Thursday, January 6, 2011

"What Obama Needs to Do to Effectively Engage with Africa"

I'm quoted in Brittany Hutson's Atlanta Post article on President Obama and Africa. Here is the full text of the responses I sent the reporter:

Q: What is the benefit of Obama increasing his engagement with Africa? Why is it important for him to connect with Africa?

A: Africa constitutes 1 billion people living in 53 countries. African countries make up more than one-quarter of the membership of the United Nations and many have voting power in other international forums. Africa is the source for about 20 percent of American oil imports and potentially a significant market for American exports, particularly in view of Africa’s average 5 percent GDP growth rate in recent years. The United States needs the agreement of African countries for military aircraft over flight and landing rights and access to African ports for its naval vessels headed for the Indian Ocean. Finally, African-Americans make up almost 13 percent of the U.S. population. These factors explain why it is important for President Obama or any other U.S. president to connect with Africa.

Q: What are some ways that he can connect with Africa successfully?

A: The United States has a large and long-standing assistance program for Africa that focuses on countering HIV/AIDS, providing humanitarian aid and development assistance through the Millennium Challenge Corporation and USAID. Nearly the entire program consists of grants so that it does not contribute to African debt. Although President Obama has made one visit to Ghana and another to Egypt in connection with Middle East issues, high level visits are one of the most effective ways to connect with Africa. Secretary of State Clinton also made a long visit to Africa in 2010.

The Obama administration could increase the number of high level visits and also extend invitations to more African leaders to visit Washington. U.S. exports to Africa are not significant and investment has tapered off in recent years. It is important that the U.S. private sector and the government make a greater effort to increase two-way U.S. trade with Africa and give added impetus to U.S. investment in Africa. The U.S. media could also do a better job of covering developments in Africa, especially positive ones. Famines, civil wars and natural disasters get plenty of attention; most other developments do not.

Q: What should he be cautious of or try to avoid as he attempts to connect with Africa?

A: While it is important that the United States give priority to those African countries that are working hard to democratize and improve human rights, the United States should not give the impression that it is preaching to governments whose reputations on these issues are less than what the international community expects. It is better to lead by example than the bully pulpit. The United States should also become a better listener in its interaction with African countries. To its credit, the Obama administration’s Africa policy seems to have learned the negative lessons of an obsessively zealous approach to the global war on terror in parts of Africa.

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