Academic journal article Journal of International Affairs

Obama and Africa: Matching Expectations with Reality

Academic journal article Journal of International Affairs

Obama and Africa: Matching Expectations with Reality

Article excerpt

The election of Barack Obama as president of the United States has aroused expectations around the world, but nowhere as much as in Africa. Obama inherits a record of achievement on the continent from George W. Bush that will be hard to match, if not exceed. He will also be far more heavily engaged elsewhere in the world than in Africa, with wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the nuclear threat from Iran, problems encompassing Russia and the worldwide economic crisis. Yet, Obama has singular potential to make his mark on Africa as neither his immediate nor earlier predecessors were able to do--that is, to carry his message of personal and political responsibility, which was emphasized in his inaugural address to African leaders. In addition, he can help empower the institutions of Africa's governments and civil society that can demand accountability, service and democracy where Africa has lagged and been held back. These steps will make American aid and trade programs--on which he can draw from an impressive Bush legacy, and which he must still improve--all the more effective.

Obama will face serious crises in Africa that the Bush administration was not able to resolve. Five years after Bush's designation of the crisis in Darfur as a genocide, the region remains in conflict, with millions still living in precarious refugee shelters and the perpetrators of the violence still at large. In Somalia, failed U.S. counterterrorism policies have left the country in turmoil, with the threat of radical extremists taking control and over a million people in desperate need of humanitarian aid. In the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Africa's most costly war, with more than 5 million casualties, remains barely resolved. (1) Militias still roam free, threatening the peace and challenging international peacekeepers. Rape and other horrific human rights abuses go unpunished, and the rich mineral resources of the country remain a source of both international intrigue and local fighting. Finally, the United States has lost the support of much of Africa in global trade negotiations--a development that is not in either party's interest. Fashioning a wholly new trade policy with Africa will not only help the continent break away from dependency, but also strengthen the U.S. position in the Doha round of World Trade Organization negotiations.

ACHIEVEMENTS OF BUSH POLICY IN AFRICA

President George W. Bush, who declared in the presidential debates of 2000 that Africa was not of strategic importance to the United States, confounded his critics by making Africa one of his strongest legacies. Under the Bush administration, aid to Africa more than tripled. Bush's signature program, the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), not only transformed the worldwide response to the AIDS pandemic, but also can take credit for moving nearly two million people--mostly in Africa--from facing certain death to leading active lives through access to anti-retroviral treatment. (2) Initiatives on malaria and tuberculosis have revived attention to these devastating diseases. The Africa Education Initiative (AEI) gave special support to that sector. Another Bush initiative, the Millennium Challenge Account (MCA), provided the first clearly designated funding for those countries governing well--regardless of their political or strategic importance--and provided substantial, multi-year funding for their own development priorities. Aid to Africa was $2.3 billion in 2000; it was $6.6 billion in 2006, and Bush pledged to raise it to nearly $9 billion by 2010, for which the United States is on target. (3) That is a hard act to follow.

Obama inherits more than this rise in U.S. attention to Africa. He also inherits a bipartisan approach to Africa that began in the Clinton administration and was reinforced by the Bush administration. During the Clinton administration, Republican and Democratic leaders in the Congress fashioned the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA), which opened the door to African countries for tariff-free exports to the United States. …

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