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Diplomacy
Kenyan President William Ruto

Kenyan president will receive White House praise over troops-to-Haiti move − but lack of action across Americas should prompt regional soul-searching

by Jorge Heine

Kenyan President William Ruto will attend a rare U.S. state reception for an African leader on May 23, 2024 – but much of the chat will be about a third country: Haiti. Kenyan troops are preparing to deploy to the Caribbean nation as part of a U.N.-backed mission aimed at bringing stability to a country ravaged by gang violence. The White House event is in part a recognition by Washington of Kenya’s decision to step up to a task that the Biden administration – and much of the West – would rather outsource. Indeed, Haiti has seemingly become a crisis that most international bodies and foreign governments would rather not touch. The U.S., like other major governments in the Americas, has repeatedly ruled out putting its own troops on the ground in Haiti. As someone who has written a book, “Fixing Haiti,” on the last concerted outside intervention – the United Nations’ stabilizing mission known as MINUSTAH – I fear the lack of action by countries in the Americas could increase the risk of Haiti transitioning from a fragile state to a failed one. MINUSTAH was the first U.N. mission formed by a majority of Latin American troops, with Chile and Brazil taking the lead. The outsourcing of that role now to Kenya has sparked concerns from human rights groups. It should also lead to soul-searching questions in capitals from Washington to Brasília, as well as at United Nations headquarters in New York. At the mercy of gangs Haiti’s descent into chaos began almost three years ago with the murder of President Jovenel Moïse in July 2021. Lawlessness in the nation has seen gangs take control of an estimated 80% of the capital Port-au-Prince and thousands killed in the spiraling violence. Today, the country is not only the poorest in the Americas but is also among the most destitute in the world. About 87.6% of the population is estimated to be living in poverty, with 30% in extreme poverty. Life expectancy is just 63 years, compared with 76 in the United States and 72 in Latin America and the Caribbean as a whole. Recipe for disaster International intervention in Haiti has been long overdue. Yet, until now, the attitude of the international community has, from my perspective, been largely to look away. From a humanitarian perspective and in terms of regional security, to allow a country in the Americas to drift into the condition of a failed state controlled by a fluid network of criminal gangs is a recipe for disaster. Yet governments and international organizations in the region are unwilling to step up to confront the crisis directly despite pleas from Haiti and the U.N. The Organization of American States, which in the past played an important role in Haiti and for which I served as an observer to the country’s 1990 presidential elections, and the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States have been criticized over their slow response to the Haitian crisis. The Caribbean Community, or CARICOM, has made a significant effort, holding a number of meetings on the Haitian crisis; several member states, such as the Bahamas, Barbados and Jamaica, have committed to sending police forces to Haiti, albeit in small numbers. The United States, in turn, having left Afghanistan in 2021 after a tumultuous 20-year occupation, appears reluctant to send troops anywhere. Rather, Washington would prefer that others take up the role of peacekeeper this time. In response to the offer from Kenya, the State Department said it “commends” the African nation for “responding to Haiti’s call.” Part of this reluctance in the Americas could also be related to the perception – in my view, a misperception – of how past interventions have played out. The United Nations mission from 2004 initially managed to stabilize Haiti after another rocky period. In fact, the country made significant strides before it was hit by a devastating earthquake in 2010. There were bad missteps, for sure, after 2010. A cholera outbreak brought to Haiti by infected troops from Nepal resulted in more than 800,000 infections and 10,000 deaths. Sexual misconduct by some of the U.N.’s blue helmets further tarnished the mission. But the notion that MINUSTAH was a failure is, in my view, quite wrong. And the end of the mission in 2017 certainly didn’t see improved conditions in Haiti. Indeed, after the mission ended, criminal gangs had the run of the country once again and proceeded accordingly. Yet the perceived failure of the U.N. mission has become the basis of a view held by some Haiti watchers that international interventions are not only unsuccessful or misconceived but also counterproductive. Such a view forms the backbone of the notion of Haiti as an “aid state” – as opposed to a “failed state.” In this view, international interventions and the inflow of foreign funds have created a condition of dependency in which the country gets used to having foreigners make key decisions. This, the argument goes, fosters a cycle of corruption and mismanagement. There is no doubt that some previous interventions left much to be desired, and that any new initiative would have to be conducted in close cooperation with Haitian civil society to avoid such pitfalls. But I believe the notion that Haiti, in its current state, would be able to lift itself up without the help of the international community is wishful thinking. The nation has moved too far down the direction of gang control, and what remains of the Haitian state lacks the capacity to change that trajectory. A duty to intervene? Moreover, there is an argument to be made that the international community bears responsibility for the Haitian tragedy and is duty bound to try to fix it. To use one example from the relatively recent past: Haiti, until the early 1980s, was self-sufficient in the production of rice – a key staple there. Yet, pressured by the United States in the 1990s, the country lowered its agricultural tariffs to the bare minimum and, in so doing, destroyed local rice production. Former U.S. President Bill Clinton later apologized for the policy, but its legacy still lasts. Haiti today has to import most of the rice it consumes, largely from the United States. And there isn’t enough of it to go around for all Haitians – the U.N. estimates that nearly half of Haiti’s population of 11.5 million is food insecure. Indeed, from its very beginning as an independent nation in 1804, Haiti has suffered the consequences of its unique place in history: It was simply too much for white colonial powers to see Haiti thrive as the first Black republic resulting from a successful slave rebellion. France retaliated over the loss of what was once considered the world’s wealthiest colony by exacting reparations for a century and a half. Payments from Haiti flowed until 1947 – to the tune of US$21 billion in today’s dollars. The United States took 60 years to recognize Haiti and invaded and occupied the nation from 1915 to 1934. Any thoughts of atoning for past actions, however, seem far from the minds of those looking on as the chaos in Haiti spirals. Rather, many appear to have the kind of mindset expressed in 1994 by current U.S. President Joe Biden when, as a senator discussing the rationale for various interventions, he noted: “If Haiti just quietly sunk into the Caribbean, or rose 300 feet, it wouldn’t matter a whole lot for our interests.”

