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All eyes on the continent of Africa


In 2012, Africa is getting primary attention, to be sure. Egypt is in Africa, as are Libya and Tunisia–three countries prominent in the Arab Spring dynamics. Mali, a major challenge now, partially because of the availability of NATO and French-supplied arms in Libya, is becoming a huge headache, and Somalia remains a serious problem. Senegal rather quietly had a major election that smoothly transitioned from one administration to another. Libya and Egypt had democratic votes for new leadership for the first time in decades, while most of the AU countries continued to refuse to arrest a sitting African head of state, as called for by the International Criminal Court.

Static, Africa is not.

China is in Africa’s wheelhouse big-time in terms of economic investment, exports and business relations. France never left, and neither did Britain, both former colonial metropoles maintaining strong political-economic ties–the French through the CFA Zone and the post-colonial pact, and the British through its African Commonwealth zone.

America, not wanting to be too late to the party, has now thrown down its own gauntlet. On June 14, 2012, President Obama issued his “U.S. Strategy Towards Sub-Saharan Africa.”

In one way, this document was a restatement and elaboration of what the president had said on his trip to Ghana in 2009, before visiting the infamous Door of No Return at El Mina slave castle on the Ghanaian coast. Both there and in the new statement, he re-emphasized two major foci: the U.S. principal support for democratic institutions and good governance in Africa, and for expanding economic investment and commercial partnerships, based on the idea that “democratic institutions lead countries to achieve greater prosperity and stability, are more successful in mitigating conflict and countering transnational threats, and serve as stronger partners of the United States.”

The Ghana speech can be viewed as the precursor to this new iteration, including defining most of the major principles of the administration’s Africa policy.

The other two points added in the new document, but barely mentioned in the 2009 speech, were “ensuring regional security, and continuing to improve developmental assistance initiatives to Africa.”

The regional security issue invokes the specter of the expansion of Africom, the U.S. military command for Africa–a Bush initiative– that is currently headquartered in Stuttgart, Germany, but that made a major permanent step into the continent via the 2011 Libyan conflict, which removed Muammar Gadhafi from power. The last issue involves quality-of-life improvement activities in Africa, including health, protecting the environment, etc.

Looked at another way, this new document, with the introduction of at least one novel strategy–a “Doing Business in Africa Campaign” by the Obama administration–can be called President Obama’s first organized, clear and decisive plan to promote Africa’s governmental and economic development, with implementation teeth included.

America’s interest in Africa, signaled by this new policy statement, has apparently spiked upwards. This change was reflected in the lively participation of the U.S. in the recent Global African Diaspora Summit in South Africa this May.

The U.S. has also recently put pressure on Uganda and other African countries, urging them to stop restricting freedom of the press, to increase the support for inclusive participation in local and national affairs, and to stop suppressing LGBT groups. This latter issue is a very tough sale on the continent, and will not be resolved soon.

This new policy has already stepped on some political toes in Washington. As mentioned in one of my earlier columns, Congressmen Bobby Rush and Chris Smith had introduced H.R. 4221 to expand the influence of the current African Growth and Opportunity Act, and there was (and is) a companion Senate bill, S.B. 2215. Neither legislative effort has gotten out of committee, or gotten full congressional votes, because the administration has signaled that it sees them as interfering in its foreign policy initiatives, namely, this new Africa statement. Africa is indeed in high cotton right now.

The other interesting fact is that the president issued this new policy in the middle of his re-election cycle, when clearly most of the American public is not interested, and can easily see it as a distraction. That did not deter the president, however, and that is to be noted. Everything, apparently, is not political in that sense, when it seems simply the right thing to do.

Amid small but discernible grumbling by some in the African American community that the president has not and is not doing enough for the “melanated” crowd, more need to pay attention to this African policy gambit. It is part of what the White House says is a substantial body of Africa-oriented accomplishments by this administration. More on that next week. Just remember the president’s words in the Ghana speech: “I see Africa as a fundamental part of our interconnected world, as partners with America on behalf of the future we want for all our children.”

Professor David L. Horne is founder and executive director of PAPPEI, the Pan African Public Policy and Ethical Institute, which is a new 501(c)(3) pending community-based organization or non-governmental organization (NGO). It is the stepparent organization for the California Black Think Tank which still operates and which meets every fourth Friday.

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