Nikki Haley's Africa Trip Is about Fixing Obama's Mistakes
This week Nikki Haley, our ambassador to the United Nations, visits two countries on the brink of becoming the world’s next failed states: South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Her trip comes as optimism for South Sudan has faded as the six-year-old nation, famously “midwifed” into existence by the Obama administration, has sunk into a civil war between forces loyal to President Salva Kiir, a member of the Dinka ethnic group, and his former vice president, Riek Machar, a Nuer. The conflict has generated the biggest exodus of civilians in the continent since the Rwandan genocide of 1994 -- despite the presence of 17,000 UN peacekeepers.
Meanwhile, the DRC has just been voted onto the increasingly irrelevant UN Human Rights Council, even as president-turned-strongman Joseph Kabila has -- once again -- postponed elections in a bid to keep a grip on power. Elections were due to take place this year under a transitional agreement aimed at stopping renewed violence in a country torn by ethnic conflict in the central and eastern provinces, which has resulted in the displacement of more than 2.5 million people.
But Africa has more often than not been a place riven by conflict -- why should America care about the fate of these two far-flung countries and why is President Trump sending Haley there when our own nation is in dire need of reform? According to the UN ambassador herself, the trip is meant to scold both leaders and make it clear to them that their behavior won’t be tolerated anymore. But unofficially, Haley’s trip is the first act in a long-standing revision of Obama-era policies, from stopping wasteful spending to cutting ties to dictators.
The U.S. is already blowing more than $2 billion per year on peacekeeping efforts in the DRC and South Sudan, money that has not stopped both countries from going down the drain. When Haley first announced in June that the U.S. had reached a deal with the UN to slash $600 million from the yearly peacekeeping budget of more than $7.5 billion, she was submerged under a deluge of criticism from liberals who said she was “gloating” over the budget cuts. But given the UN peacekeeping missions’ dismal track record, she’s done well to question what American taxpayers are really paying for.
Last month, the UN was slammed by fresh accusations that it botched its response to claims of sexual misconduct against peacekeepers in the Central African Republic (CAR). The Blue Helmets deployed there had the highest number of misconduct accusations in the world last year. Adding insult to injury, an AP investigation published earlier this year found nearly 2,000 claims of sexual abuse by UN peacekeepers over the past 12 years. Not to mention the devastating cholera epidemic brought by Nepalese peacekeepers to Haiti. Yet because of a culture of impunity and policies stipulating that contributing countries, not the UN, must carry out investigations, only a fraction of those accused were ever prosecuted.
Given such a track record, if the UN isn’t willing to reform its broken peacekeeping system, then Haley shouldn’t be afraid to dangle even more U.S. funding over their heads until they’re ready to do so.
But even effective peacekeeping will never work if Washington continues the Obama administration’s failed model of supporting aspiring autocrats -- which helped bring about the predicaments we see today. In 2011, South Sudan gained independence with the robust support of the Obama administration -- support that inexplicably never faltered, even years later, as the country devolved into civil war with most atrocities carried out by government soldiers. Even liberal commentators have since labeled South Sudan one of Obama’s biggest failures.
The Obama administration also missed a crucial chance to stand up for democracy in the DRC in 2011, when President Kabila won a second term in elections tarnished by allegations of vote rigging. Even in 2016, when Kabila sentenced to jail on trumped-up charges popular opposition leader Moïse Katumbi, the Obama administration failed to object loudly enough -- despite the fact that the move signaled the regime’s subsequent refusal to allow a democratic transition. Katumbi, the country’s best hope for stability, has promised to return from self-imposed exile to the DRC before the end of the year to challenge Kabila, but without robust outside support, it’s an open question how much headway he can make.
This is where Haley has a critical chance to challenge strongmen like Kiir and Kabila where others have failed. In addition to pushing for reform of the UN’s peacekeeping operations, she must confront the ineffective conflict resolution approach used by the Obama administration and others before it, which accepts authoritarianism in exchange for a thin veneer of stability. She must lead a push not only for peace, but also for peacefully handing over the reins of power. And she must work with like-minded allies to hit rogue regimes where it hurts -- with targeted financial sanctions. There is still time to save South Sudan and the DRC from the Obama era’s bungling before it’s too late.