In about four weeks Americans will be going to the polls to elect a new President. The choice is between Senators Barack Obama and John McCain. Under the Bush administration, US interests were manifested in funding and supports in the fights against HIV/AIDS and initiatives through faith based organizations. Credit must be given to President Bush's Emergency Program for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), which with 1.7 million people in Africa on anti-retrovirals, has been an extremely important initiative. His program to eradicate malaria and address neglected tropical diseases marked a new dimension and positive development in US government initiatives in Africa.During this period we have seen an increase in philantropist and non-profit organizations involvements. Bill and Belinda Gates Foundation, the Clinton Global Initiatives to mention a few in Africa. January 2009 is expected to offer a new direction in American -African relations because for the first time, an African American with an African father may be elected the next President of America.Barack Obama of Luo heritage in Kenya will either chart a new course in American -African relations or John McCain will continue the same path as President George W Bush. The response to Obama's candidacy in Africa is as expected but no one knows what it means for the continent. The recent visits of many African leaders to the UN would have provided an insight into what an Obama Presidency might mean but with no official coverage or meeting with any African leader Barack Obama fail to take advantage of this annual prilgimage to New York. However, his heritage and the fact that a former Assistant secretary of State for Africa under President Clinton, Susan Rice is his foreign policy adviser means that Africa will be an integral part of his foreign policy interests.
But we must still ponder what we can expect from these two candidates, if either of them is elected the next President of the United States.
Carina Rey in an opinion piece, on August 14th, 2008, in Pambazuka News, provided an insight into what might guide an Obama foreign policy in Africa. According to her ,Obama" will pursue a more enlightened foreign policy towards Africa than George Bush has and more importantly than John McCain would....His family ties to Africa (Kenya to be exact) have, however, given him a greater personal connection to the continent and its people than any other American presidential candidate before him. As far as I am aware he also has the most cosmopolitan upbringing of any presidential candidate to date. These facts combined with his intellectual strength, eloquence, and ability to think outside of the box suggest that if elected president he will pursue a more diplomacy-oriented and judicious foreign policy in general. With regard to Africa, the simple fact that the continent is already on his radar further suggests we can expect him to have a greater hand in proactively crafting his administration's Africa agenda, rather than doing what most US presidents have done before him: neglect Africa except when the US's strategic interests are involved, and we all know how that story repeatedly turned out". Africa is an area of priority according to Obama's website. To Ms Rey,though Africa is featured on the list of Obama's top eight foreign policy priorities, which in descending order are: Ending the War in Iraq; Iran; Renewing American Diplomacy; Nuclear Weapons, Building a 21st Century Military; Bipartisanship and Openness; Israel; and Africa, rather than taking umbrage at Africa's bottom position on the list, she is "pleasantly surprised that it is on the list to begin with (needless to say Africa doesn't feature at all in John McCain's foreign policy priorities). Coming in right after Israel on a list that doesn't even mention China is, I think, quite suggestive of how important Africa is to Obama". Barack Obama will also be engaged in, stopping the genocide in Darfur, ending the conflict in Congo, and bringing former Liberian president Charles Taylor to justice.
An Obama agenda will also work with Congress to increase American investment in foreign assistance,to redress the lack of increase in development assistance in areas such as democracy building, the rule of law, judicial reform, the strengthening of parliaments,education and enhancing the entrepreneurial skills of men and women . Obama will spearhead an initiative to eliminate the global education deficit by establishing a Global Education Fund to help fill the financing gap for primary education in Africa and the developing world. He will also make the Millennium Development Goals America's goals.
Also, Witney W. Schneidman, an adviser on Africa to Barack Obama, in an guest column on allAfrica.com of September 29, 2008, sets out Obama's fundamental policy objectives for Africa. In the piece, he said Obama's African agenda is informed by the interest in his candidacy in the African diaspora community which can be a game changer in voter drive and on election day. Obama's African initiative is premised on the fact that:.
Africans are the most educated immigrant group in the country.
African-born men and women have higher median earnings than all foreign-born men and women in the U.S.
Remittances from Africans in the diaspora are on the rise, estimated to be in excess of $4 to 6 billion per year. Nigerians, as one example, remit more than $3 billion per year.
There is great expectation in Africa from an Obama presidency
With this in mind, Barack Obama will therefore pursue three fundamental objectives on the continent.
- 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.
According to Schneidman, Obama will also pursue conflict resolutions in Darfur, Somalia, Eastern Congo,the Niger Delta in Nigeria and Zimbabwe. Obama will also sustain AFRICOM, the US military command for Africa to realize its potential, in cooperation with other U.S. agencies and regional partners, to promote peace, security, and stability on the continent.In addition he will create a Shared Security Partnership Program to build the infrastructure to deliver effective counter-terrorism training, and to create a strong foundation for coordinated action against al Qaeda and its affiliates in Africa .The program will provide assistance with information sharing, training, operations, border security, anti-corruption programs, technology and the targeting of terrorist financing.
