This is a post in a new series on the Development Channel,“This Week in Markets and Democracy.” Each week, CFR’s Civil Society, Markets, and Democracy Program will highlight noteworthy events and articles.
Obama Juggles Economics and Human Rights in East Africa
As President Obama heads to Kenya and Ethiopia, he looks to pursue a primarily economic agenda in a region with democratic suppression and serious human rights violations. The U.S. relationship with both countries is at an inflection point. The ICC only recently dropped its case against Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta for alleged crimes against humanity, and Ethiopia’s government is increasingly authoritarian. Still, positive economic growth presents opportunities to broaden U.S. focus from security assistance and aid to more trade and private investment. In 2015, Kenya shed its low-income status, while Ethiopia is set to attract a record $1.5 billion in foreign direct investment. U.S. investment in Africa lags behind China and Japan, and some critics dismiss President Obama’s $7 billion public-private electricity plan, Power Africa, as ineffective thus far (others disagree). After renewing the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) last month, the administration may seek to boost trade ties with East Africa’s nascent manufacturing sector. Yet the challenge is clear–how will President Obama balance an economic relationship with the imperative to address abysmal human rights records?
Sub-Saharan Africa: Two Democratic Steps Forward, Three Steps Back?
The trial of former Chadian dictator Hissène Habré for alleged war crimes began Monday in Senegal (now postponed), marking a “historic step for African justice.” It is the first time an African country will try the former leader of another. Also this week, President Obama met with Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari, the country’s first leader elected after a democratic power transfer. These bright spots stand in contrast to democratic backsliding elsewhere. Burundi’s elections took place on Tuesday, despite an opposition boycott that followed months of political violence and intimidation as President Pierre Nkurunziza sought a disputed third term. In Rwanda and Uganda, current leaders are also trying to extend their stays. President Paul Kagame is moving to amend the Rwandan constitution to allow him to run for a third term. And Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni is pushing legislation that would stifle opposition before 2016 elections. While clinging to power is nothing new in sub-Saharan Africa, whether civil society resistance can peacefully prevent such political grabs remains to be seen.
Diplomacy in Iran and Cuba: Deals First, Human Rights Later
In the United States’ two historic diplomatic deals with longtime adversaries, human rights took a back seat to security and economic interests. Iran may halt its nuclear program, but it continues to jail journalists and carry out public executions. As Cuba opens to U.S. trade and diplomats, the Castro regime still silences opponents, and political dissidents suffer brutal prison conditions. So what happens now for human rights? With a nuclear deal signed, advocacy groups want more U.S. pressure on Tehran. There are renewed demands to release Washington Post journalist Jason Rezaian–arrested one year ago this week and charged with "espionage." The Obama administration acknowledged "profound concern” over Iran’s human rights record, and clarified that related sanctions will remain. To our south, many call for U.S. diplomats in the newly reopened Havana embassy to push for democratic reforms. The goal: to ensure normalized relations will help, rather than hinder, Cuban’s basic freedoms.