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Last Updated:  Monday, 10 March, 2003, 14:18 GMT
Analysis: Africa's Iraq swing votes

By Joseph Winter
BBC News Online

Angola, Cameroon and Guinea are not used to being assiduously courted by the world's major powers.

But in the past two weeks, senior diplomats from the United States, the United Kingdom and France have beaten paths to all three capitals, in a bid to persuade them to how use their votes in the United Nations Security Council debate on Iraq.

The African Union has publicly opposed the United States-led war in Iraq but the three African members of the security council have so far refused to publicly state their positions.


Tank in Angola
Angolans know the horrors of war all too well

Angola is just emerging from a 25-year civil war and some Angolans will feel that every option should be exhausted before visiting that fate on the people of Iraq.

"The war of Iraq will be devastating for the people of Iraq. We don't really think it is necessary at this stage," says veteran peace campaigner and theologian Daniel Ntoni Nzinga.

Education suffered during Angola's long war and the BBC's Justin Pearce in the capital, Luanda says that some people have never even heard of Iraq, let alone debate on which way their government should vote.

The United States is Angola's largest aid donor and the source of most investment in the oil sector, which dominates Angola's economy.

French oil company Total FinaElf is also a major player in Angola and correspondents say that Angola would not want to jeopardise that relationship.

Russia also backed the ruling MPLA party during the 25-year civil war, which ended last year while the US backed Jonas Savimbi's Unita rebels.

These historical links could influence the decision of President Jose Eduardo Dos Santos.

It's a shame that all three governments are so corrupt that none of the money they're being offered will find its way down to the person in the street
African observer

Angola is organising a donor conference later this year to seek funds to rebuild the war ravaged country.

As well as providing $128m in humanitarian aid last year, the US also has greater influence than either France or Russia with the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, whose stance on lending is usually followed by other donors.

African expert Paul Melly suspects that Angola will ultimately back the US position.

"At the end of the day, US clout will count for more with the Angolans," he told the BBC's Network Africa programme.

Angolan Foreign Minister Joao Miranda says he will not reveal his hand before the security council vote expected next week.

But last week he said: "We understand that if it is necessary to make war to ensure peace, then we will lend our support."


Elvis Ngole-Ngole, Minister of State in the office of President Paul Biya denies suggestions that Cameroon might be selling its vote to the highest bidder.

"I don't think that a country like Cameroon with a conscience needs to have a price tag on its position," he told the BBC's Focus on Africa programme.

But he does hint which way it might swing.

"Cameroon and France are old friends."

Most of present-day Cameroon was ruled by the French during the colonial era and economic and military ties to Paris remain extremely close.

One example of the enduring French influence is that Cameroon generally tops the league table of champagne consumption per head.

Cameroon also uses the CFA franc, which is backed by the French treasury.

"Cameroon will probably follow the French position," journalist Fidelis Fumbe told the BBC's Today programme.


Guinea, which currently chairs the security council, is also a former French colony but has always kept its distance from Paris.

Guinea draws a lot of financial help from the Arab world and it will be difficult for Guinea not to support Iraq
Soloman Gillo, The Lynx newspaper, Guinea

It is the only former French colony in sub-Saharan Africa which does not use the CFA franc.

The US has given military aid to Guinean, which could become embroiled in the civil war in neighbouring Liberia.

The situation is further complicated by the illness of President Lansana Conte, in whose hands most power lies.

If he is unable to take a decision, his lieutenants will be wary of making a choice which will have a great bearing on Guinea's future security position and donor funding, on his behalf.

"Guinea is the hardest one to predict," says Mr Melly.

But others say that this 94% Muslim country will be loath to see fellow Muslims killed in Iraq.

"The US under secretary of state for African Affairs Walter Kansteiner was in Conakry two weeks ago and was promising lots of inducements, lots of development aid, lots of security help," says the BBC's Alhassan Sillah in Conakry.

Market scene in Kindia
Many Guineans see it as a Muslim-Christian conflict

But he says that many Guineans see it as a religious war, with Muslims pitted against Christians and they are unlikely to side with the US, despite the lavish "inducements".

"Guinea draws a lot of financial help from the Arab world and it will be difficult for Guinea not to support Iraq," says Soloman Gillo, chief editor of the Lynx newspaper in Guinea.

Back seat

Amidst all the talk of "inducements" and aid, Paul Melly says France is constrained by negotiating both aid and trade terms through the European Union, where the UK and Spain back the US position.

He also says that the US Government may not be able to deliver on its promises because Congress must approve trade and aid deals.

At times such as these, niceties such as human rights and good governance often take a back seat to geo-politics.

One African observer told me: "It's a shame that all three governments are so corrupt that none of the money they're being offered will find its way down to the person in the street."

The BBC's Justin Pearce
"Many Angolans can't face more war"

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