The outpouring of emotion across Africa when President Barack Obama was sworn in had as much to do with his heritage as with the possibility that he might reverse some of the Bush administration's disastrous policies. President George W. Bush trumpeted Africa as a foreign policy success, highlighting the President's Emergency Plan for Aids Relief (PEPFAR) as proof. He didn't mention the extremely unpopular ideological limitations on PEPFAR that he championed. He also failed to mention the impact of his administration's other key initiatives that were also important to African people. He didn't talk about the dramatic increase in military spending, the controversial creation of the United States Africa Command (AFRICOM), the extremely flawed war on terror, his unpopular unilateral and bilateral approaches to various countries, the collapse of Somalia, his support for undemocratic leaders, and the undermining of the United Nations, particularly its peacekeeping operations.
The Obama administration must immediately address the continent's three massive humanitarian crises in Somalia, Sudan, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), and respond to the desperate need for more United Nations peacekeepers in all three of these nations. Under Obama's leadership, U.S. policy also must help Africa recover from the crisis brought on by the recent spikes and sharp declines in food prices, cope with terms of trade that virtually ensure Africa can't compete in the global economy, and reverse a resurgence of undemocratic governance--particularly in countries that have strong military relations with our nation. In addition, Africa needs to address other pressing concerns, including education, climate change, agriculture, clean water, health and transportation infrastructure, and the effective coordination of foreign aid.
Expectations for President Obama have become sky-scraping. The challenges before him are enormous. One thing he can do at no cost to the U.S. taxpayer is change the tone of our foreign policy and the way our policies are developed. Collaborative models in policy design and implementation would bring far more thoughtful and successful long-term strategies than the present competitive and self-interested models that time and again have left our policies misinformed, shortsighted, and ineffective.
Military Might and Flawed Force
While a U.S. military presence on the African continent is nothing new, the U.S. military footprint in Africa expanded in a very alarming way during the last eight years. In less than a decade it expanded from small units of U.S. forces stationed in strategic regions into AFRICOM, which became operational in October 2008.
Needless to say, this overt militarization of U.S. policy towards Africa is a source for grave concern for African civil society, government officials, and advocates. The U.S. military doesn't have a good record on the African continent. In fact, its implicit and explicit support of regimes such as apartheid South Africa, Mobutu's Zaire, and Samuel Doe's Liberia were long factors in the destabilization inside and outside those countries. Today, U.S. military might is seen behind Rwanda's continued contribution in destabilizing the Congo. U.S. forces are seen as the rearguard to the Ethiopian army that overthrew the existing government in Somalia.
So what will 2009 bring? It's difficult to tell what the Obama administration will do, but what's not difficult to see is the need to rehabilitate and reorient U.S. policy towards Africa from military-guarded corporate exploitation to one that's centered on human security as a foundation for peace and development.
Somalia is just one tragic example of where U.S. involvement has directly undermined the cause of peace and stability. The overthrow of the Islamic Courts Union and the subsequent Ethiopian occupation has been an overwhelming disaster. …