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Die Zeit, Germany

The United States Has
No Real Africa Policy

By Erik Lundsgaarde

Translated By Aaron Kurzak

21 January 2013

Edited by Rachel Smith

Germany - Die Zeit - Original Article (German)

U.S. President Obama wants better relations with Africa: fewer military dimensions and more multilateral development politics.

His inauguration four years ago promised a turning away from the previous government’s unilateral and excessively militaristic foreign policy. By now, the U.S. president has taken the oath of office a second time. But the sluggish speed with which domestic and foreign policy has changed during the past four years has without doubt dampened expectations of this government’s potential to affect true change.

An area in which the Obama administration has so far followed its predecessor without leaving a trace is U.S. African policy. It is still impossible to say if Obama will change this during his second presidential term.

Relations between the United States and Africa are still relatively insignificant, even though Africa has climbed its way up on the foreign policy agenda of the United States since the end of the Clinton era. A sign of the increasing importance of the region is that the United States spent approximately $9 billion on public development cooperation with sub-Saharan Africa in 2011 - more than five times as much as in 2001. The volume of trade between the United States and sub-Saharan Africa is about ten times as big as the U.S. budget for development cooperation. In the year 2011, the trading volume amounted to $95 billion - nearly a triplication in 10 years. The establishment of the U.S. Africa Command, or Africom, in 2007 indicated the strategic relevance of the continent to the security policy of the United States.

Africa Policy before and after Obama

However, the majority of these changes reflects the decisions made before President Obama’s inauguration. The growth of development cooperation came out of the initiatives of the Bush government, including the Millennium Challenge Corporation and the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Control, or PEPFAR. The African Growth and Opportunity Act approved in 2000 was considered an instrument to expand trade, although to date it is mostly the export of resources - still the lion’s share of the trade between the United States and Africa – that benefits from the law.

Nevertheless, the Obama government has set a few new tones regarding U.S. African policy. In 2009, for example, the government drove forth a global health initiative in coherence with U.S. government programs against HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases. In the same year, the Feed the Future campaign started with the commitment to invest $3.5 billion in the food security of 20 developing countries, including 12 in Africa. The Global Climate Change Initiative provides just under $1 billion annually for measures all around the world, among them the expansion of clean energy and forest protection in Africa.

U.S. African Policy Needs a Common Agenda

These programs, none of which are intended exclusively for African nations, are mentioned by the government in one breath with measures for the promotion of democracy, the support of military training and its participation in peace processes in Ivory Coast and Sudan as achievements of American engagement in sub-Saharan Africa. While these initiatives make urgently needed financial capital available and compensate for the deficits in the practices of American development cooperation, their range is low and they intensify the fragmentation of African policy.

If the U.S. president wants to accomplish something beyond the legacy of his predecessors during his second term in office, there are two important areas of reform open to him.

Firstly, the government must ensure that the civil dimension of its African policy has the uppermost priority. Even if the budget for Africom is relatively small, there is the danger that, with Africa’s increasing strategic importance and the limited financial power of other ministries, the Pentagon will gain influence. The government’s assurance during Obama’s first term to emphasize development as a dimension of foreign policy has not yet been translated into concrete measures. If the government and Congress make an effort to shrink the overly inflated defense budget across the globe, they will also have to provide civil ministries with enough resources to complete their tasks.

The Question of Political Coherence

Secondly, President Obama can leave a clearer mark on U.S. African policy if he makes its approach more multilateral. On one hand, this requires true dedication to cooperation with other developing nations. It is barely imaginable that the United States can successfully promote democracy in Africa if American and European endeavors do not complement each other. On the other hand, the United States must actively support sub-regional and continental institutions to press for economic integration and regional security improvements. On a global level, the government should campaign more intensively for the reinforcement of multilateral institutions such as the United Nations.

U.S. African policy still has many contradictions, such as fostering the Global Climate Change Initiative while simultaneously retarding international negotiations on the climate. Investments in food security within the framework of Feed the Future spotlight an important field of politics. At the same time, this initiative skirts around the deeper need to reform in areas like food assistance and U.S. agricultural policy, including subsidies.

Instead of only undertaking small course corrections, the Obama administration should, in the next four years, deal more resolutely with the question of political coherency relating to Africa. And the government should design a consistent strategy which bundles initiatives and guarantees that the different dimensions of U.S. African policy bring forward a joint agenda of service to Africa.



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