In a provocative piece on the Atlantic Monthly’s website, veteran foreign correspondent Howard French says that America won’t be taken seriously in Africa and won’t have as much influence as it would like until it stops hypocritically coddling anti-democratic strongmen on the continent when it serves the U.S.’s purposes while paying lip service to the importance of democratic goals.
French, a former longtime foreign correspondent for the New York Times and the author of A Continent for the Taking: The Tragedy and Hope of Africa, said that it has been the growing presence of China on the African continent that has belatedly awakened the U.S. to the continent’s potential as an economic power—leading Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to recently call Africa the continent with the highest returns on investment.
But French used the U.S.’s relationships with three African nations as evidence of our hypocritical approach, which seriously damages our influence in the region. Burkina Faso in West Africa and Uganda in East Africa have become important allies to the U.S.’s military interests in the region, as revealed in a recent series in The Washington Post. But the leaders of these two nations, Blaise Compaoré in Burkina Faso and Yoweri Museveni in Uganda, are anti-democratic leaders who have ruled over their nations for decades, looted their country’s coffers and been responsible for significant death and havoc. Similarly, Clinton said the new country of South Sudan was a “success,” though French pointed out that its new leaders have pocketed billions from the state’s funds.
“If Washington wishes to be taken seriously by Africans it has as much work to do as China in squaring words and deeds,” French writes.