Wednesday, 19 August 2009

Clinton’s oily policy

Published: August 17 2009 19:24 | Last updated: August 17 2009 19:24

Press coverage of US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s Africa trip
focused, in an all-too-frequent fit of parochialism, on a flash of
marital drama in which she took umbrage at being asked about her
husband. The real drama went unnoticed. In an open letter, prominent
Angolan dissidents asked her to take a stance on corruption and abuse of
power by that country’s elite.

That she did not do so shows the limits of change in US foreign policy,
even under a president who made it a linchpin of his campaign. The share
of US oil imports from west Africa is expected to almost double to 25
per cent in the next decade. With Nigerian production in precipitous
decline, that will be impossible without relying more heavily on Angola.

That helps explain the platitudes with which Mrs Clinton commented on
Angola’s governance – in contrast with her more pointed remarks in
Nigeria and Kenya. Her reference to Angola’s progress since the end of
its civil war was warranted; her vision of a country “positioned to be a
leader on the economic front, on the social and political fronts, the
security front, in every way” rather less so.

Such a eulogy is a slap in the face of the letter writers, who drew her
attention to Angola’s “brutal political reality”. They accuse the circle
around President José Eduardo dos Santos of: monopolising key economic
sectors such as transport, telecommunications, and banking;
strengthening their control of state and private media; carrying out
forced displacement and confiscating land without due process; and
diverting public funds to private uses with impunity.

These are harsh accusations. But they are backed up by Mrs Clinton’s own
state department’s human rights report on Angola, as well as by
independent observers. She cannot profess to care about governance in
Angola unless she takes seriously those who address it. The writers put
themselves at risk of reprisal by Luanda; Mrs Clinton owes them at least
a reply.

By taking energy supplies as paramount, Mrs Clinton neglects that the
oligarchic power edifice built on high oil revenues is a reason Angola’s
peace dividend remains elusive: it ranks second in the world for child

The US should not repeat its mistake of tolerating despotism to gain
short-term stability. Mrs Clinton’s early predecessor as foreign
emissary, Benjamin Franklin, suggested that sacrificing one’s liberty
for security makes one lose both. In the long run, America may find that
this also holds when the liberty sacrificed is that of Africans.

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