Thoughts on President Obama’s African Trip (June, 2013)

President Obama’s second trip to the continent of Africa since assuming the U.S. Presidency has been overshadowed by details

Courtesy of Wikipedia Commons

Courtesy of Wikipedia Commons

of the costly and extensive logistics and security arrangements and reports of African disappointment at lack of attention to the continent by America’s first black President.

“. . . Africans expected more from Obama, . . . [we] don’t feel the voice of the United States,” is how the Washington Post reports the comments made by one blogger. However, the blogger appears to have forgotten that up through much of the 20th century, America’s “voice” in Africa was not particularly benign. It included decades of military interventions to prop up authoritarian regimes or to depose democratically-elected leaders who the United States did not like. Like the Soviet Union, the United States saw African countries primarily as pawns of their cold war with each other for supremacy. And who can forget the long-lived US support for the South African apartheid regime?

Current U.S. policy in Africa is evolving. President Obama’s schedule suggests a strong focus on trade and investment. Like Vice President Biden’s May tour of Latin American and the Caribbean just ahead of Chinese President Xi Jinping’s visit to the region, this focus can also be seen as a response to China’s presence in Africa.

Senegal National Flag, Wikipedia Commons

Senegal national flag, Wikipedia Commons

South Africa national flag, Wikipedia Commons

South Africa national flag, Wikipedia Commons

Tanzania national flag, Wikipedia Commons

Tanzania national flag, Wikipedia Commons

The Obama Administration has also continued predecessors’ strong focus on security and military arrangements. US State Department Bureau of Africa site and evident focus on military support seemed to underscore this. As a result, in South Africa, President Obama’s visit is expected to meet protests from trade union and other activists.

There are also calls for President Obama to use his trip to look at the continent’s development concerns. In addition to continuing initiatives begun under his predecessor, President George Bush, the evidence suggests that in this area, President Obama has channeled support for Africa’s development challenges in partnership with other major powers, international organizations and private sector. The New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition and the recently-signed (June 8, 2013) Global Nutrition for Growth Compact are examples. This multilateral approach does make it harder to see or feel the “voice” of the United States.

This may be a good thing. US policy to any country or region anywhere in the world is always going to be shaped by US perceptions of what is in its best interests. The more that perception incorporates an understanding of our mutual interdependence and shared humanity, the better it is for the United States and its partners. Africa needs a U.S. policy that evolves irrespective of the heritage or color of the occupant of the White House. So, perhaps the best thing that President Obama can do for Africa is to use the rest of his term to shape a rational and humane Africa policy that will persist independently of whoever is the next U.S. President.

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