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Friday, December 27, 2013

South Africa: Politics, Economy, and U.S. Relations - R43130

Nicolas Cook
Specialist in African Affairs

South Africa is a multi-racial, majority black southern African country of nearly 52 million. It held its first universal suffrage elections in 1994, after a transition from white minority rule under apartheid, a system of state-enforced racial segregation and socioeconomic discrimination. South Africa entered a period of mourning in late 2013, following the passing of its first post-apartheid president, Nelson Mandela, who is viewed as the founding father of today’s nonracial South African democratic system. Due to its political, trade, and investment ties across Africa and its active role within the African Union, South Africa is influential regionally. It is viewed as a U.S. strategic partner in Africa, despite periodic foreign policy differences. In mid-2013, President Obama traveled to South Africa after visiting Senegal, prior to a visit to Tanzania. The trip centered on U.S.-African partnerships in the areas of trade and investment, development, democracy and youth leadership development, and peace and security. Key issues addressed in South Africa included bilateral political and trade and investment ties, development cooperation, and shared U.S.-South African aims regarding conflict mitigation and development across Africa.

Congress has long been engaged with South Africa, notably during the anti-apartheid struggle, and with regard to post-apartheid socioeconomic development efforts, a key focus of bilateral ties. Since 1992, South Africa has been a leading recipient of U.S. foreign aid, mostly devoted to addressing HIV/AIDS and other health challenges. Aid oversight has drawn the bulk of South Africa-related congressional attention in recent years. U.S. policy makers are also increasingly focused on efforts to strengthen already growing U.S.-South African trade and investment ties. Other key areas of bilateral engagement include security cooperation and an ongoing U.S.-South African Strategic Dialogue. Established in 2010, the Dialogue centers on health, education, food security, law enforcement, trade, investment, and energy, among other issues.

South Africa has the largest, most diversified, and highly industrialized economy in Africa. It has enjoyed moderate economic growth in most recent years. Average per capita incomes and access to education have grown across racial groups, notably for blacks. Despite post-apartheid national socioeconomic gains, South Africa remains a highly unequal society with respect to wealth and income distribution and access to jobs, social services, utilities, and land. Most blacks are poor, and average black incomes are far smaller than those of the historically privileged white minority. Blacks also suffer very high unemployment rates (36% in 2011), and have far less access to education. Shortages of quality housing, utilities, and social services in townships—the vast, high-density housing settlements where many of the poor live—spur ongoing social and political tensions. Other key problems include public corruption and widespread violent crime. Vigilante justice and mob violence is not uncommon, and heavy-handed police tactics sometimes result in human rights abuses. South Africa also suffers high rates of HIV/AIDS.

In late 2012, the governing African National Congress (ANC) party, despite some reported internal divisions, reelected as its president Jacob Zuma, ahead of national elections in 2014. Zuma was elected to his first term as president of South Africa by the country’s parliament in 2009. The ANC government faces the substantial challenges noted above, along with others, including labor unrest, rising dissatisfaction within key labor constituencies, and dissatisfaction among youths. Youth populations face particularly high jobless rates and may lack older generations’ continuing allegiance and gratitude to the ANC for helping to end apartheid. To address these diverse challenges, the government is investing billions of dollars to upgrade infrastructure and improve public service delivery, but is likely to face continuing challenges in meeting popular expectations.

Date of Report: December 6, 2013
Number of Pages: 31
Order Number: R43130
Price: $29.95

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Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Nigeria: Current Issues and U.S. Policy - RL33964

Lauren Ploch
Specialist in African Affairs

The U.S. government considers its relationship with Nigeria, Africa’s largest producer of oil and its second largest economy, to be among the most important on the continent. Nigeria is Africa’s most populous country, with more than 170 million people, roughly divided between Muslims and Christians. U.S. diplomatic relations with Nigeria, which is regularly among the top suppliers of U.S. oil imports, have improved since the country made the transition from military to civilian rule in 1999, and Nigeria is a major recipient of U.S. foreign aid. The country is an influential actor in African politics, having mediated disputes in several African countries and ranking among the top five troop contributors to U.N. peacekeeping missions.

Nigeria is a country of significant promise, but it also faces serious social, economic, and security challenges that have the potential to threaten both state and regional stability, and to affect global oil prices. The country has faced intermittent political turmoil and economic crises since independence. Political life has been scarred by conflict along ethnic, geographic, and religious lines, and corruption and misrule have undermined the state’s authority and legitimacy. Despite extensive oil and natural gas resources, Nigeria’s human development indicators are among the world’s lowest, and a majority of the population faces extreme poverty. Years of social unrest, criminality, and corruption in the oil-producing Niger Delta have hindered oil production, delayed the southern region’s economic development, and contributed to piracy in the Gulf of Guinea. Perceived neglect and economic marginalization also fuel resentment in the predominately Muslim north. Thousands have been killed in periodic ethno-religious clashes in the past decade.

