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Democracy in Africa 'an evolutionary process', says Trump's 'Mr Africa'

Tibor Nagy speaks during a press conference at the US Embassy in Addis Ababa on 30 November 30 2018.
Tibor Nagy speaks during a press conference at the US Embassy in Addis Ababa on 30 November 30 2018. Photo: Eduardo Soteras/AFP

Elections in the Democratic Republic of Congo had “major faults”, but were possibly the most democratic the country has ever held, according to the US Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Tibor Nagy. In a wide-ranging interview with RFI, Donald Trump’s Africa policy chief talked about the “serious” nature of Cameroon’s Anglophone crisis and Russian involvement in the Central African Republic.

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“I look at Congo and other parts of Africa as an ongoing evolutionary process,” said Nagy, referring to the election of Felix Tshisekedi at the end of 2018. The most significant outcome is that “Kabila is gone”.

“The elections obviously had major faults to it, but at the same time I look at Congo and other parts of Africa as an ongoing evolutionary process,” Nagy told RFI.

The Trump administration in February slapped new sanctions on senior Congolese officials for their alleged involvement in corruption and human rights abuses surrounding the December polls.

The president of the country’s parliament, head of the constitutional court and three top officials from the electoral commission were targeted by the US for a “blatant disregard for democratic principles and human rights”.

Nagy said these sanctions were for “impeding the democratic process or corruption or inciting violence”.

The veteran American diplomat is hopeful that Tshisekedi can lead reforms in the country. The incoming president has yet to form a new government - he is being blocked by the parliamentary majority controlled by former president Joseph Kabila.

“These parties will look for new coalitions, new alliances, trying to position themselves in the new government,” said Nagy, who has served in Ethiopia, Guinea, Nigeria, Cameroon and Togo. “There’s quite a bit of political drama going on right now.”

He points to neighbouring Angola where long-standing leader José Eduardo dos Santos was replaced by João Lourenço with many expecting the new president to remain tied to the former.

“Quite a bit of time later there’s been an incredible amount of progress and I anticipate that we will be seeing a similar evolution in the Congo,” said Nagy.

The top US-Africa diplomat is expected to travel to the Democratic Republic of Congo on 13 March. Before then he will visit Uganda and Rwanda. He is also expected in Cameroon on 17 March where he will discuss “Cameroon’s role as a regional partner with government officials, and meet civil society”, according to the US State Department.

Cameroon needs to address Anglophone crisis

The current crisis in Cameroon’s Anglophone regions has raged since late 2016 with protests over perceived marginalisation by the Francophone majority morphing into almost daily clashes between security forces and armed separatists.

“There’s a very serious national crisis going on, but I believe the government needs to be more serious in how they address it,” said Nagy.

“I’m not sure, and I hope I’m wrong, that the government realises just what a serious problem it is,” added. “Even though there have been some policies announced by the government - in my view, they have been more symbolic than active.”

The US cut some military assistance to Cameroon in February over concerns about human rights violations allegedly committed by the Cameroonian military.

The country has been seen as a key security partner for the US and some 300 troops are based in the northern town of Garoua in an effort to fight hardline Islamists in the north of Cameroon.

“I think it could be settled relatively quickly,” said Nagy, in discussion of the Anglophone crisis. “A couple of positive steps would be if the people in the north west and south west could directly elect their governors.”

The American diplomat, referring to regional governors who are Francophone, said it would be unlikely that officials would be French speakers if Anglophones had more say over their own governance. Nagy also suggested that the security forces operating in the Anglophone regions “need to speak English”.

A conference bringing together all sides involved in the crisis would be “very positive”, according to Nagy. It would need to be “endorsed by the highest levels of government”.

Russian 'meddling' in the CAR

On the Central African Republic, Nagy raised concerns over Russia’s presence in the country. The US military last month warned that Russia was using mercenaries and arms sales to gain access to the African continent’s natural resources.

“The Russian involvement so far has been problematic because they have conducted activities outside of the formal peace process, they also have their own agenda, which is not always transparent,” said Nagy.

A shaky peace deal in the CAR is in doubt with issues surrounding representation in the newly-formed government. Regular violence in the CAR has been the norm since 2013 when then-president Francois Bozize was ousted by the Muslim Seleka rebel group, prompting reprisals from the mainly Christian anti-Balaka militia.

“We will remain very engaged, we will support French efforts, and we hope that the Russians also play under the authorised process and are aiming for a positive outcome,” said Nagy.

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