Obama: it is Africa’s time

2013-06-30 14:00

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But what will the US president bring to the party?

When President Jacob Zuma was asked what legacy US president Barack Obama would leave on the African continent, he fumbled.

“I avoid speaking about legacies of people still in the job?.?.?.?It is an ongoing process,” he told reporters at a joint briefing with Obama yesterday at Pretoria’s Union Buildings.

The two presidents met yesterday morning for bilateral talks.

Obama has African roots, and his election to the world’s most powerful job in 2008 raised hopes that US foreign policy would focus more strongly on this continent.

But analysts reckon that during both his first term and into his second, Obama’s been too caught up in wars against terror and a domestic economic crisis to make progress on the work his predecessors did in Africa.

George W Bush’s legacy in Africa lay in his Aids initiative. Obama yesterday expressed great satisfaction about the work South Africa has done in implementing these programmes.

Before Bush was Bill Clinton, who signed the Africa Growth and Opportunity Act (Agoa) in 2000.

This allows southern African countries to ship certain products to the US tariff free.

Is food security Obama’s legacy project, perhaps?

He kicked off his visit to Africa by announcing in Senegal this week that America would expand its food-security aid by increasing its assistance for seeds and agricultural technology by $47?million (R464?million).

Private American companies, he said, would invest $134?million in Senegal’s agricultural system.

Last year, at the G8 summit, Obama announced a $3?billion plan to boost food security and farm productivity in Africa, aimed at lifting people out of poverty but also at promoting economic growth.

At yesterday’s briefing, however, Obama focused on trade and security, pledging support for extending Agoa when it expires next year.

Zuma praised Agoa, saying US-SA trade “has reached the levels preceding the global recession, largely due to the act”.

The US has to play catch-up with other superpowers like China, which will see rapid growth in its trade with Africa, from $200?billion currently to an expected $325?billion in the next couple of years.

American trade, by comparison, dropped from $104.1?billion in 2008 to $94.3?billion in 2011.

Obama yesterday said the rise in trade with China did not worry him.

“The more interest they show in Africa, the more tools and mechanisms we have to further incorporate Africa into the global economy.”

But he hinted that some of the new investors, which also include Brazil, India and Turkey, might not have Africa’s best interests at heart.

“When we look at what other countries are doing in Africa, I think our only advice is make sure it’s a good deal for Africa.

“Somebody says they want to come build something here: Are they hiring African workers? Somebody says that we want to help you develop your natural resources: How much of that money is staying in Africa?”

Zuma too offered some ideas after the meeting for what America could offer the country and the continent.

The South African president said he wanted to see more American investment in infrastructure development, skills development for the youth, and “information and communication technologies, agriculture and the green economy”.

Security is also an increasing concern for the US in Africa, following the establishment of its US Africa Command (Africom) in 2008.

The two leaders expressed concern about the rise in attacks by rebel groups in Africa, which threatens democratically elected governments.

Zuma said South Africa would “like to cooperate with the US in enhancing peace building and post-conflict resolution and development cooperation under the umbrella of the UN and the African Union (AU)”.

A minister who attended the bilateral said the controversial Africom was not discussed.

Zuma said South Africa wanted to push for a seat for Africa on the UN Security Council, but Obama said that, while he was willing to support this move, “power comes with great responsibility”.

Late yesterday, Obama also met with AU Commission chairperson Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma.

Addressing the audience at a town hall-style meeting in Soweto earlier in the day, Obama suggested that the US was interested in supporting an African peer review mechanism under the AU.

Barack Obama’s luxury limousine

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