The attempted terrorist attack on an American airliner by a Nigerian in 2009 and the rise of a militant Islamist group, Boko Haram, have heightened concerns about extremist recruitment in Nigeria, which has one of the world’s largest Muslim populations. Boko Haram has increasingly targeted churches, among other state and civilian targets, sometimes triggering retaliatory violence and threatening to inflame religious tensions. While the group remains primarily focused on a domestic agenda, some of its members appear to have expanded ties with other violent Islamist groups, including Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). A Boko Haram splinter group, Ansaru, appears intent on kidnapping foreigners. The State Department designated both Boko Haram and Ansaru as Foreign Terrorist Organizations (FTOs) in November 2013.

Nigeria’s last elections, in 2011, were viewed by many as a key test of the government’s commitment to democracy. The U.S. government had deemed previous elections to be deeply flawed. Election observers described the 2011 polls as a significant improvement over previous efforts, but not without problems. Post-election protests and violence across the north highlighted communal tensions, grievances, and mistrust of the government in that region. President Goodluck Jonathan, a southerner, was reelected and faces multiple, and sometimes competing, pressures to implement reforms to address Nigeria’s security and development challenges.

The Obama Administration has been supportive of Nigerian reform initiatives, including anticorruption efforts, economic and electoral reforms, energy sector privatization, and programs to promote peace and development in the Niger Delta. In 2010, the Administration established the U.S.-Nigeria Binational Commission, a strategic dialogue to address issues of mutual concern. Congress regularly monitors Nigerian political developments, and some Members have expressed concern with corruption, human rights abuses, environmental damage from oil drilling, and the threat of violent extremism in Nigeria. Congress oversees an estimated $700 million in U.S. foreign aid programs in Nigeria—one of the largest U.S. bilateral assistance packages in Africa.

Date of Report: November 15, 2013
Number of Pages: 27
Order Number: RL33964
Price: $29.95

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Monday, December 9, 2013

Algeria: Current Issues - RS21532

Alexis Arieff
Analyst in African Affairs

U.S.-Algerian ties have grown over the past decade as the United States has come to view Algeria as a key partner in countering Al Qaeda-linked groups in North and West Africa. Algeria is also a significant source of petroleum for the United States and of natural gas for Europe, and its energy sector is a destination for U.S. investment. Congress appropriates and oversees small amounts of foreign aid and reviews notifications of arms sales. Algerian security forces also benefit from U.S. cooperation programs. Obama Administration officials have stated a desire to deepen and broaden bilateral ties, including in the aftermath of a four-day terrorist hostage seizure at a natural gas compound in southeastern Algeria in January 2013, in which three Americans were killed. The attack highlighted the challenges the United States faces in advancing and protecting its interests in an increasingly volatile region.

The terrorist group that seized the hostages is a breakaway faction of Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), a regional network and U.S.-designated Foreign Terrorist Organization with roots in Algeria’s 1990s civil conflict. Given Algeria’s large military and available financial resources, U.S. officials have expressed support for Algerian efforts to marshal a regional response to terrorist threats. Yet Algeria’s relations with neighboring states are complex and sometimes distrustful, at times hindering cooperation. Meanwhile, any U.S. unilateral action in response to regional security threats could present significant risks and opportunity costs.

Algeria’s political system is dominated by a strong presidency and security apparatus. Elections are regularly held, but political dynamics appear to be dominated by opaque politico-military elite networks that Algerians refer to as Le Pouvoir (the powers-that-be). The political system has remained stable amid regional upheaval since 2011. Yet Algerians face future uncertainty as President Abdelaziz Bouteflika’s third term in office draws to a close in 2014, and as key military and intelligence commanders age. President Bouteflika’s ill health prompted him to seek treatment abroad for nearly three months in mid-2013. He has since sought to reassert his authority, and appears likely to seek a fourth term in office.

Algeria’s macroeconomic position is strong due to high global oil and gas prices, which have allowed it to amass large foreign reserves. Yet wealth has not necessarily trickled down, and the pressures of unemployment, high food prices, and housing shortages weigh on many families. Public unrest over political and economic grievances has at times been evident, though other factors may have dampened enthusiasm for dramatic political change.

Algeria’s foreign policy has often conflicted with that of the United States. Strains in ties with neighboring Morocco continue, due to the unresolved status of the Western Sahara and a rivalry for regional influence. The legacy of Algeria’s anti-colonial struggle contributes to Algerian leaders’ desire to prevent direct foreign intervention, their residual skepticism of French and NATO intentions, and their positions on regional affairs, including a non-interventionist stance toward the uprising in Syria and an ambivalent approach to external military intervention in neighboring Mali. See also CRS Report RS20962, Western Sahara.

Date of Report: November 18, 2013
Number of Pages: 20
Order Number: RS21532
Price: $29.95

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