PALO ALTO, CALIF.
President Bush repeatedly highlighted the importance of democracy, peace, and security during his African tour this week. But, administration mismanagement of the war on terror has deeply undermined stability across Africa in the past year.
In its African incarnation, that war has managed to produce almost exactly the opposite of what was intended. The administration has allowed African partner regimes to crack down on a wide range of Muslim groups over the past 18 months, creating enemies where they previously didn't exist. The majority of Muslim leaders in Africa abhor violence as a response to government repression and coercion. They have little or nothing in common with Al Qaeda. Yet US foreign policy in Africa has inspired radicalism, discredited moderate African Muslims, and fomented political instability in key nations.
Since 2001, the administration has told African governments that they must curb Islamic terrorist groups, and that future political and economic relations weigh in the balance. The US has encouraged several governments in North, West, and East Africa to place suspected radical Muslim leaders under close watch.
Although the administration hasn't revealed details of US aid to these governments, the effects are becoming apparent. Several African governments have used the war on terror as an excuse to coerce legitimate opposition groups. Many Muslim leaders have been arrested on dubious evidence. Others have suffered threats and police beatings.
The result? The US and its partners have captured some dangerous individuals and probably thwarted terrorist acts in Africa. But this success has been costly. Several recent studies suggest that Muslims from Morocco to Kenya are increasingly convinced that they will never be allowed to participate fully in national governments, let alone practice their faith freely.
Further, a generation of younger, well-educated Muslim leaders, frustrated by political corruption, social decline, and the growing power of Westerners in Africa, are either taking over established Muslim organizations or starting their own. Many keep in close touch with the larger world through satellite TV and the Internet. And, contrary to popular Western assumptions, they generally have little respect for Saudi-style Wahhabi- inspired ideas about Islam.