Robert E. Gribbin discusses Africa and policies toward it with ASU students. Photo by Danny Meyer
While Africa has long been rife with political turmoil and an incubator for terrorists, more recent signs of progress are encouraging to the world diplomatic community.
That was the message voiced by Robert E. Gribbin, who served as U.S. ambassador to the Central African Republic from 1992–95 and to Rwanda from 1995–99, during his February presentation for ASU’s E. James Holland-Roy A. Harrell Jr. Foreign Affairs Speakers Program.
“In the last decade,” Gribbin said, “We have actually seen a remarkable amount of progress in reducing the level of conflict in Africa.”
Contributing to the decline in violence was the end of the Cold War and the resulting withdrawal of support for corrupt autocratic rulers, like Mobutu in Zaire and Doe in Liberia, whose countries were rife with human rights abuses. The liberation of southern Africa and the end of apartheid in South Africa ended race-based conflict in that region, and a wave of multi-party constitutions across the continent has fostered democratic competition for political power, in place of violence.
“Today, there is much less ‘winner-take-all’ syndrome and a better understanding of accountability,” Gribbin said.
“Rwanda has been judged guilty of genocide and is attempting to move ahead to a society where ethnicity is not a factor.”
Additional benefits of the more modern political systems are improved economic conditions, more open communications and the rise of the middle class, which all favor continuity and progress over conflict. African militaries have also improved, giving rise to better leadership, planning, financing and accountability, often with the aid of other countries.
“What militaries they have,” Gribbin said, “are helped by donor states, like the U.S., which has been willing to help professionalize countries’ militaries and make them more able to overcome challenges by insurgent groups.”
As he ran through a litany of both the barbaric practices he has witnessed in Africa and the more recent improvements, Gribbin singled out two areas that have made significant progress, Liberia and Rwanda.
“When I was in Liberia in 2003 while megalomaniac Charles Taylor ran the place, I had no hope for that nation, but that has completely changed,” Gribbin said. “Liberia is well started on the road back with the dynamic, democratically elected president Ellen Johnson Sirleaf.”
“Rwanda has recovered remarkably from the impact of genocide,” he added. “It has visionary leadership under President Paul Kagame, who is striving to complement Rwanda’s agricultural riches with a high-tech industrial sector. Rwanda has been judged guilty of genocide and is attempting to move ahead to a society where ethnicity is not a factor.”
But, it was not all good news for the ASU audience as Gribbin also noted that there remain several significant trouble spots, such as the northern African countries of Mali, Libya and Sudan, where there is also significant terrorist activity.
“Al-Qaida and the Islamic Maghreb, called AQIM, is the successor organization to a group from southern Algeria,” he said. “At some point, AQIM was acknowledged to be a franchise of Al-Qaida. In any case, AQIM boasts fighters from Mali and several surrounding African states as well as from the Middle East.”
Despite that, the retired diplomat ended his presentation by voicing support for the current U.S. policy of not committing to direct military action in that region.
“For one thing, the Africans don’t want it,” he said, “but also, the terrorism in Africa has mostly been confined to Africa. I don’t think we should have boots on the ground. I would not want an American group operating under my authority, and no African country would accept