Vol. V, Issue 3 (Summer 1998): Africa and the United States

Table of Contents

Africa and the United States

The July explosions in Kenya and Tanzania were fatal for approximately 250 East Africans and 12 Americans. They also have implications for US foreign policy in Africa.

When U.S. marines sealed off the devastated embassy building and refused to allow access to desperate and tearful relatives seeking todig a tunnel, Kenyans and other East Africans took note. They also noted the preoccupation of Americans with the twelve American casualties, pointing out that for every American who lost his or her life, about twenty-one East Africans died.It seems that Semitex H destroyed not only lives, but East African confidence in the United States. Ironically enough, whilst the American profile and image became tarnished, the rapid response of Israel's national Rescue Unit furthered Israeli foreign policy interest in Africa. Buried in the rubble is perhaps one of the major explanations why terrorist chose the region for their deadly activity, namely, the expanding Israeli presence in Moi's domestic security.

There was wild speculation that the July explosions were an attempt to divert attention from the beleaguered American President and that the timing of the explosions were suspiciously convenient. Others have seen an uncanny similarity between the Oklahoma bombings and the Kenyan and Tanzanian models. Alleged confessions of Pakistanis and others would certainly put these speculations to rest. The August 20 missile strikes and apparently retaliatory strikes in Sudan (and Afghanistan) have complicated the equation even more. It is not clear at this point as to how the recent American bombings would be viewed by Africans in the long run.This issue of Africa Update focuses on the United States and Africa in terms of the post-cold war era and with respect to the teaching f Africa. Dr. Obioma Iheduru of Fort Valley State University prepared his scholarly analysis before the devastating bombings. He provides a critique of US foreign policy goals and the set of interlocking principles that have influenced decision-making in the era before the bombings.

On a slightly different note Professor Michael O. West of the Department of African and Afro-American Studies, University of North Carolina, focuses on the teaching of African Studies in the United States, thus examining another aspect of the intersection between Africa and the United States. Having looked at African Studies in Russia and the United Kingdom, in previous issues, we are pleased to examine African Studies here in this country.

Haines Brown's column, "Africa Online," begins a brief series on rural wireless telecommunications. Brown explores issues related to Internet access in areas lacking phone lines and highly skilled technical support. He notes that wireless technology may help in solving problems associated with low orbiting satellite systems and high altitude satellite phone systems.

We conclude in this issue some brief comments on the South African celebration, Ipi Ntombi

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US Foreign Policy and Democracy in post-cold war Africa

By Dr. Obioma Iheduru, Political Science, Fort Valley State University, GA

  The sudden end of the Cold War has had critical implications for United States foreign policy in general, and for Africa in particular. The realism that had hitherto been demonstrated in the conduct of US foreign policy appears to be undergoing drastic changes. Realism locates the determinant of state action within the realm of the international milieu. Hence a hegemonic power such as the U.S. had played roles during the Cold War that responded not only to the imperatives of the international arena but considered the overall American national interests. In considering its state interests, American policy makers tried to shape policies that governed the interaction of the U.S. with other countries such that the overarching political goals of the United States were not left in any doubt.

This approach viewed the political culture of the United States as encompassing certain institutions and practices that needed to be protected against the intrusion of other ideologies. In other words the United States wanted to promote the democratic ideals that are the hallmarks of its political culture. In this way, the foreign policy goals were conceptualized within the framework of promoting the dispersal of the political attitudes, norms, and values that govern a democratic polity.

In the post cold war period this underlying current of the U.S. foreign policy regime has become even more encompassing, especially in its relationship with African countries. This is a dynamic turn-around in American policy towards Africa given that, with a few exceptions, during the Cold War, very scant attention was paid by the US foreign policy community to the importance of Africa to the American foreign policy interests. The stability of the body politic of the African state was considered paramount rather than the pursuit of democratic ideals. This stability was aimed at helping to stem the tide and threat of communist radicalism regardless of whether or not the western-inspired policy had any meaningful advantages for the African countries.