Energy & Economics
U.S. President Joe Biden participates in a bilateral meeting with General Secretary of the Chinese Communist Party Xi Jinping. Monday, November 14, 2022, at the Mulia Resort in Bali, Indonesia.

Retaining US influence in Africa requires bridge-building with China

by Jakkie Cilliers

In a complex new multipolar world, a country’s allies and friends will determine the global pecking order. Despite its large population, Africa is a small global player. Its combined economy is less than 3% of the world economy, and Africa’s political heterogeneity makes it difficult to stand united on contentious issues such as China’s claim over Taiwan or the war in Ukraine. Although most African countries aren’t part of global value chains, external economic challenges and tensions affect them deeply. Africa’s most violent period since independence was in the years before the Berlin Wall collapse in 1989. At the time, tensions between the United States (US) and former Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) led to intense proxy wars in the Horn of Africa and Angola. Based on that experience, a new era of competition between the US and China doesn’t augur well for the continent. At its peak, the USSR’s economy was only half that of the US, whereas the US and China will be roughly equivalent in the next decade. China is already larger when using purchasing power parity. By 2050, the Chinese economy will be almost 30% bigger. China is the world’s factory, manufacturing cheaper and more than anyone else. It has flooded the world with affordable solar and wind products to fuel the green transition. China is the global trade destination for many and it builds much of Africa’s infrastructure. China and surrounding Asian countries are emerging as the most important source of economic growth globally. According to an in-depth study by The Economist in May 2022, ‘No other country comes near the breadth and depth of China’s engagement in Africa.’ In contrast, US trade and investment with Africa is declining. If the US wants to maintain its influence on the continent, it should find ways to collaborate rather than compete with China. The bill proposed in April by a bipartisan group of senators to renew the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) for another 16 years shows that influential US groups are willing to engage with Africa for the long haul. With its low levels of trade reciprocity, the AGOA trade model is well suited to Africa’s needs. The US should use AGOA as a carrot to boost Africa’s exports, not a stick for economic coercion to achieve political objectives. The rise of China in a crowded world means the future will be quite different to previous periods of competition and cohabitation. Many of Africa’s ruling elites cast longing eyes towards China’s autocratic development model as a means to reduce poverty. Democracy and the free market haven’t delivered development, they argue. There is a sense of restlessness in Africa, where the median age is only 19. The youth bulge is expanding with limited prospects for formal employment, a healthy life or meaningful education. To analyse the impact of various global futures on Africa’s development, the Institute for Security Studies’ African Futures and Innovation programme has examined recent and likely global power shifts. For the past century, the US has been the most powerful country in the world. It has successfully presented a narrative that equates global development, stability and progress with American interests and values. Many Africans look to the US, given its freedoms and opportunities – although positive views of the US are dropping in number. The image of a violent mob descending on the Capitol in January 2021 shattered the myth of American exceptionalism, exposing a country torn asunder by its political divisions. Rural America’s reaction to globalisation and the rise of domestic populism detracts from US soft power. At the same time, its declining ability to deter others is on display in the Middle East, which is on a knife edge. Instead of oil from Africa, the next commodities boom for the continent will come from minerals needed for the renewable energy transition. This is reflected in a recent United States Institute of Peace report exploring Africa’s role in diversifying US critical mineral supply chains and strengthening the rule of law, transparency and environmental and labour standards. The US faces an uphill struggle since China has already secured much of Africa's known supply of critical minerals. China’s dominant position regarding these resources reflects the extent to which it is in a different league to the former USSR. Instead of confronting China in Africa, the US must find ways to collaborate with it. Africa cannot again serve as an arena for proxy conflicts and competition, this time between the US and China. Plus, it is Russia, not China, that is now the spoiler in Africa. The extent to which Sahelian countries are experiencing a resurgence of military coups with regime protection provided by Russia’s Africa Corps (previously Wagner) augurs poorly for the continent’s future. The more significant challenge is that the West faces a much larger and more powerful cohort of detractors, perhaps most readily depicted as the G7 versus BRICS+. The impunity that the West has provided to Israel for its war in Gaza and further afield reinforces global south views that different standards apply to them compared to the developed north. Current indications point to China becoming more influential in Africa, with many countries turning eastward. Rather than a new unipolar or even bipolar order, the trend is towards a complex, multipolar global power configuration where one’s allies and friends will determine the international pecking order. Learning to rely on them will be a new experience for the US. This article was first published in Africa Tomorrow, the African Futures and Innovation blog. Exclusive rights to re-publish ISS Today articles have been given to Daily Maverick in South Africa and Premium Times in Nigeria. For media based outside South Africa and Nigeria that want to re-publish articles, or for queries about our re-publishing policy, email us.