The 2012 U.S. presidential debates confirmed something Africa watchers already knew: the region is at the margins of U.S. foreign policy. The candidates touched on Mali's deepening crisis and a few other issues, but sub-Saharan Africa was largely left out of the conversation. The focus on countries like China and Iran is understandable given their centrality to U.S. national interests, but it comes at the expense of understanding how the candidates, especially Mitt Romney, would approach the 800 million people living in sub-Saharan Africa. Obama's first four years in office gives a sense of what his second-term Africa policy might look like, but since Romney has not yet had to formulate a policy, his approach remains unclear.
Africans are left to wonder what to expect from a Romney presidency. With the exception of reforms to the U.S. foreign assistance regime, they should not anticipate any major shifts from the course taken by Obama. American policy toward the region is driven by global strategic priorities and limited by financial constraints—two factors that would change little by the time Romney took office.
Strategically, Romney would likely continue the Obama administration's prioritization of counterterrorism efforts. The administration's sub-Saharan Africa strategy reads, "In our approach to counterterrorism, we will continue to be guided by the President's affirmation in the National Security Strategy that he bears no greater responsibility than ensuring the safety and security of the American people." To this end, it has expanded drone bases on the continent, helped Kenya and the African Union push the militant Islamic group al-Shabaab from Somalia's south, and boosted counterterrorism training for local security forces.