Obama's African policy finally takes good shape
The Kansas City Star
A new U.S. strategy for Sub-Saharan Africa looks promising.
It puts substance behind President Barack Obama’s statements of commitment and cooperation with the African continent made when he visited Ghana in July 2009.
The straightforward plan is condensed into four pillars: strengthen democratic institutions; spur economic growth, trade and investments; advance peace and security; and promote opportunity and development.
This is certainly not the first time this sort of commitment has been expressed.
Powerful, influential organizations such as the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and other countries have long rallied to help develop the African continent. Not all have succeeded but countries like Malawi, which is now self-sufficient in food, have shown how useful policies work.
In Africa, the expectation was that a U.S. president whose father came from Kenya would pay much more attention to the continent. A fair amount of disappointment with the Obama presidency followed, much of it justified, because he allowed the policy to stall. This is not to say that nothing has happened. There have been interventions in security, armies have been trained on counterterrorism, the Feed the Future initiative took off and there is continuing support for the needy through USAID.
Still, this new strategy is bound to be viewed with a mix of cynicism and expectation.
Expectation because it states a commitment to trade, which would enable African businesses to sell their products in the U.S. and spur the kind of sustainable development that aid does not.
Parts of the continent that have been affected by severe droughts and suffered famine would definitely benefit from programs that create resilience and prevent the collapse of their economies.
Regarding the security pillar, East African nations have been struggling to contain the Islamic fundamentalists who have emerged in Somalia. Bomb attacks in Kampala, the Ugandan capital in 2010 and recent attacks in Nairobi, Kenya, are proof that these countries present “soft targets”.
Last week’s acknowledgement of U.S. drone attacks against suspected terrorists in Yemen and Somalia shows that this kind of help has been given, albeit silently.
With a presidential election in five months, this strategy has come late for Obama. But it does have the potential to spur Africa’s development away from dependency and the troubling tendency to move from one crisis to another.