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Obama Unlikely To Differ With Bush On Africa

PRESIDENT Mugabe has now seen the backs of two of his arch-enemies, Tony Blair of Britain and this week George Bush.


There could be a measure of self-gratification for Mugabe but no bottles of champagne will be popped.
In fact nothing is on ice because the wily octogenarian knows that there will be no let-up from the new administration of President-elect Barack Obama.
Obama’s election was celebrated loudly on the African continent because of his Kenyan roots and because of the new hope he brings to world politics. Africans believe Obama’s view of the continent could reshape US foreign policy to help solve a myriad of problems in their countries.
But their celebrations should be tempered with reality on the ground. As for Mugabe, Obama is not exactly a godsend. He, together with the Congressional Black Caucus, stand accused of sponsoring the Zimbabwe Democracy and Economic Recovery Act (Zidera) in 2001. Only this year, he attacked Mugabe’s hold on power, accusing him of stealing the recent election and using violence against his own people. That ain’t the way to treat a black brother!
But African leaders should understand that the election in the US was fought on the battlefield of ideals; and largely American ones. It is not surprising therefore that Republican John McCain and Obama laboured to show the electorate how their policies differed from each other although they shared a common position on Africa. The conclusion: Washington’s foreign policy, whether under McCain or Obama, was always going to be an extension of President George W Bush’s projects on the continent.
The ascendancy of Africa in US foreign policy under Bush reflected not only the continent’s growing importance to US national interests but also his determination to join overarching compassion with resources. This is the underlying theme in the Bush administration’s overall legacy, his supporters believe.
A Heritage Foundation backgrounder published last week said this presidential election provided  an opportunity to reflect on  US policy and programme interventions in Africa under Bush.
“The next president of the United States will soon decide which efforts have borne fruit, which programmes require modification, and what new approaches will shape the growing ties between the US and Africa,” said Thomas M Woods, a Senior Associate Fellow in African Affairs.
President-elect Obama is therefore likely to travel an all too familiar path. The variation to policy is likely to be the speed at which he would move to tackle the age-old  African issues of human rights,  conflict, disease, hunger, corruption, and poor economic performance. It should also be noted that on McCain and Obama’s inventory of priority areas, Africa did not feature anywhere prominent. There are problems on the home front for Obama which could further push Africa down on the to-do list.
“I would do anything in my power to stop this terrible affliction,” said McCain about appropriating US$300 million plus to help fight Aids in Africa. “But we have corrupt governments; we have organisations that don’t treat the people. So before I spend our taxpayers’ money on that, I would have to make sure that it would go to the recipients and those of these poor people who are afflicted with this terrible disease. Frankly, in a lot of parts of Africa today I do not have that confidence.”
Obama on the other hand in March last year co-sponsored the Bill to amend the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961 to bolster public health efforts in sub-Saharan Africa. That Bill has not yet been voted on. Obama told the media at the time that as president, he had plans to expand the President’s Emergency Plan for Aids Relief (PEPFAR) by providing at least US$1 billion a year in new money.
There was also convergence between McCain and Obama on the issue of democratisation on the continent. Under Bush, the US in 2004 established the Millennium Challenge Account (MCA) to focus on democracy promotion. The MCA emphasises delivering foreign assistance based on a country’s commitment to ruling justly, embracing open economic systems, and investing in the health and education of its people.
The country’s compact concept focuses on identifying individual countries that display a measurable track record of democratic values and investing in them according to the country’s own development priorities.
To date, the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) has signed compacts with seven African countries for US$2,4 billion. Both Obama and McCain expressed support for continuing the MCC.
But as Woods observes, the next president should not confuse democracy building with generic notions of good governance. Many of Africa’s more effective and economically reform-minded leaders, from President Yoweri Museveni in Uganda to President Paul Kagame in Rwanda, have demonstrated autocratic tendencies. Nigeria and Ethiopia, Africa’s most populous countries, fall short of democratic standards.
For US foreign policy, the issue of democracy-building in Africa will always loom large during the next four years with Thabo Mbeki being forced to resign from office in Africa’s perceived strongest and most influential democracy, South Africa; south Sudan preparing for an election and then a referendum, Zimbabwe in the throes of great conflict and economic malaise, Kenya wrestling with power sharing, and post-conflict Liberia undertaking its second democratic election.
In Zimbabwe for example, the Zidera, now commonly regarded as a sanctions Act, declares it is US policy to support the people of Zimbabwe in their struggles to effect peaceful, democratic change, achieve broad-based and equitable economic growth, and restore the rule of law.  It sets trade restrictions which will only be lifted if the rule of law has been restored in Zimbabwe; there is a level electoral playing field; the government of Zimbabwe has demonstrated a commitment to an equitable, legal, and transparent land reform programme based on the International Donors’ Conference on Land Reform of 1998 (a big task) and when there is professionalism in the army and the police. On the other hand, the US government has supported civic groups fighting for the democratisation process in Zimbabwe.
The case of Zimbabwe –– especially viewed in the context of the MCC and the Zidera –– should be a key test case for the new administration’s strategies to establish good governance on the continent. The Act has failed to dislodge Mugabe from power and has not provided civic groups with the necessary teeth to fight the Zanu PF dictatorship. Zimbabwe stands out as a dark stain on the continent’s scorecard because of the embarrassing failure by its leaders to reach a political settlement in a country where inflation has rocketed beyond the stratosphere to over 233 million percent. Is it time for a change in tactics for the new leadership?
This week MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai told Al Jazeera television: “I think that for Africa we are looking forward to working with the next president of the United States in attending to some of the critical African questions that we are facing.
“In particular, of course, Zimbabwe is a case, it has been in this pariah status for so long, and we hope we can work together to deal with the problems that Zimbabwe is facing.”
The big question is how is Tsvangirai going to attract the attention of a new leader faced with a failing economy, a discredited foreign policy and a huge task to display competence in dealing with domestic problems?

By Vincent Kahiya in Atlanta Georgia 

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