Obama's African outlook splits opinion

2013-06-20 07:44

Dakar - Days ahead of only his third official African visit, analysts are split over whether Barack Obama has been overlooking a golden goose in his ancestral continent or shrewdly dodging a white elephant.

The 44th US president inspired millions when he told an audience in Ghana during his first year in office that he would help build prosperity in a resurgent sub-Saharan region many believe will be the world's next economic powerhouse.

When he returns on June 26 for a tour of Senegal, South Africa and Tanzania, however, he will encounter a continent where his influence has largely been usurped by the billions of dollars invested by the world's emerging economies.

"As he travels to Africa, he will see a definite different Africa that enthusiastically celebrated his election and re-election but an Africa that is asking: What have you done for me, not lately but ever?" Chika Onyeani, editor of the US-based African Sun-Times, wrote in a recent commentary.

Obama's detractors concede that he has led the way in African conflict resolution, particularly with the peaceful creation of South Sudan after decades of fighting between Sudan's Muslim north and Christian and animist south.

But critics argue that while the US plays global referee, China has been more shrewd in its engagement, stepping up investment in mining, trade, construction and infrastructure.

Foreign direct investment

Africa has been home to six of the world's 10 fastest-growing economies in the past decade, according to a 2010 study by the McKinsey Global Institute - a number that is projected to grow.

Foreign direct investment is forecast to attain $57bn this year from $50bn last year, with the sub-Saharan region likely to receive the majority, according to the African Development Bank. 

Yet just 1% of US investment abroad goes to Africa and many analysts believe China has surpassed America as its largest partner, with African governments preferring an approach that does not link trade to human rights or corruption.

US companies are "leaving money on the table" in mineral- and oil-rich Africa, industrialist Tribert Ayabatwa Rujugiro, who has businesses in eight countries across the continent, said in a recent commentary for the US-based Global Post.

A 2012 study by Russian investment bank Renaissance Capital underlines the point, arguing that Africa will be the "most exciting and rewarding continent for the next 30 years", producing more GDP in 2050 than the United States and Europe combined today.

Obama has spent less than 48 hours on official business in Africa, between trips to Egypt and then Ghana in June 2009.

But his supporters say the president has not received credit for encouraging economic growth by aiding peaceful transfers of power in Ivory Coast, Nigeria, Senegal and Malawi as well as promoting democracy in Niger and Guinea.

"The president is the victim of unrealistic expectations, largely because he had a Kenyan father," John Campbell, a senior fellow for Africa policy studies at the US-based Council on Foreign Relations think-tank, told AFP.

"Sometime African commentators forget that the president is an American, not an African."

Economic developments

Campbell believes US investors get cold feet when they see conflicts such as in Mali and corrupt or inept governance elsewhere, worrying that their cash will end up in the hands of unsavoury, undemocratic regimes - and the enmity is often mutual.

"Certainly African elites prefer the Chinese model because it reinforces their own position. Democrats, human rights activists - the future of Africa - have a different view." 

In any case, says Campbell, economic developments in Africa are "largely marginal" to the fundamental interests of the United States and Americans should "focus on what we do well - democracy, human rights and the rule of law".

"That, after all, is what will enable Africa to break out of its cycle of poverty," he said.

J Peter Pham, director of the Washington-based Atlantic Council's Ansari Africa Centre, believes the Chinese investment boom cannot last and that there will be a correction in the balance of power.

"In the immediate term, Africans want to feed and provide [for] their families and, in order for that to happen, they must see their economies grow through investment in both infrastructure and business. So there is an attraction to whatever delivers infrastructure and investment," he said.

"However, both need to be solid and benefit Africans... and thus we encounter the growing chorus of discontent from many Africans that Chinese construction is often shoddy and Chinese companies are more interested in resource extraction than in adding value in Africa."

