NEW YORK, Saturday
Representatives of the Democratic and Republican candidates for president of the United States debated Africa policy on Thursday, with a focus on terrorism, trade and investment and the impact of US sanctions.
A history of bipartisan consensus in Washington on Africa issues formed the backdrop of the discussion about a continent that has received virtually no attention during the campaign for the White House.
The event, sponsored by the non-governmental Africa-America Institute, featured broad agreement on some points.
But differences also emerged among the surrogates for Democrats Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders and for Republicans Donald Trump, Ted Cruz and John Kasich.
The stand-ins for the Republican contenders disagreed on the degree of influence radical Islam exerted in Africa.
Cruz adviser Michael Ledeen, a scholar at the Foundation for the Defence of Democracies, said Africa was “increasingly becoming part of World War III.”
With regard to the conflict between the US and Islamist terrorist groups, Ledeen said militant Islam had taken root in parts of Africa.
Herman Cohen, a former head of the State Department’s Africa Bureau, spoke for politically moderate Ohio Governor Kasich in suggesting that “African Muslims are tolerant people.”
“Nearly all acts of Islamist terrorism in Africa, including Somalia, have been instigated by Arabic-speakers,” Cohen said.
Former Pentagon spokesman JD Gordon, an adviser to the Trump campaign, countered that claim by pointing to the role played by Tanzania-born Ahmed Ghailani in the 1998 bombing of the US embassy in Dar es Salaam.
“Radicals from Arabia are influencing African Muslims,” Gordon said.
He added that Mr Trump would be “very strong against jihadist groups.”
And in keeping with his view that US allies should commit greater resources to defending themselves, Mr Trump “would look to groups and institutions like the African Union to do more than they are doing”.
After confessing that Cruz does not have an Africa policy because “he’s been busy with other things,” Ledeen said the two Africa-related matters of greatest concern to the Texas senator were disease and terrorism.
Asked by the moderator whether the US should open up to Zimbabwe as it had to Cuba, the Cruz representative asserted that US sanctions against regimes such as Robert Mugabe’s were not effective.
“Senator Cruz supports regime change in some instances, mainly by encouraging domestic opponents to bring down their own tyrants,” Ledeen said.
Cohen added that the multilateral sanctions imposed on Kenya in the early 1990s were effective.
“At that time, President Daniel Moi was locking up people just for saying they wanted a multi-party democracy.”
He said Moi abandoned that approach as a result of sanctions by the first Bush administration, the World Bank and other donors.
“The current US sanctions against Zimbabwe are ridiculous,” he added, adding that President Mugabe “has never turned down an American request for support.”
He said US efforts at the United Nations to promote sanctions against Eritrea should be halted.
The Clinton campaign’s representative — former White House Africa specialist Michelle Gavin — pointed out that US sanctions against Zimbabwe were not nearly as sweeping as those that had long been in place against Cuba.
Ms Gavin said former Secretary of State Clinton favoured greater US engagement with Africa, not only in regard to counter-terrorism but in the economic realm too.
“Clinton supports deepening regionalisation within Africa as a means of promoting the volume of intra-African trade,” she said.