Wednesday, June 26, 2013

President Obama’s visit to Africa: Much Ado About Something?

In his first presidential visit to Africa in 2009, President Obama told Africans to stop blaming colonization or neo-colonialism for their problems. In an exceptional stride from his predecessors, he has stressed that Africans should own their challenges and destinies. When Obama was elected, many Africans were overzealous about an American president of African origin and hence possibly (mistakenly) strong engagement in Africa. This huge expectation has led to huge disappointments given the president’s poor record even in comparison to his two immediate predecessors Bill Clinton and George Bush who have embarked on signature programs to address challenges in trade (AGOA) and HIV/AIDS. One overriding explanation for the African omission in the past few years is the fact that US Foreign policy towards Africa and across the world has been overshadowed by the fight against terrorism. Governments, however authoritarian, have received backing from the US government so long as they are “fighting terrorism” in one way or another. The Ethiopian government is a good case in point.

Just like the first visit (unfortunately), many in Africa have high expectations that the president will hopefully address big issues such as human right abuses, corruption, flawed elections, continued harassment and abuse of journalists and civil society groups. There is also heightened expectation that the president commits to examine his support for tyrannical governments and their parties. Many argue that America’s national interests are better served with more democratic and open governments than otherwise, hence providing a win-win scenario for the American as well as African populaces.

The president has rightly remarked that it is up to Africans to solve their own problems. Rightly so, they should take the responsibility to address their own issues. As one commentator has put it, ‘let’s not forget that he is not the president of Africa, rather that of the United States of America’. Still, one can never deny the huge leverage the US government has in enhancing and also possibly hindering positive developments in Africa. Hence the president’s visit to Africa could be much ado about something as far as the president commits to his rhetoric and pomposity.
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