President Trump, UN Ambassador Haley and Africa by Jeff Grischow

On September 20, 2017, President Trump announced that he was sending UN Ambassador Nikki Haley and Human Services Secretary Tom Price to Africa.  Two countries were a particular concern for Trump.  At a lunch with African leaders during the UN General Assembly meeting in New York, Trump told them that the US Government was “closely monitoring and deeply disturbed by the ongoing violence in South Sudan and the (Democratic Republic of) Congo.”  The solutions according to Trump had to be ‘African-led,’ and to support this, Trump said, “I’m sending Ambassador Nikki Haley to Africa to discuss avenues of conflict and resolution, and, most importantly, prevention.”

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But this is only part of Trump’s full intentions.  A month later, Haley published an Op Ed on CNN’s under the headline “This is why the President is sending me to Africa.”  Haley laid out three American interests in Africa: humanitarian, economic and strategic.  Haley focused on the first, which Trump alluded to above.  But rather than setting out a blueprint for US assistance, Haley proffered a threat to African leaders – and (maybe more importantly) a reassurance to the American public: unless African politicians cleaned up their act, Trump will withdraw American support for UN humanitarian missions in South Sudan and the DRC.  Underlying this threat is the American assumption that the crises in South Sudan and the DRC are entirely due to a lack of political will on the part of African political leaders.  In South Sudan, the hope of independence on July 9, 2011, was shattered within two years as civil conflict upended any chances of a smooth and peaceful transition to independence.  Meanwhile, Haley said, the DRC has been in chaos since the 1990s and there is little hope of solving the crisis.  The end result has been a steady flow of refugees out of both countries, creating a huge problem and potentially threatening to bring “dangerous results.”

Haley did not explain what she meant by “dangerous results” but we’re relatively safe in assuming she is referring to security threats – probably including threats within the United States.  Given Trump’s travel bans and protectionist (and nativist) policies, could Haley’s unnamed dangers reflect American strategic interests in Africa revolving around international and domestic security?  It’s not implausible.  On the security issue, it is also interesting that the US government has ended the Temporary Protected Status for Sudanese citizens, and (after several extensions) plans to end it for South Sudanese citizens in May, 2019 (TPS allows foreign nationals to stay and work in the USA in cases of civil conflict or natural disasters in their home countries).

Haley did not address American economic interests in her Op Ed.  But Trump reportedly did, in his characteristic style, when he met with the African leaders in New York.  “Africa has tremendous business potential,” he told them, “I have so many friends going to your countries trying to get rich.”  Well, that’s honest I guess.  “I congratulate you,” he continued, “they’re spending a lot of money. But it does, it has tremendous business potential, and representing huge amounts of different markets, and for American firms it’s really become a place they have to go, that they want to go.”  Interesting.

If we put these pieces together, the Trump’s administration’s African policy appears to relate mainly to (1) domestic security in the US; (2) being able to send African refugees back home (3) providing opportunities for American capitalists to exploit the continent’s growing markets; and (4) reducing the US’s funding to the United Nations for humanitarian assistance to South Sudan and the DRC.  Putting the blame for conflict solely on the shoulders of African political elites seems like a convenient strategy for achieving these goals.

Sources:

https://www.politico.com/story/2017/09/20/nikki-haley-tom-price-africa-242938

https://af.reuters.com/article/commoditiesNews/idAFW1N1D9024

https://www.voanews.com/a/donald-trump-nikki-haley-envoy-south-sudan-congo/4037234.html

http://www.cnn.com/2017/10/21/opinions/un-drc-south-sudan-nikki-haley-opinion/index.html

http://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-immigration-sudan/u-s-ends-temporary-protected-status-for-sudanese-but-extends-it-for-south-sudanese-idUSKCN1BT2RL?il=0

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South Sudan’s Refugee Crisis and Ideas for a Way Forward, by Jeff Grischow

On August 17, the Guardian newspaper reported that the number of South Sudanese refugees in Uganda reached the one million mark.  Another million have fled to Sudan, Ethiopia and the Democratic Republic of Congo.  According to Jason Burke of the Guardian, the fighting between South Sudan’s factions ‘has created the fastest growing refugee crisis in the world.’  The article, like many others, provides an important record of the personal stories of some of the South Sudanese victims of the conflict.  Thousands of children have arrived in Uganda without their parents; children and parents miss their homes but have nothing to return to; refugees in overcrowded camps depend on international NGOs to meet their basic needs.

South Sudan’s crisis is one of the most important global issues of the past year, but it has not been widely covered in the press.  The Guardian article reminded me, however, of a piece published in the New York Times earlier this year, which moved beyond the regular descriptions of the conflict to present the views of some leading experts on how to move forward.  I think it’s worth sharing in this blog.

Published on January 23, 2017, the article – written by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Jeffrey Gettleman – asked whether South Sudan should be taken over by an international body to stabilize the political situation and buy time to find a solution to the civil war that has been raging since 2013.  The strongest proponent of this idea was the well-known Ugandan political scientist Mahmood Mamdani, who proposed a six-year trusteeship period managed by the African Union with oversight by the United Nations.  Under Mamdani’s plan, none of South Sudan’s political elite would be allowed to participate.  Opposed to this plan is James Solomon Padiet from Juba University, who feels that an international takeover would be ‘offensive’ because it would exclude many good South Sudanese leaders who are ‘waiting in the wings’ for a chance to contribute to the country’s future.  Padiet also said that many South Sudanese – especially the Dinka – would oppose the idea of an international takeover and its interference with South Sudan’s sovereignty.

Taking a ‘middle position’ is Amir Idris, the Chair of the African and African-American Studies program at Fordham University in New York and a well-respected Sudanese intellectual.  Idris argues that the trusteeship option might be considered as a ‘last resort’ but that the priority should be to build a new South Sudan after removing the current political elite in its entirety.  This would open the door for a new group of South Sudanese politicians and experts to restart the development of the country along more positive lines.  Idris has written about the need for international involvement many times before, and as one of the most important scholars and activists involved in South Sudan his ideas should be considered very closely.

If you are interested in learning more about the current conflict in South Sudan, including historical and contemporary perspectives, here are a few sources that I consider especially worth reading:

Newspaper/popular media articles:

https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2017/aug/17/south-sudan-refugee-families-uganda

https://mobile.nytimes.com/2017/01/23/world/africa/quandary-in-south-sudan-should-it-lose-its-hard-won-independence.html?_r=0&referer=https://www.google.com/

http://www.newsweek.com/how-heal-wounds-south-sudan-civil-war-408274

Amir Idris, Identity, Citizenship, and Violence in Two Sudans: Re-imagining a Common Future (Palgrave, 2013).

Douglas Johnson, South Sudan: A New History for a New Nation (Ohio University Press, 2011)

Douglas Johnson, The Root Causes of Sudan’s Civil Wars, 3rd edition (Boydell and Brewer, 2016).