Obama mania falls flat in Africa


US President Barack Obama cannot solve all of Africa’s problems. Africans did not expect him to either but they certainly anticipated that he would reverse former president George Bush’s Africa policies. Almost a year into the Obama presidency, the reversal has largely not occurred. Obama has in fact continued many of Bush’s Africa policies. The Obama administration does not make use of the Bush government’s ‘war on terror’ rhetoric but its counter-terrorism strategies in Africa are not dissimilar to those employed by its predecessor. Like Bush, Obama has not been pro-active in African war and peace issues, as evidenced by how the Democratic Republic of Congo’s (DRC) conflict has continued without determined external intervention. The Africa Command (AFRICOM), which was created by Bush in 2007 to conduct “sustained security engagement through military-to-military programs, military-sponsored activities, and other military operations as directed to promote a stable and secure African environment in support of U.S. foreign policy” has not been disbanded despite its skeptical treatment in Southern Africa and the legitimate criticism leveled against it for its co-operation with some corrupt and repressive African militaries.
Many commentators have argued that Obama has the undisputed credibility to make foreign policy pronouncements and actions that all previous American presidents could not. For instance, Paul Collier argues that Obama “has the legitimacy in Africa” to use AFRICOM troops to put down coups against legitimately elected governments. Collier and others dangerously equate African goodwill towards Obama and the culture of celebrity – Obama mania – surrounding him with legitimacy in Africa. Obama is a black of Kenyan origin who won resoundingly at the polls but the election was an American one. Obama is the legitimate president of America not Africa. America has been on the wrong side of human rights and democracy in Africa historically. The negative legacies of America’s involvement in African affairs endure. Thus it will continue to be treated with resentment and suspicion in many parts of Africa regardless the fact that Obama is popular and black.
Obama and the US Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice have referred to the human rights violations occurring in Sudan’s Darfur region as genocide but the US Special Envoy to Sudan Scott Gration has a record of contradicting their conclusion. Do the human rights problems in Darfur constitute genocide or not? The Obama team has been divided on this question. To add fuel to the fire, Gration infamously stated that “we have got to think about giving out cookies – kids, countries, they react to gold stars, smiley faces, handshakes, agreements, talk, engagement” when describing how to tackle Sudan’s Omar Bashir government. The disingenuous description was sanitized as “a policy of incentives and pressure” in the new Sudan policy Obama announced this month. As with Iran and North Korea, Obama’s Sudan policy seeks to engage not isolate. However, engagement has been absent with regards to Zimbabwe, which remains isolated and sanctioned despite the Southern African Development Community and African Union’s recognition of Zimbabwe’s unity government and their calls for the lifting of sanctions. The inconsistency has allowed Mugabe to argue that Obama, like Bush before him, seeks imperialist ‘regime change’ in Zimbabwe. Africa must resign itself to the naked reality that there will be no marked shift in America’s foreign policy on Africa, even under Obama.


~ by wanderer and his shadow on October 29, 2009.

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