U.S. Official on African Crises

Before the recent unrest in Kenya, America's top diplomat to Africa was already busy. Jendayi Frazer, assistant secretary of state for African affairs, has tried to hold together fragile peace agreements in southern Sudan and Africa's Great Lakes region, while keeping an eye on Islamic militants in Somalia and the continued decline of Zimbabwe. An acolyte of Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice from their days together at Stanford—where Frazer wrote her dissertation on military-civilian relationships in the Kenyan government—Frazer recently spoke with NEWSWEEK's Jason McLure in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Excerpts:

NEWSWEEK: You've said that recent events in Kenya have amounted to ethnic cleansing. Are you concerned that the country could spiral into a Rwanda-type genocide?
Jendayi Frazer:
No. I was there about Jan. 5. The attacks against the Kikuyu population in the Rift Valley were intended not to kill them, based on what the victims themselves were saying. Rather, they were given an hour in which to leave their land or their homes, and if they did not leave then they were attacked. It seemed the point was to move them out of the area, not to kill them. I was saying it was cleansing the area of this particular ethnic group, not to eliminate the ethnic group in terms of a genocide.

So this was the Kalenjins doing this to the Kikuyus?

During the campaign last year, Kenyan opposition leader Raila Odinga said he would perhaps offer less cooperation in the U.S.-led war on terrorism than President Mwai Kibaki has. Immediately after the Kenyan election the United States congratulated Kibaki and recognized the election results. Did the initial reaction have anything to do with the respective candidates' views toward the United States?
[That was] another media thing. In fact, what we said is we congratulate the people of Kenya and we support the work of the chairman.

State Department spokesman Rob McInturff said on Dec. 30, "We obviously congratulate the president on his election."
I don't know about that quote. I know what the statement is that was cleared at the State Department. The statement came out the day before the election was announced, and the intention was to congratulate the people and to support the chairman of the electoral commission, so I can't speak to what that person said.

As one of the most prominent African-Americans in U.S. foreign policy, do you ever feel frustrated that African crises don't get as much attention as those in other parts of the world?
That's not been my experience.

In Kosovo there were 60,000 peacekeepers; about 12,000 civilians died. In Congo 5.4 million people have died 10 years on …
Yes, well 5.4 million people haven't died since this administration has been in office. This administration has been working very, very, very closely on the Congo. President Bush held the first meeting between [Joseph] Kabila, [Rwandan President Paul] Kagame, and [South African President Thabo] Mbeki in 2001, nine months into the administration. There has not been a lack of attention in this administration on African crises. This administration has supported every single peacekeeping mission in Africa.

A year and a half ago in Mogadishu and southern Somalia there was a fundamentalist Islamist government, but things were relatively calm. The streets were safe, people could go shopping, people could trade. Now there's utter chaos. Does the United States still support Ethiopia's December 2006 invasion?
We told them [Ethiopia] that they should not go in. Once they went in absolutely we had to try to assist them and the [Somali] transitional federal government, which had invited them in. We support the transitional federal government and its decision to ask the Ethiopians to assist them. The picture that you paint of Mogadishu as this tranquil, idyllic town is completely inaccurate. People were being assassinated. People were being executed.

Is the average Somali living in Mogadishu better off today, or were they were better off under the Islamic courts?
You'd have to ask the average Somali living in Mogadishu. [Laughs]

Why does there seem to be so little support for the [U.S.-backed Somali] transitional federal government? Have they not done enough to reach out to the various clans and factions?
I don't know the percentage of support to the government. So I can't answer that question. What I know is that there are terrorists that are attacking this [Somali] government. They're attacking civilians. There are terrorists who attacked the U.S. mission in Kenya and Tanzania. There are terrorists operating in this area, so I can't really talk about what the population support is for the transitional federal government. It's a difficult environment to operate in, especially for a government that's transitional in nature.

About Darfur, the peacekeeping force there is supposed to be about 26,000-strong. At this time it's only about 9,000. Why is it taking so long?
It's a difficult place. It's trying to get the troop-contributing countries to provide the troops. It's trying to get the land for building camps, trying to get the water where soldiers will exist, a U.N. department of peacekeeping operations that's rather overstretched, a government that is resisting in some ways [and a] lack of helicopters.

There have been numerous reports of human rights abuses in Ethiopia's Somali region, the area that borders Somalia. Did you speak to Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi about this during your most recent visit to Ethiopia, and what did you say to him about burning villages, summary executions of civilians, other types of atrocities that have been reported?
I didn't talk to him about summary execution of civilians and burning villages because those are allegations. What I talked to him about was making sure that food got into the region, because I was concerned that there might be a food crisis because of the lack of the trade coming from Somalia, because of the ONLF [Ogaden National Liberation Front rebels] mining the roads. I talked to him about improving access to make sure that we were able to get the food in to the people.

What area or conflict would you say is the greatest challenge for the United States right now in Africa?
Obviously, the most immediate crisis is Kenya and trying to prevent a further deterioration of the security environment to prevent the civilian killings descending into ethnic conflict and retaliation, and trying to get two parties to negotiate and do so for the benefit of the nation as a whole. So Kenya is the most immediate, but I think Sudan continues to be the most difficult to make progress in.

What do you consider to be the countries with the most promising political developments in Africa in the past couple of years?
I personally think that the continent as a whole has made significant progress, politically, economically and in terms of the security environment. That said, I think that the institutions still remain very fragile, in every single one of the countries in Africa. I guess I would say the country that has made the most progress of late is Liberia. Looking from where it's been to where it's come, by chance it's a [country with a] woman president, and I kind of like that as well.