President Obama irritated by professional activists yet uses them in Africa


By Joseph Rwagatare

The United States federal government reopened last week, at least for the next few months. The threat of the US defaulting on its debt obligations was lifted, also for a short time.

However, the cause of the gridlock that has paralysed American politics for the last few years remains in place and it is only a matter of time before the US faces the same problems again.

President Barack Obama was quick to name the guilty parties behind the gridlock. He said Washington was increasingly dysfunctional because of three elements.

First, responsibility lies with extremists to whom compromise is an alien concept. Today’s extremists are not driven by ideology but a strong hatred for a man, his ideas and policies.

The Tea Party movement so opposed to Obama and his healthcare plan and largely responsible for the lack of bipartisan agreement in Congress are a sort of reincarnation of the liberal radicals of the 1960s and 70s.

Both have shown strong conviction about their cause and singular commitment to carrying it out. There is a difference, however. While the earlier liberals used the streets to champion their cause and effect change, their ideological opposite today resort to constituency politics and Congress to push their agenda.

Second, Obama blamed lobbyists. These have no party colour. In the freewheeling and market-place politics of Washington, lobbyists have become an informal but powerful institution and multi-billion dollar industry that wields enormous power and is difficult to dismantle.

The third guilty party, according to President Obama and for whom he reserved his strongest criticism, are the professional activists who thrive in a climate of conflict.

Barack Obama couldn’t have been more to the point. He could even have been speaking about our own Great Lakes Region where efforts to end conflict are constantly scuttled by interest groups similar to those he blames for the American political mess.

And in his self-righteousness and playing victim, Obama missed, or chose not to notice, the irony of his pronouncement. He is just as guilty for giving professional activists so much influence in his own administration.

That is certainly the case with regard to Africa. Obama has sub-contracted foreign policy to a motley collection of activists and lobbyists led by Human Rights Watch.

Should he therefore be complaining when he tastes a dose of his own medicine? Perhaps where Africa is concerned, it is all very well to let all these groups run the show, no matter how bitter it is to the local population. For the US, that is unacceptably bitter.

Being the Christian that he claims to be (Tea Partiers will vehemently dispute that), Obama must have heard about the advice to “do unto others what you would like them to do unto you” Where is the connection, you might ask, between the closure of the US government, the threat of debt default and Obama’s blame game, and the Great Lakes Region?

The conflict in the region, particularly in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), has been going on for a long time largely because some people don’t want it to end.

The individuals, groups and governments behind this are very similar to the ones Obama faults for his predicament. And as the US government reopened, the talks in Kampala between the DRC government and M23 rebels to bring about peace in eastern DRC were suspended.

At the time Obama was announcing that the impasse between him and Congress had ended, albeit temporarily, there was optimism that some breakthrough had been made in the Congolese peace talks in Kampala and a peace deal was imminent.

The need for a resolution was given greater urgency by the visit of a team of special envoys – for the UN Secretary General, the US government, the European Union, and so on – to the region.

The expectation was that a political solution would be found within the Framework Agreement.

But as the envoys boarded their plane to go back, the talks broke down again. Like the negotiations between the White House and Congress, the Congolese talks were marked by intransigence, especially from the government side. It is clear that this comes from three sources similar to Obama’s guilty parties.

There is a country with influence in the Security Council that works against the peace plan because of its dislike for some leaders and countries in this region. It wants the conflict to continue, blame it on these leaders and their countries and then proceed to destabilise them.

Outfits like MONUSCO whose stated mission is to bring stability to DRC do very little to bring that about. On the contrary, they seek to perpetuate conflict because individually and collectively they gain from it.

The Professional activists that Obama warns about are crawling all over the region and are known to push an anti-M23 hard-line position and are not enthusiastic about the Framework Agreement. Activist individuals and organisations such as Ken Roth of Human Rights Watch, Jason Stearns of the Rift Valley Institute and others in Global Witness are some of those that inform US policy in the Great Lakes region.

Today’s activists are a far cry from those of the past. Once upon a time (not really that long ago) activism used to be about conviction and ideology. Activists were driven by a genuine desire to change the world and make it better.

That has now changed. Activism has been turned into a profession from which adherents expect to earn money, fame and influence. The disinterested idealism is absent. And so today’s activists have a self-interest in the continuation of those situations that make them relevant rather than working to resolve them.

No one is surprised about the gridlock in Washington D.C. None should be about a similar situation in DRC when the authors of both have a lot in common.

Posted by Tom Ndahiro from here


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