THEYâ€™RE sending in the president: After a meeting of the G8 in Italy this week, Barack Obama will make his first trip to Africa as president of the United States.
It will only last a day, and will see him touring a single country, Ghana, the continentâ€™s first to gain independence, but it will undoubtedly be a momentous occasion.
Confronting Africa is difficult for most Westerners, and for Obama, who has broached the subject in a memoir (Dreams From My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance), approaching the land of his father as â€œleader of the free worldâ€ is fraught with complications.
Africa is very sick, maybe even chronically ill. In addition to its much-publicised Aids and malaria crises, other escalating concerns threaten to bring it to the point of no return: The conflict in Somalia is as serious as they come, with its government on the brink of collapse at the hands of an al Qaeda-infiltrated insurgency. Zimbabwe, whose hyperinflation and soaring unemployment levels last year seemed certain to bring an end to Robert Mugabeâ€™s political life, if nothing else, is still in desperate need of foreign aid and investment. Reuters news agency, reporting on Africaâ€™s economic gloom, lists rising fuel, fertiliser, and food prices as well as falling demand for exports, as some of the concerns that urgently need addressing.
The Obama administration understands the importance of agricultural security to Africaâ€™s future, and has made it a top priority, Reuters says. In a congressional hearing last month, Assistant US Trade Representative Florizelle Liser testified on how improvements in this vital sector can boost African growth. She reminded Congress that Africa, in 2005, went from being a net agricultural exporter to being a net importer, a disastrous turn of events for a region that once counted agriculture as a strong point. The US government website quotes Liser as saying, â€œWe believe that export diversification and further processing of (agricultural) products into higher-value exports could help improve food security in the region by addressing issues of availability and stability of food supply.â€
Yet there still remain significant barriers to export-driven growth, Reuters points out, not least the American governmentâ€™s high cotton subsidies, and quotas maintained by â€œpolitically powerfulâ€ lobbyists. US Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, Johnnie Carson, envisaging the dire consequences of inaction, claimed that the Obama administration is also trying to â€œexpand the provisions of the African Growth and Opportunity Actâ€(Agoa), a trade policy that gives many African products duty-free access to US markets if the producing countries meet certain criteria.
Of course any â€œexpansionâ€ will have to make its way past the red tape of a lobby-strapped legislature. As reported in a separate Reuters feed, Carson has carefully approached other looming disasters, stating, for instance, that the US will provide weapons and ammunition to aid the Somali crisis (also a politically-sensitive issue) but will not be sending in any troops. â€œWe will study it closely in Washington and make a determination as to whether it is in our interests to encourage an expanded mandate as this goes forward.â€
President Obama is being sent to Ghana because, as disclosed in an interview with AllAfrica, the West African nation is seen as an example of a successful democracy (its last two elections were won by the opposition). By strengthening the rule of law, eliminating barriers to US trade and drafting legislation to reduce poverty, Ghana is also meeting much of the criteria for Agoa, and stands to further bolster its relationship with America.
Obama will surely have another of the Agoaâ€™s criteria at the back of his mind as he addresses the Ghanaian parliament tomorrow: African leaders can also strengthen their economic bonds with the US by increasing the availability of health care in their countries. Except the President of the US will most likely be thinking about his own country, and how his legacy, if not his career, might depend on successfully passing healthcare reform.
Itâ€™s sad that while visiting a troubled continent he will probably be attending, first and foremost, to American lobbyists; he could risk pulling the plug on Africa and, with it, the dreams of his father. â€“â€“ Examiner.
BY ISAAC UBGABE