The change in the objectives of U.S. foreign policy in the post-cold war era therefore raises a number of questions. Is the change in the foreign policy objective affecting democratic transformation in Africa today? If this be so, what factors explain these objectives? Also, does this statist (this is national state interest-oriented) foreign policy action offer the best option for the US in its dealings with African countries? The relevance of these questions is obvious. Given the poverty that pervades most African nations, it is tempting to try to explain the relationship between the democratization of the African continent and the marketization of the economy in the light of current changes in the polity and the economy. This assumption is made because it is argued in the literature that democracy and capitalism have a mutual relationship and that one follows the other. It is logical to examine the ways in which the the relationship in this theoretical imperative represents the guiding light for U.S. foreign policy towards Africa in the 1990s and beyond.

Africa's Cold War political landscape was dotted with dictatorial regimes propped up by foreign powers. The African countries usually acted in proxy for the implementation of the Western agenda of containing communism. Mobutu Sese Seko of the former Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of the Congo or Congo- Kinshasa), was an obvious example of how superpowers used willing African leaders to push their interests in exchange for resources supplied them to maintain their strangle-hold on their societies.

The American Central Intelligence Agency created Mobutu, installed him, and supported him for 32 years as a bulwark against the spread of communism in East and Central Africa. The strategic geographical location of Zaire placed the country in a unique position to play this role. The resource-rich Zaire endured the authoritarian rule of Mobutu for three decades in exchange for the support and resources of the West. The opposition was muffled, civil and human rights were denied, and the rule of law thwarted while the U.S. and the West looked away, unsure of the allegiance of would-be successors. They were also suspicious of elections in the conviction that it was best to keep what you have in hand rather than deal with the uncertainty of new democratically elected leaders. Mobutu was received and regaled at the White House in Washington and several European capitals as a hero and a trusted ally in the struggle against communism.

Zairian airfields for arms shipment to rebels (UNITA) against the government of Angola played a far more important role than the issue of democratization. In line with that policy, once the cold war was over, Mobutu became a spent force that must be sidelined, if the new policy objectives were to be realized.

Similarly, the United States maintained an effective and cooperative link with apartheid South Africa under a so-called "constructive engagement" policy that did not prevent the sharing of military intelligence between the two countries and provision of landing rights and communications bases for the U.S. military. In all cases the central demands of the opposition and citizens for an open society were sacrificed on the altar of Western, especially U.S., national interests. Similarly, the authoritarian regimes in Kenya, Liberia, and Sudan earned the support of the U.S. as long as their authoritarian rulers were friendly to the U.S.

In the countries the U.S. could not control, efforts were made to aid rebel movements that claimed to be anti-communist in ideology while fighting a war of secession, as was the case in Angola, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, and Ethiopia. The emergence of Eritrea as an independent country is one example of such a successful secession.

The response from the Soviet Union in aiding the Afro-Marxist governments of the day increased the dynamic tensions of the cold war period, thus making the African governments the object of intrigue by the super powers. In some cases the African leaders had played one super power against the other in order to extract resources from them. The switch in the ideological complexion of Egypt under Anwar Sadat from capitalism to socialism and back, Somalia under Said Barre from socialism to capitalism, and Ethiopia from monarchy to communism under Mengistu Haile Mariam were indicative of the shifts in loyalty of many African leaders.

These inconsistencies affected the foreign policy calculus of the U.S. and the former Soviet Union. Such radicalism was extremely dicey, and so did not sit well with Washington. However, there were countries that remained non-committal through their membership of Non-Aligned Movement and thus were out of the reach of the U.S. sphere of influence, but were disposed nonetheless to receive aid coming from the West. Even in the late 1980s when it became obvious that the new wind of democratization blowing over Eastern Europe would inevitably rub off on Africa, the United States was hesitant to alter its foreign policy evaluation of the African situation.

US foreign policy in Africa of the cold war era was based on a set of interlocking principles, ensuring that communism does not have a foothold in Africa, through the maintenance of the existing political structures rather than trying to change them. In the post Cold War period the policy changed, and the institutionalization of market economies, the establishment of democratic institutions and help to African countries to develop capitalist institutions have replaced earlier foreign policy choices in Africa. The post cold war era altered the political realities on the continent of Africa and set in motion a new context for international interaction that required new strategies. The ideological struggles of the former Soviet Union and the United States had ended as well, thus putting to an end the proxy wars that each side of the cold war's ideological divide used the African leadership to fight.

