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Obama Must Focus on Conflict Resolution and Development in Africa

Interviewees: Howard Wolpe, Director of the Wilson Center's Africa program
Todd Moss, Director of the Emerging Africa Project at the Center for Global Development
Interviewer: Stephanie Hanson
January 16, 2009

Many are hoping incoming President Barack Obama will devote special attention and resources to Africa. But given the enormity of the global financial crisis and challenges in managing two wars and multiple crises in the Greater Middle East, Obama is expected to give little immediate attention to the continent where his father was born. He may be hard pressed to match the record in Africa of his predecessor--George W. Bush. Bush significantly increased foreign aid to Africa and elevated its importance on the foreign policy agenda.

With major conflicts continuing in Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Somalia, and virtual state collapse in Zimbabwe, some believe Obama's Africa team will need to focus on conflict resolution. Howard Wolpe, director of the Wilson Center's Africa program, says "if we do not get a handle on some of these conflicts, and on the instability in parts of the continent, every hope for sustained economic development and progress will be undermined."

Todd Moss, who recently stepped down as the deputy assistant secretary of state for African affairs and now directs the Emerging Africa  Project at the Center for Global Development, says the Obama administration should "signal early that Africa will remain high on the U.S. foreign policy agenda."

Both Wolpe and Moss highlight the importance of infrastructure development on the continent, noting that without improved transportation and communication infrastructure, African businesses will continue to be handicapped by high costs. As Moss notes, "if Africa is going to be prosperous and secure in the future, it's going to be based on private sector growth."

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