Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Obama's African options

Andrew Harding at The BBC reports

Obama second term: What it means for Africa

                                      Cartoon   Damien Glez  Radio Netherlands Worldwide 

Some people on this continent expected more from the son of man who grew up herding goats in a village in western Kenya.

President Barack Obama made only one, cursory trip to sub-Saharan Africa during his first term, and at the time made it fairly clear that he would not be smothering the continent with attention.

"Africa's future is up to Africans," he said in Ghana, in a speech that quietly acknowledged the limitations of American influence in a region that now trades more with China than the US.

So how much will change in Mr Obama's second term?

That question was, perhaps understandably, barely mentioned in an election campaign that focused on pressing domestic issues and the Arab uprisings.

Not only those issues but why give dorks like Donald Trump amunition. I think Obama demonstrated he was taking Africa seriously with the effort that his administration particularly Clinton put in. 

In his victory speech, Mr Obama again made only passing reference to "a decade of war" and to "people in distant nations… risking their lives right now just for a chance to argue about the issues that matter, the chance to cast their ballots like we did today".

Lesley Warner at Lesley on Africa has a more positive out look.

"A less skeptical Lesley on Africa now wonders if the document was released not to check a box (like, hey Africa, we’re still thinking about you), but rather to set the groundwork for a (slightly) increased focus on Africa in a possible second administration."

Behind the scenes US diplomacy will no doubt continue to be furiously in demand.

Alex Engwete provides a look at Congolese ( read African ) expectation.

"What I find baffling, beyond the election result, is that Obamania
hasn't abated this side of the Third World boonies.

Somehow, Congolese--and by and large Africans for that matter--still
misconstrue Obama as their next-door "bro," not as the "Planetarch" at
the helm of the most formidable imperial machine the world has ever

Try as I might, I couldn't make my audience shed the blinders of that
"racialist" misconception." 

The way I see it Obama will never meet African expectations. The best thing he can do is not raise those expectectations as Lesley reminds us, "The phrase the Administration used at the time was that Africa was not a world apart, but part of the world."

Alex observation nails it. I would actually say that the Obamania extends beyond just Africa.

No 'Obama doctrine'

In the first term, the focus was on headline-hogging conflicts in Ivory Coast, Somalia, Sudan and South Sudan and even a close-run election in Zambia.

The start of the second term is likely to be preoccupied with more of the same: International efforts to remove al-Qaeda-linked rebels from the north of Mali - by force or negotiation or both - and efforts to ensure that Zimbabwe and Kenya avoid repeating the violence that wrecked their last elections.

Zimbabwe will prove difficult and I suspect Kenya won't be all that easy the domestic security situation in Kenya seems to be heading south.

If Kenya pulls off a free and fair vote, expect a fairly prompt visit to Nairobi by Air Force One.

Not holding my breath.

So far, there is no sign of a grand "Obama doctrine" for Africa - and perhaps that is a good thing given the diversity and complexity of the continent.
Mr Obama has left it to others to warn about the dangers posed by an insatiable China.

But his second term may give him an opportunity to move away from the distorting, "war on terror" preoccupations of Mali and Somalia, and focus on the broader issues - trade in particular - that he raised three years ago in Ghana.

Trade is the most effective way to help Africa out of the era of the Crocodiles and into prosperity. 

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