In Kenya, the ICC cases remain key as Uganda and Rwanda refuse to blink. Tanzania seen as Washington’s footprint
US President Barack Obama’s administration is grappling with difficult decisions in balancing abuse of human rights concerns against other priorities in its relationship with East Africa.
These include a shared desire to counter terrorism, ongoing development and humanitarian priorities, and other foreign policy goals.
The latest budget proposals unveiled last week by President Obama show that the US government intends to maintain or slightly increase most forms of assistance to East African countries, a development analysts say highlights Washington’s dilemma.
The proposals came as the fallout between Uganda and donors deepened, two weeks after President Yoweri Museveni signed the Anti-Homosexuality law.
The US delegation to Uganda has announced it has begun an internal review of its relationship with Uganda to ensure that all dimensions of their engagement, including assistance programmes, uphold anti-discrimination policies and principles that reflect their values.
Other factors affecting the relationship between the US and East Africa include the conflict in South Sudan and security threats posed by the Al Shabaab terror group.
Analysts say the status quo in US-EA relations would be hard to sustain should the Congress approve President Obama’s recommendations as submitted; aid would rise sharply in a few instances and decrease moderately in others.
For example, the US president is seeking a reduction in development aid to both Rwanda and Uganda.
The proposed cuts for the coming fiscal year — from $62 million to $48 million for Rwanda, and from $68 million to $56 million for Uganda — may be intended to give concrete form to the Obama administration’s criticism of policies in both countries that it views as repressive.
The US has roundly and repeatedly condemned the Anti-Homosexuality law in Uganda, and has disapproved what it terms as stifling dissent by the Rwanda government.
At the same time, however, President Obama is seeking small increases in military assistance to both Rwanda and Uganda, suggesting that the US does not intend to distance itself from the two countries it views as key allies in the region.
Development assistance would also be marginally reduced for Kenya — from $97 million to $91 million. It is not clear whether the reduction is linked to relations between the two countries.
Analysts say the election last year of President Uhuru Kenyatta and Deputy President William Ruto continues to present donor governments, including the US, with diplomatic challenges. They say the pair’s continued compliance with the International Criminal Court holds the key to future engagements between Nairobi and global powers.
The US federal budget section for the State Department envisions a slight drop in military training funding for Kenya, but an increase for a separate military aid programme. The White House also plans to expand HIV/Aids treatment and prevention in Kenya, along with other health programmes.
The dilemma for Obama and other donors is what to do about leaders who may want assistance but will not agree to be told what to do or how to behave, like Western powers used to do during the Cold War, said a political analyst who did not wish to be named due to his engagements with governments in the region.
He added: “Ever since Uganda discovered oil and as progress towards commercial exploitation advances, donors have become nervous. President Museveni has never been the easiest of ‘clients’ to manage in terms of getting him to behave in particular ways or do certain things. So ‘managing’ him has always been difficult. Donors are now asking how they will ‘manage’ an independent-minded President Museveni with less need for aid and plenty of oil dollars.”
According to the analyst, President Museveni’s decision to sign the Anti-Homosexuality Bill amid clear signs of fallouts with donors had confirmed the Wests worst fears.
“In Rwanda, donors also have a problem in the form of a president who is not prepared to toe the line on anything. He has a mind of his own and leads a government full of people with similar instincts. When they cut aid, of course Rwanda’s economy suffered. But the country has responded by trying to diversify its sources,” he added.
Tanzania is considered an important country for US business interests and foreign policy, given the risk of terrorism on the coast of East Africa and the ongoing efforts to find peace in the Great Lakes region.
President Obama’s visit to Tanzania in July 2013 was seen as a re-assertion of the US footprint in the region, particularly in the context of securing future energy supplies.
It also underscored Tanzania¹s rising importance in the region, largely thanks to its recent massive hydrocarbon discoveries.
Tanzania’s natural gas reserves are estimated at 41.7 trillion cubic feet, and US oil and gas giant Exxon has already laid claim to a large natural gas deposit off the coast.
The country’s booming extractive industry makes it attractive to many investors, not just the US — Obama’s visit came just months after China’s new president Xi Jinping had finished a tour of the resource-rich country.
But extremism is on the rise in Tanzania, and hardline Islamist groups such as Uamsho — whose ideology is similar to the strict Wahhabi brand of Islam — are increasingly compromising Tanzania’s image as the bedrock of stability in the region.
In its proposals, President Obama’s administration wants to provide more than $80 million to the Democratic Republic of Congo for efforts to avert human rights violations, treat victims of sexual violence and reform the DRC army.
Mr Obama is further urging Congress to provide millions of dollars in additional aid to South Sudan’s army and government. The President’s request for large-scale assistance to South Sudan follows the February 26 announcement by a US special envoy that some military aid for Juba was being withheld.
Mr Obama is asking for $36 million in the next fiscal year for South Sudan’s army as well as $225 million in economic support for a variety of initiatives by the government headed by President Salva Kiir.
According to the budget documents, the $36 million outlay would go to “support the rebuilding of a fractured military and support the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) continuing efforts to transform from an oversized, disintegrated rebel force to an appropriately-sized professional military.”
At the same time, President Obama’s proposed budget calls for a modest reduction in US military-training funds for the SPLA.
The envisioned cut — from $759,000 this year to $650,000 next year — may reflect the Obama administration’s recently revealed decision to withhold an unspecified amount of aid for the SPLA and transfer it to the ceasefire verification efforts of East African monitors deployed in South Sudan.
Ambassador Donald Booth, the US special envoy for both South Sudan and Sudan, criticised the Juba-based government while informing Congress of the plan to suspend a portion of the aid given to the SPLA.
President Kiir’s administration has failed to fully address the causes of the violence ravaging South Sudan, Ambassador Booth said two weeks ago.
The US president is also asking for an additional $20 million to enhance South Sudan’s capacity to provide “civilian security and basic justice services.”
In a move by Washington to thaw relations with Khartoum, the budget proposals include $9.5 million in aid for Sudan’s government. These funds would be spent to help resolve disputes between Khartoum and Juba, to improve conditions in Darfur, and to promote peace in “marginalised areas” of the country.
Somalia’s government, said by UN monitors to be guilty of egregious corruption, is slated to receive $79 million in US aid.
Djibouti, the host of a large US military base, is in line for a sharp increase in development aid from $1.9 million to $10 million.
President Obama will invite 47 leaders to a US-Africa summit in August. The summit, together with Obama’s trip to Africa last year, and a promised future visit before he leaves office, may assuage disappointment that he did not pay the continent more attention in his first term.