WMC Women Under Siege

In latest publicity stunt—and humanitarian nightmare—Trump sends Haley to Africa

U.S. Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley is going to Africa. South Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Ethiopia, specifically. She says in an October 22 CNN op-ed that President Trump is sending her “to get a first-hand picture of what can be done.”  

Here’s what she’ll see: In DRC, from where I’ve reported extensively, she’ll meet women who’ve survived rape and the burning of their villages. Perhaps she’ll talk to some of the 4 million people internally displaced by war. She’ll meet little girls pregnant from their own family members, because demobilized soldiers have had no reintegration help after they leave the army. The viciousness comes home with them. She’ll hear about—maybe even see—peaceful protests against a president who refuses to hold elections despite his constitutional term limit having ended about a year ago. Those protests will quickly turn violent when the government military starts shooting, as it has many times recently.  

Nikki Haley will visit DRC, where decades of war have left most people in poverty and living among violence. (Lauren Wolfe)

In South Sudan, according to our contributor Amanda Sperber, who frequently reports from the country, Haley will perhaps witness things like people “eating leaves and the sap that comes from trees, and palm fronds from the swamps”—not to mention women raped right outside UN camps, where the United Nations Mission in the Republic of South Sudan (UNMISS) soldiers did nothing to stop the violence, Sperber reported. In Ethiopia, Haley will visit the headquarters of the African Union and maybe take some photos with South Sudanese refugees who have fled to the country.  

All this is what Haley could see if she were really looking. Somehow, though, it’s hard to imagine that she and her boss actually want to witness what’s really taking place. This line in her CNN op-ed gives away her real purpose for traveling to the region: “The United States has many interests in these war-torn African countries. Our interests are certainly humanitarian, but they are also economic and strategic.”  

Emphasis on “economic and strategic.” Not so much “humanitarian.” Here’s why: 

While touting in her CNN piece that the U.S. is “by far” UN Peacekeeping’s “largest financial donor,” all we have to do is wind back the clock to the end of July, when Haley tweeted alongside a self-satisfied smiling photo of herself: “Just 5 months into our time here, we’ve cut over half a billion $$$ from the UN peacekeeping budget & we’re only getting started.”  

Stéphane Dujarric, spokesman for Secretary-General António Guterres, told CNN at the time in a statement: “The figures presented would simply make it impossible for the UN to continue all of its essential work advancing peace, development, human rights, and humanitarian assistance.”  

He told reporters on June 30: “We cannot overstate the value of peacekeeping to achieve peace and stability. It remains the most cost-effective instrument at the disposal of the international community to prevent conflicts and foster conditions for lasting peace.”  

South Sudanese refugees in Ethiopia get water at a camp. (UNICEF)

Specifically, the cuts to peacekeeping most greatly affect women, as I wrote in April, and, even more specifically, women in South Sudan and DRC, where rape is rampant and protection is desperately needed. In the harsh reality of major cuts to peacekeeping, which the U.S. government hopes will reach $1 billion, Haley’s proclamation that the U.S. “remains committed to easing the suffering of civilians wherever we can” is laughable.  

Also, the so-called interest in helping with the “humanitarian” side of things is undermined by the administration’s proposed cut to African aid to $5.2 billion in the 2018 fiscal year. That’d be down from $8 billion in 2017. Congress did not approve this huge proposed cut, but “the UN’s 2017 Humanitarian Response Plan for the DRC, at $812 million and designed to provide life-sustaining support, is less than one-third funded,” according to Refugees International.  

Right now, NGOs are asking Haley to do X, Y, and Z good thing on her visit. Millions of people need humanitarian assistance, and the U.S. has long played a critical role in helping create stability through diplomacy and funding peacekeeping, as well as in keeping food and other aid flowing into DRC and South Sudan. But if there’s anything this new administration has made clear in its fiscal (non)commitments and “America First” rhetoric, the ambassador’s visit to these war-torn African countries will be little more than yet another wealthy Western woman posing with “unfortunate” black refugees photo-op—a lie meant to trick the public into thinking the U.S. government cares and is doing everything it can to help.  

Don’t be fooled.


EDITOR'S NOTE: The second to last paragraph has been corrected to state that Nikki Haley is "Western," not necessarily white. She was born in the United States to Indian parents.



More articles by Category: Gender-based violence, International, Politics, Violence against women
More articles by Tag: Trump, Haley, Nikki Haley, DRC, Africa, South Sudan, Humanitarianism, Aid
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Lauren Wolfe
Director, Women Under Siege
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