"Conventional wisdom" among American policymakers and the public tends to dismiss Africa's importance to the U.S. In reality, however, each one of Africa's five regions (for a regional map see http://www.africaaction.org/bp/regmap.htm) is significant enough in terms of population, potential economic development, impact on global issues and even current trade ties to warrant sustained policy attention. Economic, strategic, political, and social interests, intertwined within any one African country, are also easily influenced by events across porous borders. African policymakers are increasingly acting upon the need to take this regional dimension into account. U.S. educators, activists, analysts and policymakers should do the same.
Africa Action believes that it is in the U.S.’ interest that, within each African region, countries and peoples should be able to advance the common goals of achieving security, democracy and development. While the paths to these objectives may differ, they are inseparable. Economic progress cannot be isolated from the needs for security and expansion of democratic rights.
Rational strategies to pursue these goals cannot be designed purely in terms of bilateral relations with selected countries. At the same time, it is not feasible to give equal weight to U.S. relations with each African country.
Africa Action singles out five African nations as "focus countries" where the U.S. must be consistently involved:
* South Africa in Southern Africa * Nigeria in West Africa * Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) in Central Africa * Kenya in East Africa * Algeria in North Africa.
Each "focus country" meets most or all of the following criteria: (1) they are large countries with large populations (usually the largest in the sub-region); (2) they boast the strongest and most industrialized economies in their respective regions; (3) they are presently among the largest trading partners for the U.S. in Africa (and the largest in their sub-region); (4) the U.S. has diverse and longstanding interests in them (economic, political, social and security); and (5) they are potential economic and political powerhouses of their respective regions.
These countries are all key actors within their respective regions, whose cooperation will be invaluable to resolving a wide range of problems. They are likely to be either forces for regional security or sources of regional instability. Finally, there are domestic constituencies in the U.S. concerned with policy toward each of these countries that can help build and sustain public support for new U.S. initiatives.
Giving priority to these countries should not be confused with making unconditional alliances with their ruling elites, with seeking to build them up as regional hegemonic powers, or with granting them automatic first-call with regard to economic assistance. Rather, U.S. policy towards each of these key countries must encompass the realities of each region they are a part of, and encourage constructive dialogue and collective problem solving among neighbors.
Americans must also recognize that the U.S. has special historical responsibilities toward a select number of other countries--Liberia, Angola, Somalia, and Sudan--that warrant particular attention. The policy approaches to these countries will also be most effective if integrated into policies toward their respective regions.
Sustained attention to "focus countries" countries should always be placed within the respective regional context. Thus, there should be a Southern Africa policy while acknowledging that South Africa is a priority within the region, and a West African policy that recognizes Nigeria's centrality to U.S. concerns in that region. What happens in the DRC, will have profound effects on the prospects for its neighbors. Although their regional weight is less overwhelming, Kenya and Algeria will also have major impacts on their respective regions.
An earlier (1996) paper on this subject provided a framework for considering Africa policy issues on a regional basis (http://www.africaaction.org/bp/regional.htm). The aim was to offer an initial framework to help answer the questions of where the U.S. should be most engaged in Africa, and on what issues.