Friday, May 22, 2009

The Way Forward

When it comes to the US and Africa, as always, it’s the high drama that’s stealing the headlines. Navy SEAL snipers shot down three Somali pirates and rescued a hostage. Most recently, the first Guantanamo detainee to be tried on US soil happens to be Tanzanian, Ahmed Ghailani.

These stories and the issues that underlie them deserve rigorous in depth discussion perhaps on this forum another time. For now, however, what I have long been wondering about concerning the United States and Africa concerns the bigger picture.

How will US policy toward Africa change under the Obama administration?

This issue was addressed recently at a forum entitled “US-Africa Policy: The Way Forward,” which was hosted by the African Presidential Archives and Research Center (APARC) at Medgar Evers College in Brooklyn, New York.

Tanzania received exemplary representation from the honorable ambassadors to the US and UN respectively Ombeni Sefue and Augustine Mahiga. (Other distinguished academics, diplomats, and dignitaries also attended, including the former president of Botswana, Festus Mogae.)

Ambassador Sefue noted four points he believes will be critical for the Obama administration’s policy on Africa:

(1) Placing a core group of people who know Africa in key positions
(2) Putting an end to the Washington Consensus and being more multilateral with less ideological conditions placed on trade and aid
(3) Harmonizing coherent defense, political, and economic policies toward Africa
(4) Expanding and improving upon AGOA

On the first point, the administration has already made significant moves, including the appointment of the new US assistant secretary of state for African affairs, Johnnie Carson, a former ambassador to Kenya, Uganda, and Zimbabwe who has also served in numerous other African countries. After attending inauguration of South African president, Jacob Zuma, Carson, as has been widely reported, met with both President Mwai Kibaki and Prime Minister Raila Odinga to express his deep concern for deteriorating security in Kenya. Other significant appointments include Ambassador to the UN, Susan Rice, who was a diplomat for Africa during the Clinton administration.

On the second point, Obama has, in general, taken a more multilateral approach in foreign relations, and he quickly lifted the abstinence-only restrictions for funding HIV/AIDS programs. There have also been proposed increases in funding for PEPFAR, the Millennium Challenge Corporation, and other organizations. However, the expansion and reform of AGOA and a more cohesive overall policy remain to be fully articulated. Similarly, during a discussion on Somalia, Darfur, the DRC, and Zimbabwe, Ambassador Mahiga noted that past administrations have not adequately addressed conflict resolution in Africa. Nevertheless, he said he remained more than hopeful and confident in the current Obama administration.

“What is dear to Africa is also dear to the United States,” said Ambassador Mahiga at the forum. “We are very encouraged by the sounds and the signals of support we are receiving from the administration.”

Some critics have accused the Obama administration of dragging its feet when it comes to Africa policy. Simply put, some of their expectations may too high as it is so early in his administration and during a time when the US has been facing its worst economic crisis in some 75 years and such daunting foreign issues in Iraq and Afghanistan and Pakistan. As indicated by Mahiga, Sefue, and concrete measures by the administration, a new policy is slowly taking shape. The administration has also announced plans for Obama’s first visit to Africa (Ghana) as president in July.

As I write this entry, President Obama is meeting with President Jakaya Kikwete of Tanzania. We can look ahead to the report of their meeting just as we can look ahead and hope for a new way forward.


misokasick said...

I am so tired with the way we romanticize about American policy and their impact to Africa. Yes there is an impact, but can Africa free itself from this hook? There is interdependency, but yet Africa ha to take a firm and clear stand in any policy proposed for their sake. Jk meeting with Obama is insignificant. It is more symbolic. I do pray that there was some progress made based on this meeting.

salama said...

The light of hope for the new way forward, might start to come out if there's less stringent conditions on that so called aid and when we, wahusika, decide it's time to take another step and change the 'under'developed name of ours. We have little choice when it comes to aid and the sad part is, It's Us in the game and they are arbitrators in our game.

Politics/Business-as-usual African development policy, may be will turn to a success story if we, wahusika, change the course and play our part well in it. Wahusika as in "Africans" The decision to turn things around depends on either ourselves or few of us.
The glacial pace of progress in our continent is MAINLY caused by ourselves, not aid, not them but us. The most important thing for the Obama administration et al to do is, offer us different types of help to fight against despotism.

Ps. That oval office pic of prez~dents, it's kinda cool!

Anonymous said...

Salama i love the pics with president na NYENZO. did u see that JK with desa?

Azaria Mbughuni said...

Will US policies towards Africa change? That is yet to be seen. I do, however, suspect that change is coming and that Obama is waiting for the right moment. The one policy shift that the West, with the help of Obama, can do to help transform the continent is to change the terms of Trade. Ultimately, it is up to us to bring the desired changes at home. The US/West cannot do it for us.We have do it.