The end of this struggle drastically reduced the strategic importance of the African states for both superpowers. More importantly too, the demise of the Soviet Union as a contender in the super-power rivalry also resulted in the disappearance of the bipolar world that the superpowers and their allies had hitherto constituted. Smaller powers began to assert themselves and instead of having a unipolar world as would have been expected, the medium powers asserted themselves resulting in a multipolar world.

The present multipolar system has the U.S. struggling to maintain its presence in and play a role in the African political environment. The shift away from the dictates of the cold war policy goals has been occasioned by the desire to export the norms and values of democracy and market liberalism but also by the objective of maintaining a competitive edge in the exploitation of the huge economic resources of African countries. The U.S. realizes that unless order in the international system and in the different African countries is maintained, it may not be able to reap the benefits of the international economic system that it fought hard to establish. Importantly too, African countries are now left to fashion how best to effectively govern their societies since the remote control of the U.S. and the West is (at least not overtly as before) no longer there, and the sources of largesse for the sustenance of the core support of the authoritarian state all but vanished.

Secondly, the advantages of the international political economy of free trade that partly explains American foreign policy also undergirds U.S. foreign policy in its relations with Africa. The role of democracy, good governance, political accountability, and respect for human rights in establishing the congenial environment for free trade is dependent on a stable political order. The dispersal of American capitalism in this age of the American empire is also based on such an order being in place. Considering the realist bases of foreign policy interactions in an anarchic Hobbesian world, the U.S. and other Western nations would in a self-help manner put their national interests over that of the African countries whom they are supposedly helping. The contention can then be made that economic interests still override whatever ideological arguments the US and the West make for their support of democratization in Africa. Two instances will do here.

On June 23, 1993, the regime of Nigeria's military president, Ibrahim Babaginda, annulled a presidential election that billionaire businessman Moshood Abiola was geared to win. The election of Abiola as president of Africa's most populous nation would have capped a painstakingly lengthy transition program that the general had initiated on taking power from another general in 1985. Though the U.S. and other Western nations especially Britain, condemned the actions of the military, the highest punishment against the Nigerian military was a relatively weak sanction that in no way hurt the two countries' huge investments in Nigeria's oil industry. For the United States in particular, Nigeria has been a consistent supplier of oil and it (the U.S.) was not ready to sacrifice its national interests for the sake of democracy in Nigeria through the imposition of blanket sanctions against the new regime. On July 7, 1998, Abiola died in jail while insisting on his mandate to rule and coincidentally right before a U.S. delegation that had traveled to Nigeria to persuade him to abandon his claim to the presidency. The French were more forthright in their rejection of sanctions and demands for withdrawal from Nigeria. The contention was that any abandonment of their oil interests in Nigeria would spell doom for French business interests as the other oil majors would quickly pluck up their share.

During the Abacha military regime, a successor to Babangida's, a dispute between Nigeria and Britain over flying rights into each others airports resulted in a unilateral cancellation, first by Britain and then by Nigeria, of landing rights at each others airports. Other European airlines were quick to obtain permission from the Nigerian government to double their flights into Lagos and other airports in order to take advantage of the excess passengers resulting from this impasse. In the same way, U.S. interests though guided by ideological democratic considerations, was conscious of its national interests in promoting democracy in Africa. A U.S. firm that provided the resources for the Kabila insurgency that overthrew Mobutu was rewarded with one billion dollar concession to mine for diamonds in the southeastern region of the country, even while the war that brought Kabila to power was still going on, and Kinshasa was yet to be taken by his forces. This was despite the known fact that Kabila was an unreconstructed Che Guevera trained marxist.

Democracies are more likely to promote free trade than dictatorships and communist states. The advantages of free trade in an orderly international environment would suit U.S. economic interests given that it has the capacity and resources to allow the free flow of goods and services to its economy and thereby benefit from cheap prices around the world. Given also that most international trade is denominated in the US dollar, the control of interest rates by the American Federal Reserve (Central Bank) would ensure the continued adjustment of prices to suit the American economic interests.

