Powell's Exit May Affect Pace of Sudan Peace Talks, Analyst Says

By Stephen Mbogo | July 7, 2008 | 8:15pm EDT

Nairobi, Kenya (CNSNews.com) - The departure of Colin Powell as secretary of state is not expected to alter U.S. policy towards Africa but may affect the pace of the peace talks aimed at ending a two decade-long civil war between Sudan's government and southern rebels, an African foreign policy analysts said here.

"Both sides in the [southern] Sudan conflict respected Powell because he was not a hardliner," said Akasha Alsayyed Akasha, a Kenya-based Sudanese scholar.

"His exit will in some way affect the pace of the Sudan peace talks because both sides will take time to test the new administration officials."

Powell became closely associated with the Sudan peace process after he visited the venue of the peace talks in the Kenyan town of Naivasha and held talks with Sudan leadership in Khartoum 13 months ago.

He urged the Sudan people to seize the opportunity at a time of international goodwill, and reach a comprehensive peace settlement.

That agreement between the government and rebel Sudan Peoples' Liberation Army (SPLA) has not yet been signed, although Khartoum has said it will start implementing some already-signed protocols, such as a wealth-sharing agreement, in January 2005.

The U.N. Security Council will hold a special two-day session in Nairobi on Thursday and Friday to press the parties to sign the agreement.

Powell made his mark here again this year when he visited Sudan's troubled western region of Darfur, location of an unrelated conflict. He termed as "genocide" the atrocities being committed against civilians there by government-sponsored militias.

Akasha said that despite his efforts, Powell's visits did not in themselves convince Africans that the U.S. was ready for increased engagement in Africa, and his exit would make little difference, and "the overall U.S. policy toward Africa will not change."

Barrack Muluka, another foreign policy analyst, described Powell as "one of the few doves among the hawks in the White House."

"U.S. foreign policy toward Africa will continue to be driven by issues touching on terrorism, while those on AIDS and trade will continue to be on the periphery," he said.

Muluka predicted that there would not be increased U.S. engagement in Africa as the new administration would likely focus instead on Europe.

Muluka said U.S. policy toward Africa, especially in the last three years, has been driven almost exclusively by the war on terrorism and U.S. interest in African oil.

On the other hand, some organizations involved in the fight against HIV/AIDS have praised President Bush for announcing the largest-ever program of U.S. funding to combat the disease - $ 15 billion over five years. Many would like to see the funds released more quickly, however.

Bush also extended until 2008 the U.S. Africa Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA), a preferential trade agreement that allows specified African countries to export selected duty-free merchandise to U.S. markets. It was initially to have ended this year.

How the new secretary of state deals with Africa will be watched here with interest. The nominee, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, will be the first African-American woman to serve as America's most senior diplomat.

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