Obama unlikely to shift stand on Africa policy in second term

Saturday December 8 2012

US President Barack Obama greets Members of the Ghanaian Parliament at the Accra International Conference Centre on July 11, 2009 while on his sole Africa tour. Photo/FILE

US President Barack Obama greets Members of the Ghanaian Parliament at the Accra International Conference Centre on July 11, 2009 while on his sole Africa tour. Photo/FILE Reuters

By KEVIN J KELLEY Special Correspondent

President Barack Obama’s disappointing performance with regard to Africa is unlikely to improve in his second term, a panel of five scholars agreed last week at the annual meeting of a US academic association focused on the continent.

“Old wine in old bottles — that’s how I see it,” declared Emira Woods, an analyst at the Washington-based Institute for Policy Studies.

Ms Woods was referring specifically to the possibility of UN ambassador Susan Rice being appointed secretary of state.

She said Ms Rice’s dogged support for Rwandan President Paul Kagame suggests that “friendly dictators could have an even more privileged position” in policy-making circles if Ms Rice succeeds Hillary Clinton in the top US diplomatic post.

Abdi Samatar, a professor at the University of Minnesota, also cited Ms Rice’s role in allegedly enabling Rwanda to intervene militarily in the eastern DRC.

New generation

Prof Samatar associated her with “a new generation of African-Americans in the US government who are less driven by the ideals of Martin Luther King and former UN ambassador Andrew Young than by career goals.”

Prof Samatar rejected the view that President Obama will act more favourably towards Africa during his second term since he no longer faces re-election pressures.

Because US policy rests on underlying economic and geo-strategic interests, “there is no reason to see a shift in Africa policy” occurring in the next four years, Prof Samatar argued.

“The Obama administration has pursued the policies of the previous administration,” added Paul Zeleza, a professor at Loyola Marymount University.

He said African economies and workers have not benefited from the Agoa trade preference programme, and he deplored “the increased militarisation of US policy through Africom.”

“The election of Obama was greeted with great euphoria [among Africans], but few of the hopes for the first president of African descent have been realised,” Prof Zeleza asserted.

President Obama could travel to black Africa in his second term but that won’t signify a change in direction, added Georges Nzongola-Ntalaja, a professor at the University of North Carolina.

“We will see a continuation of US support of Uganda and Rwanda in spite of crimes committed by those regimes in eastern Congo,” Prof Nzongola-Ntalaja predicted.

But not all the assessments were negative.

Prof Nzongola-Ntalaja said, for example, that he was impressed by “the great maturity the American people showed in re-electing Obama in the face of racist attacks.”

The professor referred specifically to the often-repeated claim that President Obama was born in Kenya and thus not qualified to be president.