Zimbabwe’s July 31st election and the political transition following the March coup in the Central African Republic are two issues that have been conspicuously absent from debate in DC Africanist circles. My thoughts on both:
Zimbabwe: The lack of discussion surrounding the elections in Zimbabwe is particularly puzzling. It is an Anglophone country, it borders South Africa, where the US has immense interests, and it is a place where many figures of import in DC likely have personal exposure to – they may have visited on safari, perhaps they went to school with someone from the country, or maybe they just get worked up by the antics of Robert Mugabe.
There have been a few local events, such as this one I went to at Freedom House, as well as a Congressional hearing, but this pales in comparison to the attention that Kenya received in the months before its elections. I can only suppose that ‘Zimbabwe fatigue’ has settled in. In any event, this lack of coverage bodes ill for Zimbabwe’s future – those inclined to abuse power will probably feel emboldened to do so. Obama briefly spoke on the need for reforms in Zimbabwe during his recent visit to South Africa, but even his criticism did not generate much discussion.
Central African Republic: The lack of interest here is not unsurprising. The country is Francophone, landlocked, and has been mismanaged throughout its history, so despite its mineral wealth, the coup probably did not impact the prevailing status quo in regards to Western interests. Most tellingly, I have not even been to a CAR event to which I can provide a link to a post on Africa in DC (though I did hear of a protest in front of the White House).
However, there are other angles that makes the extent of Washington’s hands off approach somewhat unexpected. Following the incredible success of Invisible Children’s Kony 2012 documentary, the AU dedicated forces to tracking down Kony and they are being supported by a small contingent of US forces in Central Africa (I believe the Americans are based in Uganda, though Kony is widely suspected of being in CAR). Unrest in CAR is undoubtedly good for the Lord’s Resistance Army – why then are civil society groups not agitating for greater US engagement in the country? Perhaps this is because active DC organizations focusing on Central Africa, such as the Enough Project and the Great Lakes Policy Forum, do not include CAR in their analysis.
Over a dozen South Africans lost their lives defending the previous CAR administration, a development that may also have significant repercussions. Finally, the transfer or power through military means is increasingly decried across the continent as it clashes with the Africa Rising narrative, I am surprised that there have not been louder murmurs regarding the need for a prompt democratic transition.
Again, I suspect the silence here bodes ill for the CAR’s future.