Global Policy Forum

Briefing by US Envoy to the UN

UN Integrated Regional Information Network (IRIN) / Africa News
June 30, 2000

In the following extracts taken from a UN-sponsored briefing to African journalists, US Ambassador to the United Nations Richard Holbrooke said the US had made policy mistakes in Africa in the past but that Africa was now a priority for his government. He rejected the view that the US was guilty of double standards in its African policy and said that African states needed to do more to solve their own problems, particularly with regard to war-torn countries such as Angola, Sierra Leone, Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia and Eritrea. Holbrooke said the UN's peacekeeping department was stretched to breaking point and that more money was needed to strengthen it and make it more effective.

QUESTION: What is the United States doing for Africa ?

ANSWER: The United States mission to the UN is spending 75 percent of its time working on African issues right now. We knew that Africa would be a priority for the UN and the US mission long before the current crises broke out, and in my confirmation hearings last year I stated that Africa would be a priority.

During the Cold War, Africa was regarded by most American leaders as an arena for rivalry between the US and the Soviet Union and the US and China. This was a terrible mistake because the rivalries were of no consequence to the outcome of the Cold War but resulted in misguided policy by all parties. That era is luckily behind us. A perfect example is Angola where US policy was dominated by other factors but today the US can say proudly that we support sanctions against UNITA and (UNITA leader Jonas) Savimbi actively and we want to help bring this horrible 36 year civil war to an end. After Savimbi broke the last agreement, participated in an election, didn't do so well and went back to the bush the US decided that a long generation of flirtation with Savimbi was not working.

Q: What do you believe are the specific problems in Africa ?

A: The overwhelming issues are AIDS and the conflicts. We have declared AIDS to be a national security issue for the first time in history. Vice President Gore came to the UN in January and addressed the Security Council on this issue. This was the number one issue when (US President Bill) Clinton met (South African President Thabo) Mbeki in Washington earlier this month. The outside world has to play a far bigger role. The pharmaceutical companies did not behave well and are just beginning to focus on their responsibilities. But in the end the final leadership must come from African countries themselves. Why is it that the AIDS rate in Senegal and Uganda is going down but in other African countries it is going up. There is a reason for this. You have to analyse it.

But there are a host of other issues. These include literacy, small business entrepreneurship, desertification, water resources, environmental protection, population issues. All the issues of the whole world come to bear on Africa because of unique factors. It's tough in Africa. And you have the European legacy of the last two centuries which leaves a very heavy hand on many of your countries.

Q: Is the US guilty of double standards in its policy towards Africa ?

A: This is not true because I hear the same complaints from Asians, Latin Americans, the Mid East and the Balkans. Everyone claims they are discriminated against. Why? Because we do not give enough assistance to any part of the international community. We give less than one per cent of our budget to foreign assistance and foreign policy accounts exclusive of the military. I want to stress that there is no double standard. There is a single standard and we're not happy with it.

Q: Is the United Nations playing an effective role in Africa ?

A: The UN's greatest challenge is peacekeeping and here the news is not so good. The UN is stretched to breaking point. Today the UN has five major peacekeeping operations in the world with a sixth about to start. Of those six only one half of one existed a year ago today. Let me give you the scorecard because it is very important. East Timor: 9,000 UN troops today, none a year ago; Kosovo: 5,000 UN personnel today, none a year ago; Sierra Leone: None a year ago and an authorisation now for 13,000 going to 16,000; (Democratic Republic of) Congo; essentially none a year ago, now an authorisation to get to 5,500. Eritrea / Ethiopia: Within a few days the OAU will send us a request for several thousand peacekeeping observers to control the buffer zone between these two countries...

Q: What can do be done to resolve the UN's peacekeeping problems ?

A: There is no additional money for DPKO (Department of Peacekeeping Operations) and here the US is partly to blame. Congress has not given us as much money as we have asked for and we need to get more money. The most generous country is Japan which pays 20 percent of the bill. We have trouble finding countries willing to send troops to Africa, particularly after the disaster in Sierra Leone. There are currently 220 Indian troops in a state of siege in eastern Sierra Leone in a position of great danger.

Q: When will the US pay the money it owes to the UN ?

A: It is appalling that we have a debt to the UN. But the Congress has given us one billion of it last year. If the UN member states work with us for UN reform we will get the rest of the money. I don't like the way we have gone about this but we need to support the UN Secretary- General and there are people in the US who want to kill the UN, but far less than there used to be. The overwhelming bulk of Americans support the UN and support assistance to Africa.

