Acting Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Surveys the Continent

Charles Snyder brings his forty years of work in Africa to bear in a candid view of the continent's leaders, hot spots, and causes for optimism.

By Leslie Evans
March 12, 2003 (UCLA)

Charles Snyder, veteran of forty years of U.S. foreign service in Africa, in the military, the CIA, and the State Department, entranced an overflow audience of more than 60 for a two-hour tour of the continent November 14. He brought his first-hand knowledge of the actors to bear in looking at South Africa's relations with the Mugabe dictatorship in Zimbabwe, the civil war in the Sudan, the war in eastern Congo, the border war between Ethiopia and Eritrea, and the spread of democratic governments in sub-Saharan Africa.

[This is an excerpt that only deals with the Sudan]

Snyder served as a military training officer for the U.S. Army in a number of African countries in the 1960s and 1970s, rising to the rank of colonel. He took early retirement from the military and then served for several years as National Intelligence Officer for Africa in the CIA, 1992-95. He transferred to the State Department's Bureau of African Affairs in 1995, was appointed Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs in 2001 by the incoming Bush administration, and then in October 2003 became Acting Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs.

The Main Trouble Spots for U.S. Africa Policy

"What do we spend most of our time on, on a day to day basis?" Charles Snyder asked. His answer was: "Sudan. You have to ride to the sound of the gun. Liberia. Congo. Trying to avoid the next crisis. What are we going to do about Guinea when Guinea explodes? Trying to get Nigeria edging more towards a functioning democracy. And trying to decide if maybe now there's a window in Somalia. . . .

"The third one we will probably spend much more time on than we have in the recent past, Liberia aside because there were vested American interests there in many ways, is the Congo, to bring what looks like a success story to closure. It's going to take a lot of money and a lot effort. That is what we are focused on."

American Oil Companies in Africa

Question: Doesn't close U.S. connections with multinational companies in Africa imply exploitation, especially in oil?

Snyder: "In terms of the oil industry, an American diplomatic presence is going to be an advocate for American business, where there is no other American business on the table or there are not competing American businesses. So we will get into advocacy where there is only one American primary actor. That's not the case in the oil industry. In most cases there are four or five American companies involved. So we are the ones that will hector them on things on the environment. You know, if you are devoting half of one percent to your so-called good governance, humanitarian outreach piece of your net investment, that's not enough. It needs to be more than that where you have destroyed countries, territories, etc. And if you persist, there are trade sanctions that go into effect against us just as well as others. I mean, we've been hit on the steel industry, but others will impose trade sanctions on the oil companies."

The Assistant Secretary said that in the long run it will require large scale agreements and strong economic sanctions to impose social responsibility on the world oil business. He pointed to the collapse of the World Trade Organization talks in Cancun, Mexico, in September, as a sign that such agreements will be difficult to get. "Cancun was nothing short of a disaster. And it was a bigger disaster for the developing world than it was for us, because last time I looked we were ahead. And the idea for the developing world should be to catch up. There were things they could have had at the trade talks. But in an effort to get everything they lost a lot of concessions we were prepared to make, on cotton and a lot of concessions that the Europeans were prepared to make, very delicately I might add, on a whole number of dairy products and things. This feel-good vote against us dropped the Cancun thing off the top."

He gave the example of U.S. sanctions in the Sudan, which began in 1997 in part to stop the trading of oil for weapons in the prolonged Sudanese civil war. The Bush administration in February 2000 imposed additional sanctions specifically against Sudan's national oil company, which affected its Canadian, Chinese, and Malaysian partners. "By putting the American oil sanctions that we did in the case of Sudan we pushed the majors out. That doesn't mean the oil isn't being exported. It's less effective. But our ability to go in and pull back on our oil companies is missing. So the Canadian juniors got in there, Talisman, until there was so much pressure put on them that they pulled out. The Chinese don't bow to that pressure at all, and if you watch Chinese foreign policy in Africa, it's follow the oil. So what I'm saying is that this is bigger than the United States, this oil problem. We've done our share in hectoring them, but it's not going to make a major difference until the European Union as well as ourselves, in response to a Third World demand, begins to put more rope around these guys. The only way to really get back to the oil companies these days is literally in the markets. The kinds of things that went on in the South African sanctions, where we put enough pressure -- actually you did, the population did -- put enough pressure on them that it changed, the people pulled out, etc. That's the kind of pressure you're going to have to put on the oil companies."

