Obama and US-Africa relations – Dapo Fafowora

No Comments » November 20th, 2008 posted by // Categories: Spotlight




 Obama and US-Africa relations

Dapo Fafowora

When President-elect Barack Obama moves into the White House on January 20, 2009, as President of the United States, relations between the US and Africa will not be his top priority. He will have to contend with a host of more serious problems ranging from the global economic meltdown, to Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, the conflict between Palestine and Israel in the Middle East, fractured relations with America’s Western European allies, and difficulties with Russia over the deployment by President Bush of an air defence missile system in Poland.

Obviously, the global economic crisis will be his priority. This is what will define his administration. The success of his administration will depend more on his ability to resolve the domestic economic and financial crisis in the United States than on his foreign policy, even though America’s relations with the rest of the world are just as important.

But, he was elected on the promise he held out to the American electorate that he can solve the deep-seated economic problems of the United States. Already, he is trying desperately to persuade President Bush to offer a financial bail out to the auto industry in the United States now on the verge of total collapse.

With the exception of the war in Iraq, foreign policy issues were not as decisive as domestic policy issues in his election as President.

There was a lot of jubilation and euphoria all over Africa, including Nigeria, on his winning the election. As an Africa-American, his election as US President was, for Africans everywhere, an epochal event in which they took justifiable pride.

African expectations of his presidency are, for that reason alone, very high. Despite his impressive support and the significant financial contribution of his administration to the fight against HIV/AIDS in Southern Africa, President Bush was not popular in Africa, where many considered his foreign policy to be too aggressive, arrogant, and unilateralist.

Certainly, he did not have with African leaders the rapport that President Clinton had. But the difference between the two leaders was really one of style rather than of substance.

President Clinton had learnt from the humiliation of US troops in Somalia that foreign intervention in African conflicts can be dangerous. He showed a greater sensitivity of African opinion than President Bush who made the fight against so-called terrorism the priority of his foreign policy.

In the process, he alienated public opinion, not only in Africa, but even among his European allies as well. His unilateralist approach to a problem that requires a collective and global solution damaged the global image of the United States.

When Barack Obama assumes the presidency next year he will find that U.S-African relations are stable, if not particularly warm.

The cold war has ended. The liberation wars in Southern Africa brought the US into direct conflict with Africa. From the Congo to Angola, Mozambique, and apartheid South Africa , the US appeared to be on the wrong side of history with its support for the western colonial powers in Africa. US African policy was based on the need to ‘contain’ the expansion of the old Soviet Union to Africa.

As the two super powers battled for influence in Africa, it became the cockpit of super power rivalry. This made the liberation wars in Africa very difficult. The collapse of the old Soviet Union brought to an end the cold war rivalry in Africa and facilitated the end of ideological conflicts in Africa.

There are still areas of conflict in Africa such as the renewed fighting in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Darfur, and the civil war in Somalia. But there is little or no evidence of direct foreign intervention in these African conflicts. And, with the possible exception of Egypt, Africa is not a major theatre of terrorism.

Some western observers have expressed concerns about the increasing Chinese presence in Africa, particularly in the Sudan, and Angola. But China is in these countries to secure its oil supplies, badly needed by its growing economy. It does not have troops outside its borders, and African states do not, at least for now, regard the Chinese as a threat to their independence.

Evidently, the US sponsored AFRICAM is a response to the Chinese presence in Africa. But African leaders are rightly suspicious of any military alliance with foreign powers. For that reason, they have not embraced AFRICOM. Barack Obama should drop the idea completely as it is likely to cause frictions between the US and Africa.

After a long period of internal political conflicts in Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Cote d’Ivoire, West Africa is now enjoying a long period of relative peace and stability. African leaders have shown that, without foreign intervention, they have the capacity to manage their internal affairs and restore stability to their countries.

Even more important is that military rule in Africa, one of the major sources of instability on the continent, has been replaced by democratic civilian rule in most of Africa. The era of the Mobutus, a CIA protégé, is over in Africa. African democracies are by no means perfect. The results of elections in African are still being hotly disputed. But, there is no denying the fact increasing democratisation is taking place all over Africa.

By far, the most urgent problem faced by African leaders is the mass poverty prevalent in their countries. The quest for economic growth in Africa and the reduction of mass poverty are the most important tasks now facing African leaders. Foreign aid and investments will always be welcomed. But much more important is the lack of trade opportunities for African economies. Increasing protectionism in the advanced industrial economies, including the US, is making it increasingly difficult for African states to export non-oil commodities to the rich countries. Without freer access to the markets of the rich countries, African economies will find it extremely difficult to grow. The Washington consensus has failed to provide Africa with this window of opportunity. The proposals at the Doha talks offer a better opportunity, but the US does not seem to be keen in supporting these alternatives. The US President-elect, Barack Obama, should revisit this problem with a view to providing Africa with easier entry into the markets of the rich countries.

At their talks in Washington on November 15, the G20 leaders agreed that urgent reforms of the IMF and the World Bank are needed. These two institutions have tended to pursue in Africa policies that are detrimental to African economies. Their economic prescriptions have led most Africa economies to the path of little or no growth. Instead of expanding public expenditures in such vital areas as education, health, and infrastructure, African governments are being urged to contract public expenditure. The US, under the presidency of Barack Obama, should take the lead in ensuring a new and more equitable international economic order from which all nations, including the US, can benefit. Without growth in African economies the recovery of the global economy will be more difficult. Expectations are high in Africa that the US will support Africa and other poor countries in their quest for a more equitable international economic order.


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