The American commitment to democracy as the center-piece of its foreign policy in Africa is inevitably tied to the economic interests that both democracy, an open society, and free trade brings to the international political economy in which the American economy now has a definite advantage. In other words a realist pursuit of a foreign policy that promotes democracy and good governance in African countries, and thus a replacement of the former dictatorships that the West supported, would also be to the furtherance of U.S. interests just as was the case during the cold war.

If one thing has remained constant in the U.S foreign policy consideration, in spite of the change in foreign policy directions, it is the national interest of the United States, and by extension the West. The approaches of the U.S. foreign policy community towards Africa may have changed, but the policy objectives still remain the same.

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Two comments on Ipi Ntombi

I. Western Christianity, ATR and Ipi Ntombi

By Marcus Lawson, Student CCSU (History 497)

The interaction between Western Christianity and ATR (African Traditional Religions) is one that is marked by conflict.

In Ipi Ntombi, it appears that each tried to invalidate the other because of beliefs within the older generation that favored ATR, and the younger generation that partly embraced Christianity

The interaction resulted in a compromise that made both religions prominent parts in the life of the people. I personally see no conflict between my Christianity and that of other religions. It is not my place to judge. In Ipi Ntombi the blessings of the spirits were meant to call forth good spirits, and it was not meant to call forth the bad.

The supernatural is composed of both positive and negative forces. Western Christianity does not teach this concept, but it is a concept found in traditional black pentecostal churches. Although, these black churches in the west can at times vacillate because of an unease with what is considered not of God. The ATR in Ipi Ntombi is comprised of spirit and culture. It is this religion that reveals the identity of the people. One shouldn't be offended or ashamed of one's identity.

Western Christianity has historically sought to displace and disrupt the identity of people. Its main role has been that of the great assimilator, unfortunately.

II. Comment on Ipi Ntombi

By Zoe Anne Scott, CCSU student (History 497)

Ipi Ntombi is a South African dance celebration. This musical is a classic example of African song and dance. Ipi Ntombi is a story of two lovers who encounter many obstacles and in the end ultimately overcome them. The story begins with the return of a son who was gone for many moons. He has returned to marry his love. Everyone is thrilled until the mention of a traditional African wedding. The son who is dressed in city clothes wants to be married the Christian way in the city by a priest. The father becomes enraged and reminds the son he must not forget his roots. He tells his son he will marry the traditional African way in the village by a "witchdoctor." The son protests and does not comprehend why his father is so upset because while he was living in the city he was still attending church (a Christian one). The son called off the wedding and left the village. After the trials and tribulations, the girl he was going to marry followed him and left the village to be with him. They were married the Christian way but incorporated some traditional African traditions. At the wedding service, the priest told the woman it was her duty to do as her husband says and the man's duty to provide for his wife.

This musical showed a classic example of generational clash. The younger generation does not always follow tradition, although they may honor it. With technology improving and more and more places becoming urbanized it is hard to follow the traditions of the village. Both sides believe in God and the church but the way they practice it is different.

Overall, I found the performance an exciting and vibrant musical. All of the performers were smiling and enthusiastic. Their costumes were eye-catching and representative of African tradition, as was the music also. I learned a lesson of compromise which can be applied to all aspects of life no matter what the generation or tradition.

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University of Ghana Holds Dance Workshops at CCSU

On Thursday July 30, 1998 Students and Faculty at CCSU participated in a dance workshop conducted by Professor O'Nii Sowah, Habib Iddrissu, Jennice Newman and Nana Bampoe of the University of Ghana, Legon. Professor Sowah also gave an informative talk on aspects of African Dance and Music and responded to multiple questions from the enthusiastic audience.

The dance workshop was sponsored by African Studies, the Dean of the School of Arts and Sciences, Student Government, and the Office of Retention Strategies.

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The Study of Global Africa and the Descent of the Africanist Curtain

by Dr. Michael O. West, African and Afro-American Studies, University of North Carolina

Perhaps more than any other major area of the world, the study of Africa is dominated by non- Africans, with the result that the interpretation of African experiences, historical and contemporary, remains largely colonized. Certainly this is so in the United States, which, over the past two decades or so, has emerged as the leading producer of knowledge about Africa, in quantity if not in quality. And yet it has not always been that way. Prior to the end of World War II few, if any, American historically white universities paid much attention to Africa. Even the colonial "Africanist" tradition that emerged in certain circles in Britain, France, Portugal and other European imperial centers gained little currency in the Euro-American academy.

