Obama’s new plan for Africa

2012-06-23 16:07

Africa was a promise too far for US President Barack Obama and, to make up for it, the White House released a new plan for the continent last week.

US officials say Obama came under intense criticism from his African American constituency because he had not paid enough attention to Africa.

At the beginning of Obama’s term in 2009, huge expectations were created that because of his background – he is half-Kenyan – Africa would feature more prominently in his plans.

It is understood the US strategy towards sub-Saharan Africa is aimed at appeasing Obama’s African-American constituency before the crucial November elections, when he hopes to be returned to the White House.

When Obama came to office three years ago one of his first acts was to address the Ghanaian parliament, which created expectations for deeper engagement with the continent.

“It is an election year and the president’s response to Africa has not been what people wanted,” a US official said.

The Africa plan calls Africa “the next major economic success story” and pledges to help remove constraints to trade and investment.

It will focus on strengthening democratic institutions and issues a stern warning to African leaders who want to cling to power: “The United States will not stand idly by when actors threaten legitimately-elected governments or manipulate the fairness and integrity of democratic processes.”

The US has previously been outspoken about the rule of Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe, who allegedly stole the last two elections in his country.

The use of spy planes that collect intelligence for the US government came under the spotlight this week when the Washington Post revealed how information is gathered by these planes and shared with host governments.

US surveillance operations in Africa are dependent on permission from countries willing to host bases for the spy planes and in exchange, those countries usually insist that the Americans share intelligence gleaned from the skies, the newspaper reported.

These surveillance projects are undertaken under the US African Command (Africom) based in Stuttgart, Germany.

But the US is adamant that by reportedly sharing information gathered by the spy planes with a host government, Africom is not a threat to local authorities.

They have been instrumental in the investigation to track down Ugandan rebel leader Joseph Kony by gathering information in consultation with the Ugandan government.

The relationship between South Africa and the US has taken a turn for the better since Obama took over the White House and installed Donald Gips as his envoy to South Africa.

A visit by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to South Africa in August is expected to improve the relationship.

She is planning to make a three-day trip to South Africa where she will focus on entrepreneurs, health and education initiatives.

The new Africa plan will see the extension of the US’s African Growth and Opportunity Act – which is aimed at helping Africa create goods for export that meet global standards – beyond 2015.

A “doing business in Africa campaign” will harness the resources of the United States government to identify and take up opportunities offered by sub-Saharan Africa.

But Africom will remain a fly in the ointment. Africom is viewed with much suspicion in South Africa, as it is seen as an attempt by the US to “militarise” Africa.

The issue will be discussed at the ANC’s policy conference.

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