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Obama in Africa: Too little, too late?

As the US president embarked on a visit to Africa, we discuss whether the continent should expect anything from the US.

Last Modified: 27 Jun 2013 13:45
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On Wednesday, US President Barack Obama began a weeklong visit to Africa. In what can hardly be termed a comprehensive continent-wide tour, he is due to visit three out of the continent's 54 countries, Senegal [were his tour has began], Tanzania and South Africa.

There was nothing which was necessarily going to change in the US because you had an African American president .... For Africans, what we need to accept is that we are going to be left to lift ourselves up by our own bootstraps and shouldn't wait for Obama and others to do that for us.

Matlotleng Matlou, the non-executive director at Excelsior Afrika consulting

But Obama is skipping countires such as Kenya, the birthplace of his father; Nigeria, the continent's most populous nation recently accused by the US of so-called human rights violations in its campaign against militias with Islamic agenda; and Uganda, assisted by the US in fighting al-Qaeda affiliated al-Shabaab in Somalia and considered to be America’s closest ally on the continent.

Followed by an entourage of business leaders, security personnel, his wife and two daughters, the trip is set to cost the US tax payer $100m, and is not without controversy.

Aid to Africa more than quadrupled during George W Bush’s presidency. In 2002, the US gave $1.94bn to the continent. 

By 2009, when President Obama came into office the amount the US donated had risen to $8.24bn, a rapid increase which was driven largely by President Bush’s emergency plan for Aids relief.

During the Obama presidency the amount donated has actually decreased, it is estimated that the US gave just over $7bn in 2012.

China's presence in Africa is also very evident. Its annual trade with Africa is around $200bn, which is twice that of the US. China's direct investment in Africa has topped $15bn over the past decade. And it is working on infrastructure projects like dams and airports across the continent. 

President Obama wants to promote trade with democratic countries, but China has been less picky and has traded without political strings attached. Not everyone is pleased about Chinese influence in Africa. Some say the mineral-hungry nation is exploiting Africa's natural resources.

"White House officials [admit] they haven't paid enough attention to Africa," reports Patty Culhane. She also reports that according to the White House; aid, development and democracy are on Obama's African agenda. However, "critics say the [president's] actions have shown what he really cares about - security and expanding the US military presence on the [African] continent."

US troops are currently stationed in several African countries, with those publicly named including Somalia, South Sudan and Libya.

So what message is the president sending with this tour? And should Africa expect anything from the US?

Inside Story, with presenter Jane Dutton, discusses with guests: Matlotleng Matlou, the non-executive director at Excelsior Afrika consulting; Alex Vines, the research director and head of Africa programme at Chatham House; and Emira Woods, the co-director of foreign policy at the Institute for Policy Studies. Emira specialises in US foreign policy in Africa.

"It was the last year of the [Obama's] first term in office that a statement was put out, a strategy, and we wondered what would have happened if the elections had been different. Why is it that it took so long to articulate a strategy for Africa? What we have to underscore is that Africa is on the rise. [It] has over a billion people, it has a population base that is mostly young people - one-quarter of the population is between the age of 10 and 24. It is a continent that is really moving forward in this 21st century, so I think it is incumbent upon the US to get its policy right regarding Africa."

- Emira Woods, the co-director of foreign policy at the Institute for Policy Studies


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Source:
Al Jazeera
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