The Foreign Service Journal, November 2011

T RYING TO H ELP Intervening in Africa: Superpower Peacemaking in a Troubled Continent Herman J. Cohen, St. Martin’s Press, 2000, $65, hardcover, 228 pages R EVIEWED BY A JIT J OSHI Ambassador Herman J. Cohen’s Intervening in Africa: Superpower Peacemaking in a Troubled Continent offers seven case studies of conflicts he attempted to resolve while serving as assistant secretary for African af- fairs from 1989 to 1993. (See also “Waging Peace in Africa” by Cohen in the May 2000 FSJ .) In organizing the discussion, Cohen draws a helpful distinction between “mature” wars, primarily those pre- ceding the Bush administration (An- gola, Ethiopia, Sudan, Mozambique), and those that fired up during his tenure (Liberia, Rwanda, Somalia). Institutional history was especially im- portant in analyzing appropriate U.S. policy toward the former group of countries, while the other conflicts pri- marily required what was then a rela- tively new type of intervention: crisis management. As his case study of Angola reveals, the U.S. focused on high-level nego- tiations even though they produced little but frustration and wrangling over details. Yet in Mozambique, a country with a broadly similar history, the U.S. enjoyed success precisely be- cause it did not try to work out every single detail of the transition ahead of time but concentrated instead on completing the disarmament and en- campment of the warriors. Of course, as Cohen notes, it also helped that Washington and Moscow worked to- gether to bring about a peaceful res- olution to that conflict. Sadly, Mozambique proved to be an exception. In Rwanda, State’s Bu- reau of African Affairs determined that the U.S. should not take a leading role even as the situation worsened dramatically and the French failed to intervene. Cohen also acknowledges that the myopic focus on drafting a peace agreement (known as the Arusha Accords after the location where negotiations began in 1994 and continued thereafter) ignored what lay beneath the violence both in Rwanda and neighboring Burundi. In discussing Somalia and Sudan, Cohen usefully broadens his analysis to consider the root causes of the con- flicts (e.g., clan loyalty and competi- tion for water and land) and the involvement of both superpowers and other regional players. He also re- veals how disagreements within the U.S. government over the best way to coordinate assistance hampered the American response to the resulting humanitarian emergencies. In Somalia, it would take President Bush’s personal intervention before Operation Provide Relief could get going in 1992. As for Sudan, even today there still is no clear consensus about how vigorously Washington should intervene. From those experiences, Cohen draws seven lessons for those dealing with conflict in Africa: (1) Decision- making and willpower at the working level can make a difference. (2) The network of U.S. embassies in Africa and Europe is a vital element in an ac- tivist approach. (3) Coopting the U.S. national security community is essen- tial. (4) Starting early is better than late. (5) Talk to everybody. (6) Bring in the multilaterals early. (7) Beware of “signature obsession” (i.e., obtain- ing the parties’ assent is really only the beginning, not the end, of the peace process). Yet he warns that even these prin- ciples only work when there is politi- cal will and cooperation within the U.S. government (e.g., among State, USAID and DOD), and when the available information about the situa- tion on the ground and the positions of the various parties to the conflict are clear enough to deal with a volatile en- vironment. And sometimes, as this candid ac- count shows us, nothing works. Ajit Joshi, the Africa Bureau team leader on conflict, has been with USAID since 1998. 58 F O R E I G N S E R V I C E J O U R N A L / N O V E M B E R 2 0 1 1 Obtaining assent is just the beginning of the process. J OURNAL Editor S TEVE H ONLEY ’ S C lassic P icks FSJ J ULY -A UGUST 2001 B OOKS