By Ralph Cherbo Geeplay
It’s the Obama Africa trip, and everyone is talking. Sure bet, everywhere Obama goes he grabs the headlines, and why not? He’s the American President; leader of the world’s arguably only unipolar power. Yes, China’s influence is spreading and its soft power taking root and getting noticed, especially in Africa. But the United States still commands the bully pulpit, especially where global dynamics and power play are discussed and policies enunciated when the big boys [world powers] sit around the table.
Noticeably, the euphoria that greeted Obama’s election and re-election in Africa is being slowly washed away say reports, because his Africa policy is languid. He comes to Africa walking in the shadows of George W. Bush.
At any given time, you may want to talk about the unilateralism of President Bush’s Iraq policy, and as a neo-conservative, his obsession with doing away with the Kyoto protocol and the other anomalies that stained his presidency, but take nothing away from President Bush; he was a friend of Africa.
As Mr. Obama June 26 visit draws nearer, there are domestic complaints about the trip costs; you heard nothing of such sort when his counterpart the Chinese President Xi Jinping visited three months ago. Interesting, Jinping also visited Tanzania and South Africa, countries that are also on Mr. Obama’s agenda, including Senegal. Obama’s trip, wired reports say could cost somewhere in the neighborhood of 100 million dollars, precious tax payers money frivolously spent say some US commentators and politicians in an era of tight budget cuts and debts.
“When Barack Obama sets foot in Africa on June 26th he will do better still. Warships accompany the first African-American commander-in-chief, equipped with state-of-the-art hospitals should he fall ill, fighter jets patrol the skies non-stop, and three lorries carry bulletproof glass for hotels where he beds down. But official reluctance to employ snipers against cheetahs and lions has led to the cancellation of a presidential safari,” says the British Economist magazine.
The show of force and pomp are interesting. There is a new thinking today on the continent, say observers, as Africa welcome Chinese investment, in the process posting impressive growth rates with six of the world’s ten fastest growing economies located in sub-Saharan Africa, according to the International Monetary Fund [IMF], whether those growth rates will be sustained, and how leaders on the continent utilize the new found opportunity is altogether another matter. But more so, it is hard to discuss Africa’s storied past without talking about Europe and the US polices which saw the continent bleed, literally, the past decades due largely to colonialism and the cold war, commentators have said.
Africa was used as pawn in a power play by nations to advance their interests. “While the United States on the other hand can claim no indiscretion as far as colonialism is concerned, it cannot excuse it itself from the loot of the continent when you look at the cold war tactics it employed for decades which saw leaders like Mobutu Sese Seko and General Samuel Doe as staunch Washington allies, even as they denied their own peoples human rights, led with iron hands. A Situation which had disastrous attending consequences on Africans in general,” said a political
science professor at the University of Liberia.
He also said, “The wars in Liberia, Congo, and many other places on the continent can be traced to America’s support for dictators in Africa,” and that President Bush perhaps, given his adventurism, if anything was right on Africa, and the record is there to support him. He did make concrete moves to address in comprehensive manner Africa’s myriad problems despite western bias. The west have an agenda of promoting democracy and human rights in Africa only when it suits their needs.
The United States particularly has a history of buying leaders allegiances in Africa, according to pundits. “They are democratic America’s undemocratic allies. They may rise to power through bloody ClA-backed coups and rule by terror and torture,” said Dennis Bernstein, a method especially prevalent during the cold war. These vestiges are still carried over and do hurt the African people.
To make the argument that Africans expect too much from the Obama’s administration, John Campbell, a senior fellow for Africa policy studies at the US-based Council on Foreign Relations think-tank calls the American commander in chief, “A victim of unrealistic expectations.” Says Campbell, “largely because he had a Kenyan father,” but, “Sometimes African commentators forget that the president is an American, not an African.” This is true, or else he would not have been elected president of the US.
And that is why although his connection and lineage to the continent is well known, observers say Africans must expect nothing much from the Obama administration during his presidency, when you considered that under president George W. Bush, Africa saw $18 billion to fighting HIV/Aids, according to reports, and because Bush’s efforts the scourge is slowly retreating.
The Bush administration provided support in a $34 billion worth of debt cancellation initiative for 27 African states; he also started an effort that “halved Malaria in 15 African countries.” His condemnation of Sudan’s Omar al Bashir in the Darfur conflict was unflinching, calling the
Darfur situation by its true name “genocide,” as he worked for a peace deal in the Sudan that “Saved millions of lives”, according to aid campaigner Bob Geldof.
Hence, if Somalia is seeing peace today, it was Dubya that backed Ethiopian troops to battle fanatic Islamists there initially. Take Liberia as an example, it was Mr. Bush persistence that finally saw Liberia’s Charles Taylor reins on power loosened when he ordered troops for Liberia and told Taylor explicitly you “must leave.” His father continuing American tradition in disregard to Africa ignored Liberia for Iraq in 1990 despite Liberia’s long standing tradition of being a friend to the United States. Had that conflict not progressed beyond its initial stages almost 300,000 lives would have been safe, the history is deep between both countries. Bush would pay Liberia an official visit before he left office and led efforts to cancel Liberia’s debts.
Today Liberia’s economy is slowly emerging out of its slumber. The Larger case can also be made that because President Bush was instrumental to canceling Africa’s debt, that move has also provided a platform that has seen economic activity peak, hence the current traction. Obama comes to Africa at a time of great hope for the continent. New forward thinking leaders are emerging and democratic pluralism is taking hold, as Africans do away with the post-colonial dictators and dull-witted cold war rulers.
For the first time in this decade the richest black person in the world is not an American or Caribbean but an indigenous African. At 16 billion and counting, Nigerian Aliko Dangote’s wealth perhaps underscores a great promise of a rising continent.
The success story of the continent rise economically in the 21st century must be hailed by Africans themselves who are investing heavily in their own continent and China’s hunger for raw materials, which has seen the Asian dragon voraciously craved Africa’s wealth as it wets it’s apatite to feed it growing markets. Today foreign direct investment is forecast to reach about $57-billion this year, rising from $50-billion the year before, according to the African Development Bank [ADB]. Renaissance Capita, a Russian financial institution says Africa will be the “most exciting and rewarding continent for the next 30 years”, as it produces “more gross domestic product in 2050 than the United States and Europe combined today.”
If those forecasts are right, with African economies growing currently at near six percent annually, Mr. Obama visit then is timely, and it remains to be seen if his legacy will parallel President George W. Bush in the coming years when Africa comes up in policy discussions. But in it all, when you consider American policy towards the continent the past decades, you see definitely the marks, and footprints—that George W. Bush, Iraq and race aside, had an impressive Africa’s policy compared to his predecessors and successor.