City of Brass

City of Brass

Obama and Africa policy

posted by Aziz Poonawalla

Africa always seems to get less attention than it deserves, which is remarkable given how enormous it is, in terms of sheer geography and population. I bitterly complained earlier how muslims worldwide favor injustices by Jews on muslims in the Middle East and tend to ignore the far more serious plight of muslims in Africa, usually preyed upon by other muslims. However the general apathy towards Africa extends throughout our society, all the way to the top. Case in point, we haven’t really heard much from President Obama in terms of Africa-specific policy.

I’m certainly not the first to note the absence of Africa as a policy agenda for the Obama Administration. Blogger Bruce Dixon, of the Black Agenda Report, has looked at it as well and evaluated Obama’s policy thus far. Here’s his comments on Africa policy specifically:

Obama’s Africa Policy: Our Brotherman and the Motherland

In recent years the US has provided arms transfers, military training and military assistance to more than 50 out of Africa’s 54 nations. Hence Africa is the most war-torn region on earth, containing millions of square miles in which hospitals, schools, agriculture, industry and civil society have collapsed into vast law-free zones, such as the eastern Congo, where 5 million souls have perished since the mid 1990s. These law-free zones have proven an ideal business-friendly environment for the extraction of Congo’s timber and mineral wealth, including 90% of the world’s coltan, an essential strategic mineral found in every cell phone, computer, aircraft and modern electronic device. Resources extracted from law free zones in the Congo and elsewhere in Africa invariably find their way into “legitimate” markets of Western Europe and the US.

While the death toll in neighboring Darfur the death toll is a twentieth or a hundredth that of the Congo, according to Mahmood Mandani and others who are in a position to know, but the Obama Administration, just like the Bush Administration before it, calls Darfur a “genocide,” and not the Congo. The difference, say many, is that the Sudanese oil is being pumped out by the Chinese, while the profits from 5 million Congolese dead end up here. The “genocide” label is about as truthful as Saddam’s WMD, another excuse for military intervention.

Barack Obama has been to Somalia, but his administration continues the twenty year low-intensity war against that unhappy country. Somalia hasn’t had a central government in two decades not because its people don’t want one, but because successive US Republican and Democratic administrations brand as “terrorist Al Qeada sympathizers” any Somali government that won’t grant the US the exclusive rights to the untapped lake of oil beneath the country.

The Bush administratin established AFRICOM, the US imperial command on the continent, a move so unpopular that only one African government in 54 will dare openly accept it, fearing the wrath of their own constituents. Although it is a military command headed a black US general AFRICOM is seconded by a civilian from the State Department, and liberally sprinkled with representatives of every US civilian governmental, and some ostensible non-governmental entity which does business in Africa. Thus AFRICOM deliberately blurs the line between US civilian and military involvement on the African continent, and even more thoroughly militarizes US policy toward Africa.

Nobody who thinks half a minute about it imagines that the militarization of Africa, and of US policy toward Africa is a good thing. It has been US policy for more than two decades. Among the bipartisan designers of this policy are Obama’s top foreign policy advisors including Madeline Albright and Susan Rice. You can look awfully hard for some good news in Obama’s policy toward Africa so far, and find no reason for optimism.

We’ll give him one point out of five anyway, for no good reason. Call it hope.

Obama has a lot of time ahead to devote more attention to the dark continent. I am more willing to give him leeway for now because after all, the Prez has plenty on his plate. But by the time Obama starts asking America to give him another term, there needs to be a broader focus than the economy and the war. This is Nation Building in its purest, most honorable sense.

Related – I gave President Bush some well-deserved kudos for his own policy in Africa. I expect Obama to do far better, though – and not because he’s black, but because he’s a liberal.

  • Taha Raja

    The concept of Aid to Africa is becoming a norm and nobody is seriously questioning the whole practice of Aid to these developing nations – especially Africa – until lately.
    Yes Obama may not be putting more to “Aid” Africa, but I would submit to you that the whole Aid to Africa topic needs to be re-examined. Dambisa Moyo ( who recently came to the limelight with her new provocatively titled book “Dead Aid” argues that Africa has become completely dependent on the Aid from the Western Countries and in many ways has enslaved the continent in a different way. In fact she argues that the current form of Aid is more sinister and damaging than the colonial times when most of Africa was under the British, French, and Belgian control.
    Her recent appearance on Charlie Rose:
    She argues in her book “Dead Aid” that the Aid to Africa to the dictatorial governments has made them less accountable to their own constituencies and forced more despair in Africa. The Aid is having a reverse effect of suppressing democracy even further because the governments do not have to listen to their citizens, they just pander and beg for more money from the Western developed nations. These politicians in Africa now make it a full time job to pander to these Western Countries to get more money to line their pockets and do absolutely nothing to satisfy their constituencies’ needs.
    I am personally from Tanzania and I tend to agree with Dambisa’s theory. My personal family expereinces and what I have seen in the last decade, I think we need to re-examine the Africa aid policy and take fresh new approach. Looking at what Dambisa is proposing may be a good start as a template for way to help Africa.

  • Sara

    AFRICOM was not established by the Obama administration, check your facts. It went into effect October 2008, under the Bush Administration and was suggested many years before that.

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