Time to Put Africa Front and Centre, President Obama

2012-11-07 07:35

US President Barrack Obama has been re-elected for a second term after a hard-fought electoral campaign. What are the implications for Africa? When Obama occupied the White House for the first time, there was an expectation in Africa that Obama, with his Kenyan ancestral roots, would do much for Africa. Sadly he was to disappoint.

Indeed, Africa was almost an after-thought for Obama in his first term in office. Consider the following: it was only in June 2012, five months ago, that the White House released an official African strategy. And whilst US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, visited 15 African countries in four separate trips, President Obama only managed to spend a measly twenty hours in Ghana in July 2009 where he gave a speech on democracy with no substantial follow-up.

To be sure, Africa was knocked off the radar screen in Washington by the ongoing Eurozone crisis, the rise of China, the Arab Spring, the Iran nuclear question and America’s own economic woes. Still, Obama’s Africa record pales into comparison if one considers his two predecessors’ engagement with the African continent.

President Bill Clinton’s African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) reduced trade barriers for more than 1800 products from the continent. This served to stimulate African economies which were good for Africa and the United States. Trade between the US and Africa tripled to over US $90 billion since 2000.

President George Bush’s Millennium Challenge initiative built on President Clinton’s AGOA and partnered with 13 countries on the continent in an effort to stimulate their economies. Bush’s efforts to curb malaria on the continent resulted in steep declines in African child mortality in several African countries. George Bush’s President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief or PEPFAR served to save the lives of 2,4 million Africans with HIV/AIDS.

In contrast, I can only think of only one major African success story for the Obama White House – Sudan. Vigorous diplomatic efforts prevented a return to war whilst assisting with the independence of South Sudan.

Here is my wish-list to President Obama in his second term. First and foremost foster more economic growth in Africa. Despite the fact that the continent is home of six of the world’s ten fastest growing economies, more needs to be done. After all seven out of ten Africans are living without electricity. Africa needs international assistance in these crucial areas.

Second, economic growth will not take place without peace. Peace will not be attained if the African Union’s Peace and Security structure remains deficient. The crisis in northern Mali, for instance, clearly demonstrates that the much vaunted African Standby Force (ASF) remains a paper tiger. President Obama, and more specifically, United States African Command, needs to greatly assist the ASF to make its vision a reality.

Third, given the fragility of many African states, the continent cannot afford a repeat of the Cold War – this time between Washington and Beijing as they fight for influence on the African continent. Consensus between the United States and China in their relations with Africa is absolutely crucial.

President Obama, it is time to put Africa front and centre in your second term.

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