An intellectual pursuit dominated by anthropologists, ethnographers, missionaries, colonial administrators and the like, the colonial Africanist tradition was an enterprise unabashedly pursued in the service of empire.

Lord Hailey's An Africa Survey, published in 1938, represents something of an English-language apotheosis of this genre.

If the white American dons generally ignored the imperial- centered colonial Africanist tradition, they found a competing and insurgent panafricanist paradigm downright anathema Ä that is, when they were aware of its existence at all. Christened "vindicationist," this insurgent panafricanist paradigm had its origins in the nineteenth century, emerging as part of the emancipatory strivings of Africans and their descendants who had been newly freed from the shackles of racial slavery in the Americas. But while a product of the African diaspora in the West, vindicationism soon became an integral part of the ideological commerce that has been the hallmark of panafricanism from its inception. The vindicationist tradition resonated strongly among the emerging western-oriented modernizing elites on the African continent, beginning with Sierra Leone and Liberia, both of which had been founded as havens for undesirable former slaves from the Americas and Europe.

As an intellectual and cultural project, vindicationism was explicitly politically driven, seeking to construct an historiography to disprove white supremacist notions that Africa and Africans had played no part in development of world cultures and civilizations. It was, in sum, a search for a usable past. Towards this end, various writers sought, in their own words, to "vindicate" the African past, to prove, largely through historical research, that Africans had been at the forefront of the early development of governmental institutions, monotheistic religions, science, technology and other evidence of "high culture." Implicitly, if not always explicitly, this line of research was predicated on the assumption that Africans and their kinfolk in the diaspora, once freed from the prison of slavery, colonialism, racism and oppression, could and would rise again to greatness.

The hour of African redemption, it was said, was drawing nigh, a belief for which the classical vindicationists found evidence in the Bible, notably Psalms 68:31: "Prince shall some out of Egypt; Ethiopia shall soon stretch out her hands unto God."

In the United States, long a center of vindicationism, the tradition was placed on its soundest institutional basis to date with the establishment in 1915 of the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History. Founded by Carter G. Woodson, one of the emerging cadre of university-trained African American intellectuals, the Association attempted to organize vindicationist scholarship on a more professional and "scientific" basis. Central to this endeavor was the establishment of regularly- published organs for the dissemination of research done both within and outside the aegis of the Association, including the scholarly Journal of Negro History and the more popular Negro History Bulletin. A fundamental characteristic of vindicationist scholarship was its transnational and transcontinental perspective. In their historical writings, the vindicationists connected ancient Africa to modern Africa, Africa north of the Sahara to Africa south of the Sahara, the African continent to the African diaspora.

They tended to concentrate on broad political, religious and cultural themes that transcended national and continental boundaries in the African world.

To the extent that continental African experiences were formally taught in the United States up to the late 1940s, and then almost exclusively in the black colleges and universities that had been founded after the Civil War, the approach was largely vindicationist. In any case, the academy was not the only, or even the primary, audience for the scholarship produced under the auspices of vindicationist-inclined formations like Woodson_s Association for the Study of Negro Life and History, an organization that included academics (most of them located at the historically black colleges) as well as scholars based outside the academy, professionally-trained and amateur scholars, school teachers and community-based public intellectuals.

And then came the end of the Second War II. In the United States, the postwar international order fundamentally altered the production of knowledge about continental Africa, among other areas of the world. The imperative of American policymakers to become informed about continents and peoples that previously commanded little of their attention provided the context for the creation of "area studies," a joint enterprise of the federal government, private foundations and the nation_s leading research universities, all of them dedicated to the anti-communist project and the advancement of US "national security." Among the world areas designated for study under this novel approach to the production and organization of knowledge was the African continent.

The emergence of "African Studies" constituted a major departure, both epistemological and methodological, from the vindicationist paradigm which was soon swept aside by the wealthier and whiter enterprise. Where the predominantly black vindicationists specialized in broad surveys and grand sweepsof the African continent as a whole, the mainly white "Africanists" concentrated on field research in the individual colonial territories and then nation-states of sub-Saharan Africa, often focusing on a particular "tribe." Field research was combined with intensive language and cultural studies -- all of which was made possible by an unprecedented infusion of state and private monies into African area studies, whose strong (foreign) policy orientation differed markedly from the populist and liberationist thrust of vindicationism.

