- Current political and economic issues succinctly explained.
This publication is now archived.
President George W. Bush travels to Africa in February 2008, his second trip to the continent while in office (the first was in 2003). Notably, the five-country itinerary does not include any of the conflict-ridden states on the continent such as Sudan, Somalia, or the Democratic Republic of Congo. Until its descent into political turmoil following disputed December 2007 elections, Kenya was slated to be included in the trip, according to a February 7 briefing at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS). Instead, Bush will visit Benin, Tanzania, Rwanda, Ghana, and Liberia, all countries that are considered stable, credible democracies. The trip is an opportunity for the president to showcase his major foreign aid and global health initiatives in Africa. But some experts say he may not be able to avoid addressing the broadening crisis zone in East Africa, where Washington has expended significant diplomatic efforts—particularly in Darfur—but has delivered little concrete progress.
Situated directly to the west of Nigeria, Africa’s most populous country, tiny Benin is home to 7.9 million people. After it achieved independence from France, it was governed by military dictators until 1990. A national conference that year introduced a new constitution and ushered in presidential and legislative elections. As a result, Benin was the first African country to successfully transition from a dictatorship to a multiparty system of governance after the end of the Cold War. Some experts say the country’s national conference spurred the spread of democratization throughout West Africa.
Benin has played a positive role in regional peace and security. It assisted with mediation efforts in political crises in Liberia, Guinea-Bissau, and Togo, and its peacekeepers currently serve in Cote d’Ivoire and the Democratic Republic of Congo. The country ranks near the top (thirteenth of forty-eight countries) on the Ibrahim Index of Africa Governance.
Though Benin is considered a stable, well-governed country in an African context, it still ranks below much of the world on a variety of global economic and development measures. Nearly 38 percent of the population lives below the poverty line, and the country ranks 163 out of 177 countries on the UN’s Human Development Index. Agriculture dominates the economy, and gross domestic product (GDP) growth was 4 percent in 2007, below the average sub-Saharan Africa growth rate of 6.1 percent, according to the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
Benin’s transition to democracy has brought closer ties with the United States. In 2006, Benin received $13.7 million (PDF) in aid from the United States. Benin is also one of nine African countries to receive funds from the United States’ newest foreign aid initiative, the Millennium Challenge Account, which links aid to the adoption of political and economic reforms. In February 2006, Benin signed a five-year, $307 million Millennium Challenge Compact to improve its infrastructure and increase foreign investment. The compact focuses on four areas: securing property rights for the poor, expanding access to financial services, strengthening the judicial system, and improving the operation of the Port of Cotonou. According to the Millennium Challenge Corporation, the compact is expected to lift roughly 250,000 Beninese out of poverty by 2015. Benin is part of the President’s Malaria Initiative.
In 2006, President Bush met with Beninese President Thomas Yayi Boni, who urged the United States to reconsider its subsidies to cotton farmers. “In my country, two people out of three live out of cotton,” Yayi said. World subsidies “cause a kind of dysfunctioning in our country and on the continent also,” he said.
Tanzania, located south of Kenya in East Africa, was a one-party state until the mid-1980s, and adopted multiparty democracy in 1992. Its current president, Jakaya Mrisho Kikwete, was elected in 2005 and his term runs until 2010. The country ranks fourteenth of forty-eight countries on the Ibrahim Index of African Governance, and its economic growth was a healthy 7.1 percent in 2007, according to the IMF. Tanzaniais considered an emerging leader in its subregion, as discussed in this Backgrounder. It assisted with conflict resolution in Burundiand the Democratic Republic of Congo, and has been active in efforts at East African economic integration. In February 2008, Kikwete was appointed president of the African Union.
Yet Tanzania still struggles to attract foreign investment and diversify its economy. Agriculture accounts for 80 percent of the country’s employment and 44 percent of its GDP. Thirty-six percent (PDF) of its population lives below the poverty line. It ranks 159 out of 177 countries on the UN’s Human Development Index.
Under Kikwete, U.S.-Tanzania relations, already quite good, have grown even closer. Kikwete visited President Bush in September 2006, and according to the State Department, he wants to broaden Tanzanian political, economic, and military ties to the United States. In May 2006, the Tanzanian government signed a two-year, $11.15 million threshold agreement with the Millennium Challenge Corporation. The threshold agreement aimed to help Tanzania fight corruption so that it could qualify for an MCC compact. President Bush will announce a five-year, $698 million compact (PDF) with Tanzania during his visit. The compact focuses on improving the country’s infrastructure, with over half the funds slated for transportation investments.
The United States gave $151.3 million in foreign aid to Tanzania in 2006, $100 million of which was for HIV/AIDS initiatives. Tanzania is one of the focus countries in PEPFAR, the White House’s five-year, $15 billion program to support prevention, treatment, and care for individuals infected with HIV/AIDS and for orphans. Seven percent of Tanzania’s population is infected with HIV. In 2006, Kikwete started a national testing program, and he himself was tested (PBS). The U.S. initiative has come under fire for its stipulation that at least one-third of prevention funds must be spent on abstinence-until-marriage programs; in Tanzania, however, roughly 8 million people in 2006 were reached with prevention activities that promote condoms—twice as many individuals as reached by those focusing on abstinence, according to the program’s 2007 report to Congress. Of all countries funded by the initiative, Tanzania has seen the most dramatic percentage increase in national treatment coverage, from 0.1 percent in 2003 to 14.1 percent in 2006. In 2007, the Institute of Medicine conducted a review of the program, concluding that it has made a “strong start” and recommending that Congress “maintain the urgency and intensity that have led to early success while placing greater emphasis on long-term strategic planning.” Tanzaniais also part of President Bush’s Malaria Initiative.