Q: Do you think African states should do more to solve their own problems ?

A: I cannot say in all honesty that all of the African states have been equally supportive of solving problems. Too often African leaders attack the West for not giving enough resources - a valid criticism - but fail to accept their own responsibilites for dealing with their problems. We need African leaders to help us to help them. You will never get a (US) administration that cares more about Africa but it is very hard when major African states oppose the reforms in the UN which would benefit them the most because of Cuba or Libya taking some extreme position.


Last week I heard Liberia defending the (Sierra Leone rebel group) RUF (Revolutionary United Front). I also heard people in a Security Council closed session say that we should not declare (RUF leader) Foday Sankoh a war criminal. That is not our view. Sankoh is as bad as (Yugoslav President Slobodan) Milosevic. Why should he be treated differently ? Certain leaders of African countries are stealing the resources of those countries just like King Leopold (of Beligum) did 150 years ago. Diamonds stolen right out of the ground, only this time the money is going into the pockets of certain people in Africa instead of European colonialists. In the case of Angola there are African countries participating in the diamond trade that keeps Savimbi going. We can work together if we agree on shutting down the diamond trade.


Let's take the example of Ethiopia and Eritrea. These two countries went to war a month ago over a disagreement in the desert. Their disagreement was real and it was negotiable. I went to Addis and Asmara, found out the stories from the two sides and it could have been settled in one week. Instead Ethiopia chose to resume the war because Eritrea had started it and now it was Ethiopia's turn. Tens of thousands of people have been killed and they have now signed a ceasefire on the basis of things they could have agreed to before the fighting.

Who's going to pay the bill? Japan and the United States will pay 50 percent of the reconstruction bill and the rest of the world will contribute but Africa itself will pay nothing. The entire amount to be paid by all the African states combined will be less than one percent. Let us recognise what has happened here. Hundreds of millions of dollars that could have gone for child education, health care or combating AIDS is going to fund several thousand UN personnel in the desert. That's not easy. You've got to get them there, you've got to get them water, food, communications and it's not a cheap operation.


Look at the Lusaka Agreement for the DRC. The African states came up with, as (OAU Secretary-General) Salim Salim put it, an African solution to an African problem. It's a good agreement on paper and (Zambian) President Chiluba deserves great credit for what he did. But then the states who signed it violated it. What happened in Kisangani at the beginning of May was simply appalling. We went up into the hills of Uganda to call on President Museveni. We negotiated a ceasefire which was announced on 8 May. It was broken, and finally, in a dramatic way between Uganda and Rwanda about two weeks ago.

This presents us with a big problem. We had agreed to send troops to Kisangani to demilitarise it. (Rwandan President Paul) Kagame and Museveni agreed. DPKO started to send out requests (to nations that might want to contribute troops) - Pakistan, Bangladesh, South Africa etcetera. And now after the second round of fighting no-one wants to go any more. And yet Kigali and Kampala are saying: we'll only pull out if someone from the UN comes in. Meanwhile (RCD-Goma leader) Mr. Ilunga is saying: Well I'll take care of the problem and (MLC leader) Mr. Bemba is saying: If Ilunga takes over Kisangani I want half of the city. (DRC President) Kabila is saying that he won't accept South African troops because they are pro-Rwanda.

Everyone is looking to everyone else to solve the problem. Nobody wants European or American troops because of the neo-colonial overtones. The African states are arguing over which troops. The South Asian states which were our best shot are now not sure whether they want to go because it is so dangerous?... This is a big, big problem. If we don't get UN troops in, the war is going to start again. But after this last inexcusable round of fighting it is going to be hard to do. (UN Secretary-General) Kofi Annan and I had a conference call with Presidents Kagame and Museveni on this and both of them said that they would pull back if the UN comes in, but where are the troops going to come from ? We don't want a repeat of Sierra Leone where they come in half-trained and immediately get into trouble.

In Kinshasa, the Kabila government also violated the Lusaka peace plan when it shut down the OAU-appointed facilitator, Ketumile Masire. Now that the political part (of the Lusaka agreement) has been attacked directly by Kabila, the Secretary-General who is now assembling the force has to decide whether to send it or not. We're in a very difficult position. Do we go forward with the military deployments even though the political process has been wrecked or do we try to put the political process back on track before we send the troops ? What makes it particularly difficult is Kisangani. We can't leave a vacuum in Kisangani without a serious risk of a war breaking out again.

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