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US Rethinks Africa Aid

Bill now in Congress would cut foreign support to several nations

KENYA is only the latest in a string of sub-Saharan African nations whose ties with the United States are being strained by their rough handling of domestic dissent. Overall US aid to the sub-Saharan region will likely increase. But the 1991 foreign aid appropriations bill now wending its way through Congress sets restrictions on money for Zaire, Somalia, and Sudan, among others whose actions have raised Congressional ire.

Though these restrictions haven't yet been passed into law, they have widespread support in both the House and Senate.

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``What you are seeing is a greater sensitivity to human rights issues,'' says a congressional staffer involved in the African foreign aid process.

Ironically, this sensitivity may stem from a decline in Africa's importance to the US.

The fading of the cold war and democratization of Eastern Europe have made Africa ``more marginal'' to Western interests, notes Claude Ake, an Africa specialist at the Brookings Institution.

``While many people lament this,'' says Mr. Ake, ``it brings the US and the West to act more on principle'' in their dealings with the continent.

Kenya, for example, was long considered a model of political stability in an unstable continent. But President Daniel arap Moi's crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrators has already ineradicably changed how his rule is viewed in Washington.

President Moi's Kenyan African National Union party has governed Kenya since its independence in 1963. Opposition parties have been banned since 1982. Increasing political repression, allegations of corruption, and poverty have fueled unrest in Kenya in recent years. This tinder burst into flame July 7 in Nairobi. Pro-democracy riots then spread to towns north and west of the capital, with 15 dead as of this writing.

US-Kenyan relations have turned sour, with Moi accusing the US of interfering in his affairs. The State Department has lodged an official protest over Kenya's harsh criticism of US Ambassador Smith Hempstone, and a key US congressman - Rep. Howard Wolpe (D) of Michigan, chairman of the House Africa subcommittee - says he will press Congress to freeze or cut Kenyan aid. In addition, Congress will likely consider withholding any 1990 Kenya aid that has not yet been spent.

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Kenya isn't the only African nation to run afoul of Congress this year. Zaire's ``widespread human rights abuses and systematic governmental corruption,'' in the words of a congressional report, will likely lead to aid restrictions.

Zaire's security forces have been accused of torturing and killing political opponents. Zaire's President Mobutu Sese Seko has reportedly amassed a personal fortune of $6 billion in a country whose per-capita income is $150, and lately has waffled on promises for democratic reform.

During House debate of the foreign aid appropriations bill last month Rep. David Obey (D) of Wisconsin, chairman of the Foreign Operations Appropriations subcommittee, called Zaire ``one of the world's largest outrages.''

The House-passed 1991 foreign aid appropriations bill would bar all US military assistance to Zaire, as well as US Economic Support Fund payments and development assistance to the government.

As currently constituted, the foreign aid bill would also continue a ban on economic and military aid to the Sudan, Africa's largest country and for many years the largest sub-Saharan recipient of US funds. ``Human rights violations are now rampant in Sudan,'' complains a congressional report that accompanies the bill. ``Armed militia have slaughtered dissident tribespeople, refugees have been used as shields against rebel advances. ...''

A similar ban on money for Somalia would also continue under the foreign aid legislation, although the State Department has called for Somalian aid to resume next year. Hundreds of civilians suspected of sympathizing with the rebels in Somalia's civil war have been slaughtered by the government, according to the House report. ``Somalia's record on human rights remains one of the worst,'' it judges.

Military and economic aid for Liberia has also been suspended this year due to abuses of the regime of President Samuel Doe. If President Doe is ousted by rebels, as now seems likely, Congress and the Bush administration will probably wait to see if the rebels live up to promises of democracy before the flow of money is resumed.

These restrictions don't mean the sub-Saharan region is a loser in the foreign aid money bill, as currently constituted. Overall, the bill would allot $800 million for bilateral economic aid to sub-Saharan Africa, an increase of more than 40 percent from the Bush administration's request of $560.5 million.

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