Rwanda is a tiny landlocked country in the central Great Lakes region of Africa with the largest population density in sub-Saharan Africa. Cast in the international spotlight during the 1994 genocide that left an estimated 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus dead, Rwanda now strives to build a robust economy and reconcile its citizens. President Paul Kagame, a former Tutsi rebel leader, became Rwanda’s first democratically elected president in 2003, with a term that runs until 2010.
Rwanda remains dependent on foreign aid, but the government has launched an aggressive bid to turn the country into an information technology services hub. Experts say, however, that the government is also intolerant of dissent, and its oppressive policies might limit its ability to develop a high-tech industry (Newsweek Int’l). Currently, the economy depends on the production of tea, coffee, and coltan, a metallic ore. In 2007, GDP growth was 4.5 percent, according to the IMF. Rwanda ranks 161 of 177 countries on the UN’s Human Development Index.
The United States gave significant humanitarian aid to Rwanda following the 1994 genocide. Now, U.S. aid efforts focus on economic development. In 2006, the United States provided $95.2 million in aid, the majority of which went to HIV/AIDS initiatives. LikeTanzania, Rwanda is a focus country for Bush’s HIV/AIDS program. As PBS reported in November 2007, this program has contributed to building the capacity of Rwanda’s health systems overall, not just the country’s treatment of those with HIV/AIDS. Rwanda is also part of the President’s Malaria Initiative.
Rwanda became eligible for threshold assistance from the Millennium Challenge Corporation in September 2006, but has not yet signed an agreement. According to the CSIS briefing, there is an agreement in the works for roughly $25 million that focuses on strengthening the rule of law.
On regional stability issues, Rwanda has taken an active role in the U.S.-supported Eastern Congo peace talks. In November 2007, it signed a communiqué pledging to refrain from assisting armed groups in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Ghana is a mid-sized country located in West Africa. It was the first African nation to win independence from the European colonial powers, in 1957, but it did not see its first democratic presidential change of power until 2000, when John Kufuor was elected president. Ghana will hold presidential and parliamentary elections in December 2008.
Under President Kufuor, Ghana has been a strong contributor to peacekeeping operations, both on the continent and internationally. It currently has deployments in Cote d’Ivoire, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Lebanon, and Congo, with smaller numbers of UN observers in other locations. Ghana is a leader in its subregion, and in 2007, Kufuor was the president of the African Union.
Ghana has one of the more diversified economies in sub-Saharan Africa. It enjoyed 6.3 percent growth in GDP in 2007, and a June 2007 discovery of 600 million barrels of oil offshore bodes well for the country’s economic future. “Even without oil, we are doing so well, already,” Kufuor told the BBC. “Now, with oil as a shot in the arm, we’re going to fly.” The country ranks eighth on the Ibrahim Index of African Governance.
The United States views Ghana as one of its strongest allies on the continent. “The United States has found a key African partner in Ghana in many respects,” (PDF) says the 2008 U.S. foreign aid report to Congress. The United States is among Ghana’s top trading partners, and U.S.-Ghana military cooperation is robust. Ghana houses a U.S.-European Command-funded Exercise Reception Facility, which facilitates troop deployments within the region. It is also supportive of the U.S. Gulf of Guinea Initiative to improve coast guard capacities, monitor fisheries, and cut back on narcotics trafficking.
Ghana received only $69.4 million in foreign aid in 2006, but this figure does not include funds received from the MCC. In August 2006, Ghana signed a five-year, $547 million compact with the MCC. The agreement highlights three areas: enhancing agricultural profitability for small-scale commercial farmers, upgrading roads, and strengthening rural infrastructure and financial services. The compact’s estimated economic rate of return is 20 percent. Ghana is also part of President Bush’s Malaria Initiative.
Liberia, a small West African state of 3.57 million people, was founded in 1820 by freed African-Americans and freed slaves from the United States. Its establishment was funded by the American Colonization Society, whose members included U.S. President James Monroe. The Americo-Liberian settlers monopolized political power in the country until 1980, when Samuel K. Doe, a native African, staged a military coup. From 1989 to 1996, the country was embroiled in civil war and for the next six years, under the leadership of President Charles Taylor, life scarcely improved for most Liberians. In 2003, Taylor resigned and left the country after prolonged international pressure. Two years later, Liberia elected President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, who has spearheaded an effort to reconstruct the country.
Protracted conflict has left Liberia’s infrastructure and economy destroyed. Once a significant exporter of rubber and diamonds, Liberia now also suffers from several billion dollars in foreign debt, which Johnson Sirleaf is working to diminish through debt relief. Foreign investment is returning to the country; GDP growth was 9.4 percent in 2007, and is expected to be even higher in 2008.
The U.S.-Liberia relationship is very positive. Liberians credit President George W. Bush with bringing peace to their country; a popular Liberian song has a chorus that includes the line, “Thank God for George Bush.” In 2006, the United States sent $106 million in aid to Liberia, as well as $50 million in supplemental economic support funds. Washington leads security sector reform efforts in Liberia and also works with the government on an initiative to reduce corruption. Liberia is part of the President’s Malaria Initiative.
Liberia has been one of the few African countries to publicly express interest in having Africom, the U.S.military’s new command for Africa, make Liberia its headquarters. J. Stephen Morrison of the Center for Strategic and International Studies says that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice supports this idea, but the Defense Department does not.