information, check out http://www.nyu.edu/globalbeat/syndicate/.

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