He added that China in particular has been very resistant to international pressure to act in a responsible way in its oil business. "The Chinese actually doubled or tripled the draw of oil out of one of the oil fields [in Sudan], which went almost directly into weapons. They are not necessarily sensitive on this issue at all. Because oil is what they need for their developing industry and they don't particularly care where they get it. And Africa is one of the big pools that is up for grabs in the sense that it is not traditional absolute rigid patterns of oil exportation."

The International Weapons Trade in Africa

Question:What is the U.S. policy on halting the proliferation of weapons in Africa?

Snyder: "The political military bureau [the Bureau of Political-Military Affairs], the ones in the State Department responsible for this, has actually been pretty active on this issue. It works best when it's done like it's done in SADEC [Southern African Development Community]. SADEC has gotten together and come up with what is essentially a joint export policy. Because the problem that you've got is, these are not necessarily American weapons. Yes, there are M16s running, post the Vietnam War. But the bulk of the weapons in Africa are AKs, Eastern European manufacture. And we can go, in fact I did in one case go, at the Slovenian minister and raise holy hell about it. He then cites our own laws and regulations and points out that he has an end-user certificate signed by the government of Togo for these weapons that have shown up in Sudan. And so he is covered and there is no way that we can take action against him."

Snyder suggested regional agreements to prohibit the importation of weapons above a certain grade of various kinds: no aircraft more advanced than the Mirage 2000, no artillery piece above a certain caliber. "So that if I then as an American detect the parts coming in from Slovenia for a weapon beyond that grade and he plays the trade license game with me, I can say, well, that's an invalid license because there is a policy in Africa for this and if you don't get those weapons recalled or if you do it again, we'll impose sanctions on you. That's the way it needs to work."

The Civil War in Sudan

Question: What is the prospect for a settlement of the twenty-year civil war in the Sudan?

Snyder.Charles Snyder took up the complex issues in the civil war between the Islamic government in the north based in Khartoum and the Christian and animist rebels in the south led by the Sudanese People's Liberations Army, SPLA, of John Garang. "There are three issues left on the table," he said, "and they are related to each other, which means you can't really move one without moving them all, because it is the end game, which is usually the hardest part of diplomacy. This deal is about 80% done. The broad cease-fire outline is done. The withdrawal timetables haven't been worked out but the idea that they are going to withdraw and where they are going to withdraw to, that's all agreed. Our military technicians and theirs can finish all that complex work in a couple of weeks and hand it over to the UN, which will come in to do it all."

The three issues, he said, are (1) three disputed areas, the Nuba Mountains, the Southern Blue Nile, and Abyei; (2) the governance of the capital at Khartoum, particularly how sharia law will be applied to non-Muslims there; and (3) power sharing.

The North-South Simplification, Abyei, and the Disputed Areas

On the disputed areas, Snyder declared, "It's a stalking horse, like end-game issues always are. It's not what it seems to be. The real issue is, can I have political allies on the other side of the line? When we approached the Sudan problem in the beginning we had to decide how we were going to do it. It was a complex mess. There were all kinds of factions, alliances, etc. We chose the device, to get a handle on it, of making it a north-south problem and to build around that pivot of north-south, knowing full well that if you can't get transformation in the north and an opening of the political system, and the end of the rebellion in the west, you're not going to have success in the country to begin with. But to clarify the negotiations we chose to use north-south. That led to this creation of the three areas issue, because now when they look at each other politically, Garang needs to be able in a post-peace Sudan to have his northern allies. The guys who fought with him in the Nuba Mountains want reassurance that John is not abandoning them. But it's not part of the south, and so the north is making the point, well, you can't include it in the south because we all said in the beginning we would use the old 1-1-56 line [Sudan declared its independence from Britain on January 1, 1956--ed.], the old dividing line between northern and southern Sudan that the British used. In order to clarify the issue, to simplify it, to get to negotiations. So this is an artifact left over from that, but the argument is over political allies."