The advent of African Studies thus resulted in dramatic shifts in the definition of Africa and Africans, the research priorities, the institutional location for the study of Africa, the audience for Africa-related research, and the racial composition of the research community. The rise of the new Africanist school in relation to the older vindicationist tradition, whose adherents were almost universally denied access to the resources made available through the state-foundation largesse, was demonstrated most poignantly by the growing number of African Studies Centers at top historically white universities.

The increase in such academic units was matched by the appearance of new Africanist journals, book series, plum faculty positions and equally well-funded Ph.D. students to fill them. (At a meeting of the Canadian Association of African Studies some years ago, a leading Africanist regaled an audience of mainly research-resource- starved younger scholars about how, in the late 1950s, the Ford Foundation gave him three times the amount he requested to do research in Senegal!)

The establishment in 1958 of the African Studies Association as the professional coordinating body of the African area studies establishment symbolized, at a national level, the ascendancy of the new Africanist enterprise -- and enterprise it was, indeed -- over the venerable vindicationist tradition. An Africanist curtain had descended over the study of global black experiences in the United States.

Thus, unconsciously but ineluctably, was the stage set for a conflict between the heirs to the toppled vindicationist paradigm and the triumphalist Africanist enterprise. By the late 1960s the Black Power movement, itself a manifestation of the limitations of the earlier civil rights project, had arrived at the recently-desegregated, historically white universities. On campus Black Power, with its emphasis on social and political relevance, manifested itself in a demand for Black Studies, including the notion that scholarship should subserve the cause of black liberation. In rejecting the academic shibboleth of "knowledge for knowledge sake," the exponents of Black Studies, knowingly or not, were carrying on the vindicationist legacy of previous generations of black scholar-activists -- individuals like Woodson and W. E. B. Du Bois, variously collaborators and rivals -- who also insisted on the inseparability of black education and black emancipation.

The Africanists, however, were openly contemptuous of Black Studies, dismissing its exponents as a semi-literate rabble unworthy of the academy. Seeking to draw a cordon sanitaire against the potential contagion, they drew the curtain ever tighter, reaffirming, in ways both epistemic and bureaucratic, the intellectual balkanization on which African area studies had rested from its inception: a separation of the study of continental or, to be more precise, sub-Saharan, Africa from the study of African-descended peoples globally. Africanist ire was also directed at the intellectual productions of Black Studies scholarsÄas if, as a genre, this body of scholarship was any less "politicized" and "tendentious" than the better-funded and occasionally better- researched work produced by African area studies academics, work that sometimes quite directly and consciously served the "national security" interests of US neo-colonial imperialism in Africa. Little wonder, then, that there emerged separate African Studies and Black Studies units at many universities. The Africanist hostility to the insurgent field of study was especially strong at those institutions that already had an African area studies program at the time the Black Studies phenomenon erupted.

Thus did the situation remain until the end of the Cold War, when the objective rationale that brought area studies into being began to fade away. Indeed, the very concept of organizing the production of knowledge on continental and regional lines came under attack, with area studies becoming the object of withering criticisms for excessive specialization, often from the very foundations that had been so instrumental in creation and sustaining it during the Cold War. Africa, in particular, was seen as having lost its strategic value to the United States, the sole remaining superpower, with serious negative implications for the funding of African area studies. In place of area studies, the new buzzword became "global studies," a field of study that promised synchronically to cut across regional and national divisions the better to come up with policies more adequately suited to further the globalizing aspirations of US capital.

Sensing the wind of change, African area studies scholars suddenly rediscovered the "diaspora," that same segment of scattered Africa that the Africanist enterprise had cut off and marginalized from the African homeland, eventually consigning it to the ghetto of Black Studies. Increasingly, African Studies units across the country began pursuing "partnerships" with their Black Studies counterparts on historically white campuses as well as with historically black institutions, though with an accent on "comparative" studies, a mode of intellectual investigation that actually reinforced the area (and ethnic) studies model. Yet, it is hardly likely that those responsible for the descent of the Africanist curtain over the study of global Africa can, or should, preside over its renaissance. In any case, it is not clear that this is their objective.