An Obama Presidency would establish an Add Value to Agriculture Initiative (AVTA), to accelerate Africa's integration into the global economy and to expand prosperity on the continent, which will spur research and innovation aimed at partnering with land grant institutions, private philanthropies and businesses to promote higher yield seeds, better irrigation methods and affordable and safe fertilizers. With the believe that such an initiative will address issues related to food security, Barack Obama will strengthen the African Growth and Opportunity Act to ensure that African producers can access the U.S. market and will encourage more American companies to invest in Africa. He will also work with the Overseas Private Investment Corporation to develop lending facilities to small and medium businesses, so that those companies under $5 million can become $10 and $20 million companies, creating new jobs, sustainable incomes and partners for American companies.
To address stagnation in the areas of democracy building, the rule of law, judicial reform, the strengthening of parliaments, education and enhancing the entrepreneurial skills of men and women, Obama intend to work with Congress to increase American investment in foreign assistance. He will spearhead an initiative to eliminate the global education deficit by establishing a Global Education Fund to help fill the financing gap for primary education in Africa and the developing world and make the Millennium Development Goals America's goals.
Barack Obama's Presidency will surely provide a new vista to US-African relationship, the question will therefore be whether it will match the level of expectations because of his African heritage.But given the domestic policy demands and the economic problems on the homefront and the peripherilization of Africa in American interest sphere, it may be difficult for Obama to achieve all these lofty goals. The economy and the war against terror might force his administration to limit his expenditure abroad and his African initiatives, may be the first casualty of such a cut.
Senator John McCain in a May 2007 speech before the Hoover Institution, said the United States should promote democracy in Africa. According to him the US should join in a League of Democracies, to help regions in Africa besets by humanitarian crises.McCain also said the United States should support those in Africa "who favor open economies and democratic government against populist demagogues who are dragging their nations back to the failed socialist policies of the past." In a March 2008 speech, McCain said the United States must "engage" on a political, economic, and security level with friendly governments across Africa, but insist on improvements in transparency and the rule of law.McCain also said as he would establish the goal of eradicating malaria in Africa. He also condemn the Sudanese government as "chiefly responsible" for the violence in Darfur, and demanded that the Khartoum regime adhere to the Comprehensive Peace Agreement.
Peter Pham, a foreign policy and national security advisor to Senator John McCain , espouse McCain long believe that the continent holds incredible promise, and that "we must refocus on the bright promise offered by many countries on that continent," rather than being fixated on its problems. And that McCain has repeatedly pledged to stand shoulder to shoulder with US friends in Africa who share US faith in the God-given dignity of our common humanity, the liberating power of human freedom, and the uplifting wealth-producing potential of free markets. A McCain Administration would build on the success of the Bush Adminsitration and working with Congress to consolidate the comprehensive trade and investment policy for Africa introduced in the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) of 2000, which substantially lowered commercial barriers with the United States and allowed sub-Saharan African countries to qualify for trade benefits such as having goods from their nascent manufacturing sectors imported into the United States tariff-free. He would also look to go beyond AGOA, by opening up additional trade opportunities for African economies, calling for a concerted effort to mobilize the private sector to invest in Africa, creating new opportunities not only for American business, but also for Africans to achieve their own dreams. In this regard, McCain also call for an intensified effort by African governments to eliminate unnecessary barriers and disincentives that continue to discourage both African and foreign private investors.
McCain administration will secure for AFRICOM the resources it will need as it begins its mission, in partnership with other agencies of the U.S. government as well as international partners, to contribute to a more peaceful and secure Africa. And that establishing a unified command for Africa is a useful step in better cooperating with African governments. The new command's emphasis needs to be on working with African and other partners to build up security capabilities and develop, in conjunction with various agencies across the U.S. government, those countries' capacity for securing essential services, a viable market economy, rule of law, democratic institutions and a robust civil society. While traditional "hard power" operations will also be a responsibility of AFRICOM, "soft power" instruments, including diplomatic outreach, political persuasion, and economic programs should be part of US total national strategy of engagement.
In both candidate's policy positions on Africa, there are similarities of purpose but Barack Obama is more focused and in depth than McCains. But given the nature of their respective parties and the history of their involvement in Africa , it is difficult to say precisely if these similarities will persist overtime. But one can be sure that, the expectation is different for either of these candidates and because of this, Obama has a higher standard to meet than McCain