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Ambassador Cohen Talks About U.S.- Africa Relations

Herman Cohen, former Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, says that in the post-Cold War era, Africa has made impressive democratic progress and that more countries, such as Mali and Tanzania, are holding free and fair elections. Ambassador Cohen is president of the consulting firm, Cohen and Woods International, a lecturer at Johns Hopkins University, and author of the book Intervening in Africa: Super-Power Peacemaking in a Troubled Continent. Speaking with host Carol Castiel of VOA News Now’s Press Conference USA, he says the major issues now are good governance and poverty reduction.

Ambassador Cohen says, although more and more African countries have been enjoying economic growth over the past decade, none of them rivals any of East Asia’s “economic tigers.”

This month Beijing hosts nearly 50 African leaders at the third Forum on China-African Cooperation. Two-way trade has quadrupled in the past five years to reach $40 billion in 2005, making China Africa’s third largest trading partner after the European Union and the United States. Ambassador Cohen notes that China has a strong interest in Africa’s oil and mineral resources. Although Africa has profited from trade with China, Beijing has a policy of using Chinese – rather than African – labor, which the Ambassador says is “not good” for Africa.

Regarding Darfur, Ambassador Cohen says the situation is disappointing in view of the “diplomatic triumph” and earlier important agreement between Khartoum and southern Sudan, giving the southerners the option for self-determination, in the first Bush administration. While not absolving Khartoum of its responsibility, Ambassador Cohen blames the rebel groups who did not sign the May accord. He calls it a great tragedy that Washington has been unable to respond to the genocide and ethnic cleansing in Darfur as it did in Bosnia and Kosovo.

Ambassador Cohen suggests that, if Washington were committed to using military means to resolve the crisis, it might – for example – consider using a “no-fly zone” or employing helicopter gun ships to “stop the Janjaweed from killing innocent civilians.” He also thinks that it would be a good idea to use the military forces of Arab nations to supplement the African Union’s peacekeeping forces. At the same time he worries that the government in Khartoum would not be willing to accept them because it is now engaged in “full ethnic cleansing.” Ambassador Cohen says public pressure is needed to encourage non-African governments to take effective action on Darfur. He notes that Chad and Eritrea have also played a destabilizing role in the region. Regarding the value of economic sanctions, Ambassador Cohen says, although Washington is already applying the maximum sanctions on Khartoum, sanctions can really work “only if everybody does it.”

Ambassador Cohen says that the crisis in Somalia is “very difficult for the United States” partly because of the failure of its 1993 intervention. In addition, the Ambassador says, Washington’s recent pact with some of the Somali warlords to pursue East African terrorists hiding in Somalia led to a war between these warlords and the Islamists – a conflict which the Islamists have won. He says the situation is further complicated by interference from neighboring Ethiopia’s anti-Islamist government. Ambassador Cohen believes its is time for Washington to start talking with the Islamic Courts Union, which is popular with most Somalis, while making clear that it strongly disapproves of the “jihadists.”

For full audio of the program Press Conference USA click here.