Iraq + 3 more

Africa frets over potential impact of Iraq war

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Nairobi (dpa) - Baghdad is a long way from the Kakuma refugee camp in northwestern Kenya, but the repercussions of a potential war in Iraq are already being felt by the refugees there - in their stomachs.
A lack of donations from rich countries has forced aid agencies to cut food rations to refugees in the Kenyan camps and elsewhere in Africa.

Humanitarian officials say this is just one example of how increased focus the Middle East and Iraq is lessening the resources devoted to solving Africa's problems.

There is "growing concern that a potential conflict in Iraq may distract the attention of donor nations from the pressing needs of millions of refugees in Africa,'' says a joint statement by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and the World Food Programme (WFP).

"As new emergencies arise, the interest in these long-standing cases tends to fade, leaving refugees on the brink of hunger,'' says WFP deputy director Jean-Jacques Graisse.

Salih Booker of the Washington-based think tank Africa Action says the AIDS epidemic is "the single greatest global threat to human security today, far more deadly than terrorism or the alleged existence of Iraqi weapons.''

Analysts are finding it difficult to point to any benefits that would accrue to Africa if the U.S. moves ahead with its plans to invade Iraq and topple Saddam Hussein.

While some countries in the Horn of Africa such as Djibouti and Kenya have seen increased deployments of Western troops over the past year as part of the war on terrorism, none are in the position of Turkey to negotiate multi-billion dollar deals for the use of bases in an attack on Iraq.

An expected rise in oil prices would be good for major oil producers like Nigeria and Angola, but the majority of African nations would instead feel a pinch.

Not only would their energy bills increase, but higher transport costs would make imports more expensive, in turn weakening foreign currency reserves.

Collectively, African nations have stated their opposition to a war against Iraq, most recently at the Franco-African summit this past week in Paris.

"The use of force, which entails serious risks of destabilisation for the region, for Africa and for the world, should only be a last resort,'' the summit said in a joint declaration.

Earlier this month, the African Union summit declared: "A military confrontation in Iraq would be a destabilizing factor for the whole region and would have far reaching economic and security consequences for all the countries of the world and, particularly, for those of Africa.''

Yet individual African governments have not taken outspoken stands against the war and observers believe the three African members of the current U.N. Security Council - Angola, Guinea and Cameroon -would follow the lead of the U.S. if a resolution for military action comes to the table.

"Most (African governments) if not all of them are quietly disturbed by this, but when your recurrent budget is 50 per cent donor funded, you'll be very careful about what you say,'' says David Mafabi, political affairs director of the Pan-African Movement, based in the Ugandan capital Kampala.

Mafabi says the speed with which resources are being diverted toward military confrontation shows that Africa cannot depend on the western donors for its development. "If it comes, this war will underline that at the end of the day we have nobody to rely on but ourselves.''

Africa also shares the fears of many analysts that a U.S.-led invasion of Iraq would cause an upsurge in terrorist attacks and inflame religious tensions in countries with significant Moslem populations, such as Nigeria.

Seen as soft targets, African-based interests of the U.S. and its allies have already been hit by terrorism, with Africans bearing the brunt of the death toll.

The most recent incident was the November suicide truck bomb attack on an Israeli-owned hotel near the Kenyan coastal resort of Mombasa, which killed 16 and is dampening the country's tourism industry.

Participants in the fragile peace processes in countries such as Sudan and Somalia could begin to question why the U.S. and other Western nations are pushing them to reach a settlement, says Adala Ochieng, programme officer with the Nairobi-based Africa Peace Forum.

"The perception that the U.S. wages war against Moslem countries may mean they will look at the peace processes in a different light,'' says Ochieng.

Africa has not seen the mass protests against the war that have occurred with growing frequency in recent weeks in Europe, Asia and North America.

But the continent's conscience, the former South African president and Nobel Laureate Nelson Mandela, harshly criticized President George W. Bush and his administration in a recent speech for undermining the U.N.

"Who are they, now, to pretend that they are the policemen of the world, to want to decide for the people in Iraq what they should do with their government and with their leadership?'' Mandela said. "All Bush wants is Iraqi oil.''

dpa mc ms AP-NY-02-23-03 2106EST

Copyright (c) 2003 dpa Deutsche Presse-Agentur GmbH
Received by NewsEdge Insight: 02/23/2003 21:06:52

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