  • droplet - 2013-06-20 08:21

    " In any case, says Campbell, economic developments in Africa are "largely marginal" to the fundamental interests of the United States and Americans should "focus on what we do well - democracy, human rights and the rule of law". " guantanamo? CIA drug dealings? assassinations? iraq? kyoto? you make me laugh, america

      Vlad Wasinsky - 2013-06-27 08:04

      And in South Africa, do we have different norms?.

  • Attila Biemuller - 2013-06-20 08:25

    I wonder why Obama will not visit Zimbabwe,is it because it is a undemocratic regime,Corrupt minded,Sub Standard Government,or is Obama worried that his US Dollar will end up in unsavoury hands.

      Odirile Seemise - 2013-06-20 08:36

      He visits Israel and the israeli visit him. He supports terrorism by supplying guns to rebels in oder to overthrow leaders that don't bow to the West hypocrisy and terror they inflict in other countries through war. I doubt Mugabe wants anything to do with this puppet.

      Mandingo Queen - 2013-06-20 10:31

      Saudi Arabia?

      Onkabetse Diphatse - 2013-06-20 11:18

      @Dee, i see you're knee deep in politics son...marumo fatshe! LOL!!! No doubt Obama is a puppet. Look at how he handled the Arab springs, he got involved in Libya but stayed out in Syria....just following orders from his western masters, the so called defenders of freedom.........yeah right.

  • Janti Cloete - 2013-06-20 08:57

    "an Africa that is asking: What have you done for me, not lately but ever?" Staan alweer bakhand... Why should America do anything for Africa? We are suppose to stand on our own feet. And I believe we are well capable of doing that.

      Mandingo Queen - 2013-06-20 10:32

      It's only the political analysts asking that. The US should keep as far away from Africa as possible. It only brings drones, death and destruction!

      Ze Don - 2013-06-20 10:53

      @Mandingo: How is that any different to ''normal'' behaviour in Africa? The ONLY difference is that the US use drones and in Africa we use children with pangas.

      Vlad Wasinsky - 2013-06-27 08:07

      Should rather ask, "What have I done for myself"

  • Ze Don - 2013-06-20 11:04

    The mistake the Americans make is that they send billions of dollars worth of aid to Africa yearly, trying to build up the local populace so they can help themselves. Where as the Chinese go in and buy politicians and a country, strip it and leave. The thing is that the locals see instant, short term results with the Chinese approach... they don't however see the long term results of the American approach.

      Sterling Ferguson - 2013-06-20 11:13

      Very well said and if the Chinese are investing so much in Africa, why are the people so poor?

      Mandingo Queen - 2013-06-20 18:21

      The single biggest amount the US donates to Africa is $3 billion to the Egyptian army. Western/US involvement in Africa has lasted between 300-400 years and the difference between Chinese and western involvement is as clear as night and day. The only thing that Africa has received from the US is coups, regime change and the assassination of democratically elected leaders! Your lack of awareness borders on the psychotic!

  • Sthembiso Mlangeni - 2013-06-20 11:08

    Obama why is there such a great hype for this puppet,is it because his black

      Philip Condor - 2013-06-20 17:33

      Because he is not a muslim ,thats why...!

      Sterling Ferguson - 2013-06-20 18:17

      You are thinking the president of the US can function like Zuma or Mugabe, and this is far from being true. The president has no control over the state money like Zuma and Mugabe, he can't declare war on another country, the president can't make laws, he can't eat free in the WH, his party doesn't always support his policies and vote against them. Both of the parties are big supporters of the US security, and the US uses of the drones have the support of both parties. The US has strong institutions that run this country and the president only functions as their leader. The American people like what he is doing so they gave him over fifty percent of the votes in the last election. So, you are right, Obama is a puppet to the people that put him in office in the US and in SA the people couldn't vote for their president.

  • Petrus George - 2013-06-20 18:17

    the visit will leave me wondering about the future of USA or maybe America is seeking asailem in Africa. lets forgive and not forget what happened last summer.

      Vlad Wasinsky - 2013-06-27 08:11

      What is asailem?

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