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Will the Obama Administration Demonstrate Change or Consistency in US Foreign Policy Towards Africa?
Corporate Africa (2009)
  • Valentina Okaru-Bisant
Within seven months of assuming his executive leadership position, President Obama visited Ghana on 10-11 July, 2009. Soon after his visit, his Secretary of State - Hillary Clinton took an eleven day tour of seven hot spot- African nations (Kenya, South Africa, Democratic Republic of Congo, Angola, Nigeria, Liberia and Cape Verde). Some news magazines reported that during Obama’s Ghana visit, he ran through the four pillars of US policy that favor African nations, including: 1) democracy, 2) opportunity, 3) public health and 4) peaceful resolution of conflicts. While he recognized some positive progress in Ghana’s leadership and governance, he was also blunt about the failures of the most African leaders. His (President Obama administration’s) visit to the continent has heightened global and African regional debates about whether his ancestral link to Kenya will make him change US foreign assistance policies towards Africa, including 1) supplying more financial assistance, but with less dominance and control over its leadership’s use of the monies, and 2) abolishing or reducing Africom’s (US Africa command aka the command agency) influence in the region. In February 6, 2007, former President Bush’s administration established the command agency following the culmination of a 10 year thought process that started (prior to his presidency) within the US Department of Defense. But some experts doubt that President Obama’ s administration will increase financial assistance to Africa and have a gentler treatment of its leaders because his perceived ties to Africa may pressure him to demonstrate lack of favoritism to the continent. This article examines the realities of consistency in US foreign polciies towards africa and asserts that the Obama administration will not be an exception in demonstrating consistency in US foreign policy towards Africa and other nations. Realistically and historically, such policies have demonstrated 1) consistency, and 2) non-altruistic nature of safeguarding US dominance and strategic interests while promoting economic development of nations. The United States always maintains a consistent foreign policy in Africa and other regions of the world regardless of political affiliation (democrat or republican) of its leadership and administration. Judging by the past several decades from the cold war era of the 1980s, US foreign assistance policies in Africa will remain largely the same in terms of its influencing factors of geo politics, national security, humanitarian concerns and resource needs. However such assistance has, to a minor extent, been unpredictable and varied with different administrations based on the degree of financial and technical assistance as well as the geographic focus. Instead of focusing the debate on whether President Obama will implement newer and more favorable foreign assistance strategies to African nations, the focus should be on the need for them (African nations ) to change what I call their “recipient and financial assistance dependency policies” towards the US and other supplier nations. The changes should include: 1) ensuring less dependency on foreign assistance, 2) implementing a system of accountability and transparency in economic development processes, 3) responding to internal community voices/concerns, 4) fulfilling needs of their local citizens, 5) promoting regional and global trade and 6) encouraging and using local entrepreneurial and other local skills. African nations should learn positive lessons from some fellow regional nations, particularly South Africa, that has taken the lead on exemplifying less dependency on foreign financial assistance and more emphasis on boosting inter-trade dependency and local entrepreneurial skills in a climate of sound governance and enforceable rule of law. They (African) should also act in their own self interest while benefiting the US and other nations. They must seek to develop and capitalize on their own regional comparative advantage to benefit their own citizens just as the US seeks to protect its own citizen’s security and resource interests/needs when making foreign policy decisions. With respect to the United States, President Obama should develop and implement alternative assistance strategies (non financed) that reduce tax burdens on US tax payers while producing real positive results on the ground in recipient nations. His (Obama) executive administration and current US legislators should capitalize on the economic recession to change (slightly) US foreign assistance policies from an emphasis on financial assistance to Chinese style non-financed based assistance, including 1) human capital development, 2) inter-trade dependency, and 3) foreign direct investments. Such non- financed based assistance strategies enhance economic development of recipient nations and empower their local citizens because the strategies avoid transfers of cash-monies into pockets of corrupt African leaders in countries with poor governance structures and unenforceable rule of law. They (non- financed strategies) also ameliorate instances where African leaders disregard needs of intended poor beneficiaries. Given the historic precedence and realities of consistency in US foreign assistance strategies, Obama will continue to develop and implement strategies that mainly serve US national resource and security interests. But with the unprecedented global and US recession, he should ensure that such policies do not undermine US local (grassroots) economic pressures, needs and demands at the expense of promoting US dominance and control in the world. He should also implement laisser faire approaches to his policies in Africa that allows aid recipient countries to determine their future destiny based on their respective needs, interests and participatory contributions of their own peoples.
  • us foreign policy towards africa
Publication Date
Summer September, 2009
Citation Information
Valentina Okaru-Bisant. "Will the Obama Administration Demonstrate Change or Consistency in US Foreign Policy Towards Africa?" Corporate Africa Vol. 2 Iss. 47 (2009)
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