Democrat and Republican presidents have approached Africa primarily for access to, and control of extractive industries and for counter-terrorism operations. This approach, under the influence of the cold war, translated into the US supporting Africa’s strongmen.
The most prominent of these strongmen, including but not limited to Equatorial Guinea’s Teodoro Obiang Nguema, in power since 1979; Uganda’s Yoweri Museveni, head of state since 1986; Djibouti’s Ismail Omar Guelleh, in post since 1999; Rwanda’s Paul Kagame, ruling since 1994, and Eritrea’s Isaias Afwerki, in power since 1993 have been responsible for more than 22 million deaths on the continent since independence in 1960. That is almost twice as many people forcibly transported from Africa during the transatlantic slave trade. Yet it seems no US president has found this troubling. The bloodiest killing field has been the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where brutal US-backed strongmen killed more than 5.4 million Congolese people over access and control of minerals between 1998 and 2008, and sparked outbreaks of disease, famine and the use of rape as a weapon of war.
Obama delivered almost nothing meaningful; not because of a Russian or Chinese veto at the UN security council but because in the first few years of his presidency some in his team sought to protect people such as Joseph Kabila, former president of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, whose security forces were linked to killings and torture, and Paul Kagame, whose tight grip on the Rwanda presidency has earned him the tag of “benevolent dictator”. The result? Tragic. During the Obama presidency, 11 African strongmen clung to power, killing thousands of their citizens and displacing millions more. Yet almost not a single one of them faced a serious tit-for-tat consequences from the US – and this has been a colossal disaster for democratic forces across the continent.
The result? Tragic. During the Obama presidency, 11 African strongmen clung to power, killing thousands of their citizens and displacing millions more. Yet almost not a single one of them faced a serious tit-for-tat consequences from the US – and this has been a colossal disaster for democratic forces across the continent.
Will the Biden-Harris administration end the US’s longstanding but shortsighted and destructive support for Africa’s strongmen? How may President Biden respond to #EndSars, a movement against police brutality in Nigeria, or #CongoIsBleeding, a campaign against exploitation in the mines of the DRC? What will he do to de-escalate growing tensions inside Ethiopia or in Eritrea.
Many are wondering whether or not Biden will refocus US policy and push for peace in Somalia, Libya, Cameroon or Mozambique? Will he support the creation of an international criminal tribunal for Congo to end the continuing killings and use of rape as a weapon of war and, simultaneously, jump-start development in Africa’s great lakes – a region that seems pitifully prone to strongmen and mass killing?
Answers to these questions are unclear.