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US Foreign Policy: Conference Notes

By A. Pandiaye

On May 5, 1998, at Harvard University, Susan Rice, Assistant Secretary of State for Africa identified some of the following objectives for a new US Foreign Policy:

1. The creation of a new relationship, new perceptions and a more positive image of Africa

2. The integration of Africa into the global economy

3. Asistance to new small businesses

4. The transition from Aid to Trade

5. The elimination of $1.6 billion dollars of bilateral debts

6. The sponsorship of African Trade and Foreign Ministers to the US to facilitate discussion and

encourage multilateral discussion

7. Assistance in the prevention and resolution of conflicts

8. Training of 10,000 to 12,000 African troops during the next three years

9. Assistance in democratization programs

10. Help in combatting desertification

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Africa Online

By Haines Brown, C.C.S.U. History Department (professor emeritus)

I here begin a brief series on wireless communications in Africa. Following this introductory discussion of conventional systems, I will turn to HF radio networks and then some projects to "think small," such as Bushnet, Uganda Connect, and the evolution of the WFP Deep Field Mailing Stations.


The most difficult challenge is to find a mode of telecommunications in Africa that will support rural social development as a basis of future economic development rather than hope that present urban economic development will spontaneously result in rural social development.

There is some agreement that this means having two-way messaging and useful Internet access in areas lacking phone lines, electric power, and highly skilled technical support, and all at a modest price. This might seem utopian, but newer wireless technologies suggest that perhaps it is not.

There are also doubts expressed as to what it is that people in rural areas might hope to gain by "cruising cyberspace." This is a difficult question. It could mean access to useful institutions and services, rural distance-education, on-line access to markets to support rural businesses rather than force people migrate to cities for work, and the kind of grassroots social interaction that is a prerequisite for democratic nationhood. Perhaps the proper question is, can rural development take place without it, and what will be the long range consequences if it does not.

Land lines support good (reliable and fast) Internet access, but there seems no way to extend its infrastructure into most rural areas. While the acculturation that makes the individual feel part of a broader social world can result from being on line in developed economies, in others something very useful and inexpensive must first pave the way for the more costly land-line telecommunications. The physical means such as phone lines are very expensive, and if they are privately owned, the costs of their development would have to be borne by the rural consumers least able to support it.

The cost of data transfer with land-line systems is beyond the reach of most people; copper lines are stolen for their sale; political instability discourages capital-intensive means of communication; and the equipment and skilled personnel are so scarce and expensive that there is little hope that ordinary people can afford it for a long time. However, wireless communications addresses each of these limitations with varying degrees of success.

Satellite Communications

High orbit Inmarsat store-and-forward satellite phone service is considered to work well and be relatively inexpensive for urban corporate entities. The phones can cost up to $4000 and calls run $2.50 per minute at 9600 baud. It has been calculated that ten pages a day sent this way would cost $150/month plus $20 for an internet account somewhere in the world. HF (high frequency) radio packet offers a similar service which is priced on volume (in Kb) rather than time on line. It costs almost the same per month to send those ten pages, although some argue that it is but a fraction of this amount (comparisons are difficult), but in contrast to satellite, it requires a local access provider and transmits at 2400 baud at best. Satellite would at least support Internet access with non-graphical web access; HF radio at 2400 baud would not support web access at all.

Much hope was placed in the new low orbiting (LEO) satellite systems to bring rural connectivity. President Mandela of the Republic of South Africa expected that it would "enhance our ability to deliver improved quality of life. . .to previously disadvantaged areas in the continent." However, the early connection charges will be one to three dollars a minute, and this is beyond the reach of all but large companies and expatriate NGOs.

While in the long run LEOs promise high bandwidth and low cost service, they will not succeed without the groundwork being first laid in the rural areas. Their usefulness for rural projects will have to have been demonstrated, trainers trained, basic infrastructures such as electrical service already developed, and there must be a sufficient number of PCs on the ground to connect to.

In the next issue, I will assess the potential of HF radio networking for African rural development.

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