Since Barack Obama was was announced this morning as President elect, you will no doubt have read countless pieces about what this means for Africa .Well I’m here to clear that up for you, Obama’s victory means nothing for Africa, zilch,nada.
Obama winning a second term has zero implications for the continent of Africa and its inhabitants. Many stories will appear shortly on the internet touting what four more years of the presidents new term will mean for the continent, ignore them. They are full of puff and fluff. If anything the question people should be asking is this, What are Africa’s’ plans for the US now they have re-elected Obama, but I can only dream.
In his first four years, he followed the standard protocol that US presidents observe with regards to sub-saharan Africa. A visit to 3 or 4 of the 14 democracies on the continent, and big speeches about how Africa has to get its act right. The protocol is well choreographed, the visit will always include a visit to Ghana, which by the way is the only African country where the last three presidents of the US have all visited.
Because of Obama’s Kenyan roots many Africans wrongly thought that he would be more focused on helping Africans, if anything the last fours years has shown that to be a grossly inaccurate assumption. Indeed President George W. Bush took (and continues to take) a more active and engaged interest in the African continent than Obama has done.
US interest in Sub-Saharan Africa can be summed up in two simple sentences, using AFRICOM to keep a check on Chinese Influence and jihadists, and deciding how to use USAID budget to buy influence on the continent.
George W Bush took an active part in the second bit, extending the AGOA free trade agreement first introduced by Bill Clinton, and committing billions to the fight against HIV on the continent. In his first term Obama has been more focused on using Africom as geo-strategic asset in the fight against rising terrorism and other US enemies including the now famous Joseph Kony.
He has the left the USAID side of the equation to be managed by Hillary Clinton, who has done a good job it.That is the sum total of US interest in Africa, the idea that America has Africa’s well being at heart is a myth perpetuated by those who stand to gain from this,ie. NGO’s, UN etc who collect money from American taxpayers to spend on their pet projects and the white 4×4’s blighting the terrain and environment of countless African countries.
Why do I say this? The one policy decision the US could make, which would make a real fundamental difference to the poor people in Africa will be to remove Agricultural subsidies that US farmers receive and also to convince the EU to do the same. The subsidies farmers in the US and EU receive systematically penalises African farmers, denying them access to some of the biggest markets in the world. With close to 60% of the economies of most African countries being Agricultural based, this policy has a real chilling effect on the ground.
The official White House line is clearly different from what I have outlined here, the White House recently released a paper entitled U.S. Strategy Toward Sub-Saharan Africa, in which President Obama highlights the successes of the African economy, as well as the four-pronged economic strategy that the United States will be embarking on in its economic relationship with the Africa.
These include: strengthening democratic institutions in Africa by promoting accountable and responsive governance and leaders that embody such values; spur and encourage economic growth, trade and investment by promoting the regional integration of African markets; advance peace and security by promoting regional security cooperation and security sector reform and; promote opportunity and development by addressing the constraints to growth and poverty reduction, as well as promoting food security and access to opportunities for women and youth. The usual polemic delivered by western leaders whenever they have to talk about Africa.
For far too long African leaders have acted like victims, travelling around world capitals begging for money, whilst resources are being mismanaged by their countrymen back home. In a recent research paper put out by Voice of America(VOA), African leaders complained that the US Government wasn’t doing enough to steer investment into Africa. This begs the question of whether these leaders understand capitalism at all? The US Government cannot and does not order its citizens to go and invest in countries outside the US, the fact that the Chinese Government is doing this doesn’t mean it should be the expected norm.
Obama’s victory is not going to change the current trajectory that Africa as a continent is on, this is one of a rising continent with about fourteen successful democracies and a whole heap of other mismanaged countries trying to reach middle income status.
The one change we can expect will be the resurgence of AFRICOM on the continent, under the guise of fighting terrorism, expect AFRICOM to play an active role in many countries on the continent. Their real mission is none other than what the CIA has been doing on the continent since the 60’s; espionage, keeping the communists (read China) in check, and ensuring the US remains a relevant power broker in the region.
I’m glad Barack Obama prevailed, but not holding out for any change in US policy towards Africa.