Obama and Africa: Year One


In 2006, it all started when then U.S. Senator Obama visited the African continent, starting on Kenyan soil. He spoke truth to the local leadership about the corrosive impact of corruption in Nairobi. In South Africa, he demanded honesty from the government about HIV/Aids, and he met with American military commanders in Djibouti at the Combined Joint Task Force ”Horn of Africa” to discuss the threat of terrorism to U.S. interests and to the interests of American partners in the region.

Later on, Obama also visited refugee camps in Chad, where he heard first-hand about the experiences of Sudanese women who had been forced from their homes and had their families torn apart, and worse, by Khartoum’s genocidal policies.

Right after Kenyan Presidential election, Barack Obama worked with the Kenyan leadership to help resolve the post-election crisis in that country, and he called for an increased pressure on Robert Mugabe for manipulating elections outcome and sponsoring violence against his own people.

Today, President Obama continues to speak out against Khartoum’s ongoing war of genocide in Darfur, and has called on Ethiopia and Eritrea to walk back from the brink of war…

In his 11 July 2009 speech in Accra, Ghana, U.S. President Obama declared, “America has a responsibility to advance this vision, not just with words, but with support that strengthens African capacity. When there is genocide in Darfur or terrorists in Somalia, these are not simply African problems – they are global security challenges, and they demand a global response.

“That is why we stand ready to partner through diplomacy, technical assistance, and logistical support, and will stand behind efforts to hold war criminals accountable. Our Africa Command is focused not on establishing a foothold in the continent, but on confronting these common challenges to advance the security of America, Africa and the world.”

And yet all the available evidence demonstrates that he is determined to continue the expansion of US military activity on the continent initiated by President Bill Clinton in the late 1990s and dramatically escalated by President George W. Bush from 2001 to 2009. While many expected the Obama administration to adopt a security policy toward Africa that would be far less militaristic and unilateral than that pursued by his predecessor, the facts show that he is in fact essentially following the same policy that has guided US military involvement in Africa for more than a decade

On the environmental front, his latest attempt in Copenhaguen to try to assure Africans nations that the U.S. under his watch are going to pay their share, in the global effort of developed countries to help Africa engage in a more green economy, is not different from past U.S. Presidents pledges towards the African continent on other important issues. 

Moreover, while running for the White House, his campaign team made a strong effort to show the world that he is a product of the African diaspora, the son of a Kenyan father, whose grandmother still lives in Kenya…  And that he has a vision for Africa.

An agenda specifically dedicated to Africa was laid down with particular objectives:

  • One is to accelerate Africa’s integration into the global economy.
  • A second is to enhance the peace and security of African states.
  • And a third is to strengthen relationships with those governments, institutions and civil society organizations committed to deepening democracy, accountability and reducing poverty in Africa.
  •  

    In these trying times, more Africans can understand that President Obama is only human, despite all the hype and the stratospheric expectations of his election that might have lead people to think that he is a superhero, and therefore he can change the world overnight. Let us keep in mind that, despite his african background, he is first and foremost an African-American, the Commander-in-Chief of the USA, and he has a portfolio of problems to solve with more obvious American interests, like two wars, Iran’s nuclear ambitions and the economy.

    But talk about hitting the reset button, in a place where it could really matter. There is no denying that President Obama, by the sheer dint of his Kenyan heritage, coupled with his progressive politics, his youth and his seemingly intuitive grasp of how people across the world interconnect, has an unprecedented opportunity to rewrite the America-Africa equation.

    And now, going forward, the question is: With the obvious African ties of this particular US President, when and how is he going to meet, consult and then decide on the fate of Africa? Is the latest Delta Airline terrorist incident on Christmas Day, that happened to have a 23 year old African student involved, going to play any role in that process?… Let us wait and see in 2010.



    Categories: Reality check

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