The SPLA and John Garang have demanded free elections in Abyei in southern Kordofan province in central Sudan. "Abyei," Snyder said, "has been over time converted into an Arab area. They had the right to a vote on self-determination. What I keep having to remind Dr. Garang is if they had the bloody vote today, he'd lose, because the populations have shifted. So when you negotiate these issues you have to negotiate the whole picture. What you want, before you have the Abyei vote, is the right of refugee return. You need to negotiate that. That's part of the tradeoff of the three areas. Because if you are going to win a free and fair election in Abyei you have to get the original people back. Otherwise you are pressing for a loser. I can get you a vote tomorrow. The government is not stupid. If you don't get the right of resettlement, they are going to win."

Snyder also recounted his admonitions to Garang's opponent, the government in Khartoum: "You keep telling Garang it's one country. He keeps saying, my people are going to vote for separation. You've got to let him have political allies in the northern side. He's already got the Mahdi [the Umma Party led by Sadiq al Mahdi] and the DUP [Democratic Unionist Party] people from the old days. But you've got to let him have these guys that have fought beside him as allies. And you have to reassure them in some fashion."

He added that he had suggested that the north's insistence on the imposition of Islamic sharia law should include some kind of exemption for non-Muslims in Khartoum, the capital, if the civil war was to be ended without the south seceding. He compared it to the status of Washington, D.C., as part of neither the north nor the south in the United States.

Various issues remain on the question of power sharing, from the numbers assigned to each side in the legislature to the percentage each is to have of the country's oil revenues. The government has proposed to give John Garang's movement 28% of the legislature while he is asking for 40%. "The truth is they'll settle somewhere in the mid-30s," Snyder estimated. "But they won't solve that until the end because if they don't get a concession or two here they will want to push that number back towards 28 to prove that they have bargained hard. So you have to close these last sets of issues as one package and trade off between them."

Oil Revenues in Sudan

Snyder said he has argued with John Garang over the oil settlement. "The oil number shouldn't matter to you so much as the net revenue. Because if you get 90% of the oil revenue and you concede him 100% control of the pipeline, all he has to do is raise the pipeline rate, your net revenue drops, and you're back down to 80%. It's a comprehensive solution. And that's why you need these experts. We're not trying to game you. American oil companies have no interest in this. But you have to look at the big picture and you have to trust the World Bank and other people to structure a system of payments and other things that will be transparent. That's why you want a major international oil company back in there, frankly. Somebody that the European Union or us can demand, open the books. The issue goes back to transparency of oil revenue. What is the number? If you have an oil company in the room that you have sovereignty over you can force them to reveal that number, which is how you can validate to one side or the other whether the deal is being honored."

Snyder said he is cautiously optimistic that Sudanese Vice President Ali Osman Taha and John Garang can forge a partnership that can oversee a political transition in Sudan. "If this works right this partnership will hold for a year or two and in the wild chaos that will evolve as they move toward elections. The Umma party and the DUP will reemerge. Western political interests will reemerge. Factions in the south if Garang is not careful will make alliances in the north, and then the system will be transformed, which is what this is about at the end of the game."

Two Military Forces Are Part of the Settlement

Garang, he said, "has to be reassured that this is not the Addis Agreement of 1972" which ended Sudan's first civil war but did not provide conditions for a lasting peace. There appeared to be a perfectly good agreement, and then General Omar al-Bashir, the fundamentalist leader of the National Islamic Front (NIF), "wakes up one morning newly converted, rolls out with the tanks and takes power. The Addis Accords don't matter any more. Power has been seized by an extremist faction. You have to change the military reality. Next time, a northern commander, whether he is an extremist, just an Arab politician, whatever, an individual who is seeking power, he can't be able to take power in Khartoum unless he has Garang's permission. And the only way to have Garang's permission is to ask it, because he will have his own military force that can move to Khartoum as well."

To prevent a future northern coup, Snyder said, the United States is firmly behind institutionalizing the post-truce existence of two military forces in Sudan. "This is as important to us as it is to Garang. It's a guarantee against that kind of coup, which has happened before."



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