from Africa in Transition

An African Agenda for President Obama

March 19, 2013

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There is criticism in Africa and in the United States that, given Africa’s growing strategic, political, and economic importance, President Obama paid insufficient attention to it during his first term. In fact, the Obama administration has many program initiatives in Africa; and cabinet officers, led by former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, regularly visited the continent. During her four year tenure as secretary of state, Hillary Clinton visited Nigeria, Ghana, Liberia, Benin, Somalia, South Africa, Kenya, and Malawi, among others.

Calls for greater administration involvement with Africa too often lack specificity, or are unrealistic, and the administration’s program initiatives have not been packaged in an eye-catching way, and President Obama visited Africa only once during his first term, a stopover in Ghana that lasted less than a day.

Richard Joseph, a professor at Northwestern University and a dean among senior American Africanists, has therefore done the administration a service by laying out a comprehensive strategy for enhanced engagement in two parts. His proposals provide a starting point for a serious conversation. The second part has just been published with links to the first. He provides a succinct overview of the current state of African trade and investment, democracy , governance, state capacity, security, energy and other infrastructure, and the growing role of women, youth, and the diaspora. This sets the stage for his proposed “American Agenda for Africa,” which, he argues, “must be bold, innovative, and inspiring.” He argues that at its core should be “investments, infrastructure, developmental governance, and diaspora engagement.” Joseph’s proposals complement Sen. Chris Coons’ “Embracing Africa.” Sen. Coons, D-Del., is a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and has a deep interest in African issues.

In my view, Professor Joseph makes a compelling case for President Obama to focus on the Congo (Kinshasa) for the implementation of an “American agenda for Africa.” He notes that while he was in the Senate, Barack Obama introduced the “Democratic Republic of the Congo Relief, Security, and Democracy Promotion Act.” The legislation was signed into law. It tied U.S. bilateral assistance to specific good governance goals. Congo again “could be President Obama’s Lincolnesque mission: rescuing a major nation and righting historic wrongs.” But, to be successful, a Congo rescue will require a long term commitment.