Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Obama in Africa: Placing the President's Ghana visit and speech to Africa under the microscope

Note: This post is a draft only version to see if my readers are paying attention. Final release version is coming ASAP.

It would be quite silly to publish a timely piece previewing the thoughts of President Obama and his leading Africa diplomat before the president’s trip to Ghana without doing a follow-up post. Sorry about the delay but it took some time to review all of the commentary and analysis surrounding Obama’s first visit to sub-Saharan Africa as President of the United States. The visit and the much anticipated presidential address to the African people was a success according to the White House foreign policy team. Many Africans were delighted about the visit and what President Obama had to say about his policies and vision for Africa (but not all). The global reactions and opinions are in and I’m ready with my roundup.

Today, a very good friend of mine who hails from the Democratic Republic of Congo is on her way from Berlin over Paris to Kinshasa accompanied by her daughters and a granddaughter. She is returning to her home for only the second time after a very long absence of about 10 years. When the bloody, violent Second Congo War broke out she was able to escape Kinshasa during the mass killings and chaos created by marauding militias under the command of former DRC President Laurent Kabila and his son, the present democratically-elected President Joseph Kabila Kabange.

In earlier conversations she described what it was like in May 1997 during a visit to her home when troops of Laurent Kabila finally took the capital city Kinshasa, sending the longtime, despotic ruler of Congo (Zaire) Mobutu Sese Seko into exile. She explained the horror of being held at gunpoint by several young rebel fighters, fearing rape and death for herself, her two small daughters and other members of her family in their house in Kinshasa, when suddenly out of nowhere a military truck full of Mobutu’s soldiers pulled up in front of the house frightening away Kabila’s marauding fighters. She was able to later escape across the Congo River to Brazzaville and catch a flight on to Europe to live with friends in exile.

This post is dedicated to my friend and her daughters who are big fans of President Barack Obama. I wish them Godspeed on their journey to the sprawling jungle metropolis on the banks of the mighty Congo River. I hope that President Obama will soon say more about what he will do to help the people of the DR Congo, especially how America can assist Congo’s young people and help to empower women and girls in this vast central African country.

Another friend, the editor/publisher of the African Loft asked me about my opinions of Obama’s speech before the Ghana Parliament on July 11th. I have been feeding a few updates and analysis about the speech to him and another buddy Ethan Zuckerman over at My Heart’s in Accra. Ethan, who is the co-founder of the hugely popular and influential blogger community Global Voices Online, was traveling in West Africa at the time of President Obama’s visit to Ghana. Ethan has a number of recent posts about his visit to Abuja (Nigeria) and a very touching series of posts about his return to his beloved (adopted) home Accra, Ghana. I recommend that you checkout Ethan’s latest posts to get a picture of how much Accra has changed and improved over the past 10 years. Global Voices Online has yet another very good roundup post from African bloggers re: the Obama visit to Ghana and his speech to the African people.

Global Voices Online
Ghana: Global discussion of Obama’s visit to Ghana 07/15/09

Ethan Zuckerman (My Heart’s in Accra)
Accra, fifteen years later 07/20/09
After Obama in Ghana 07/20/09

As far as my own reactions to the speech I am basically satisfied with what the President had to say and how he delivered the address. I think that President Obama said what many Americans have on their minds regarding several issues affecting African countries and the United States: from responsible governance to better aid and trade strategies, improving bilateral ties and cooperation between the U.S. and our allies on the African continent, combating poverty and working closely together during the global financial crisis, health issues, crime and security issues, and the empowerment of young people and women to help African countries build a better future for all citizens. The President spoke about all of these issues in general terms without making any major boo-boos in content or style. Now it remains to be seen how the President of the United States and his foreign policy team turn his eloquent words into actions that are measurable, effective, and make a difference in the lives of people in African countries. – Engaging the World
Special feature: President Obama in Ghana – July 10-11, 2009
Obama Calls on Africans to Claim Their Future 07/11/09
President Obama’s Speech in Ghana (transcript) 07/11/09
President Obama Visits Ghana: Your Thoughts (global web-chat transcript)
President Obama: Taking Africa’s Questions (podcasts, video, interactive map) – Africa news and features

By the People blog (a citizen-led conversation)
African Online Communities Buzzing about Ghana Visit – Part 1 07/09/09
African Online Communities Buzzing about Ghana Visit – Part 2 07/10/09
African Online Communities Buzzing about Ghana Visit – Part 3 07/12/09

USAU – United States Mission to the African Union
Screening of President Obama’s Accra Speech and Panel Discussion at the African Union 07/11/09

VOA News
Full coverage of President Obama's visit to Ghana (video, text, audio)
Specialists Debate How US Aid to Africa Can be More Effective 07/17/09
OXFAM USA/Foreign Policy Magazine conference on aid effectiveness
Ghana President Previews President Obama's Visit in VOA Interview 07/08/09
AU Summit Stumbles over Gadhafi Proposal 07/02/09
African Union Begins Summit in Libya 07/01/09

Foreign Policy Magazine - The Blogs
FP Passport – a blog by the editors of Foreign Policy Magazine
Obama's video response to questions from Africa 07/15/09
Over 5,000 questions were submitted and only 3 questions were answered
Grading Obama's speech in Ghana by Elizabeth Dickinson 07/13/09
Why Nigeria is miffed at Obama 07/10/09
Charles Taylor says U.S. helped him break out of jail 07/17/09

Chris Blattman’s blog
Grading Obama's Africa speech 07/13/09

Aid Watch (by NYU economist William Easterly)
Grading Obama's Africa Speech 07/13/09

However, there are a few things that I wanted my president to cover in more detail and there are one or two issues with the visit that I found rather disturbing:

Ghana Parliament Address - Broadcast Video Problems

Who was in charge of the (terrible) broadcast video transmission from the conference center in Ghana? How is it possible that several major television networks (including CNNI, BBC, Al Jazeera) could transmit clear video signals from Accra and the Cape Coast Castle during the visit while the Ghanaian authorities were struggling with ‘technical difficulties’?

Where are all of the questions for President Obama submitted by African citizens from around the world?

The White House team and the U.S. Department of State requested that questions for President Obama be submitted online and via special mobile phone lines (SMS messaging) before his visit to Ghana. President Obama answered a stingy 3 questions from the more than 7-10,000+ questions submitted by admirers (and detractors) from Africa. When is the White House staff (or the President’s foreign policy team) going to answer at least a dozen or so more questions from the many thousands submitted? At least share with us some of the questions that were rejected and why? You committed a big boo-boo with that exercise, Yogi.

Good Governance in Africa

Good governance is a pretty broad topic and how the U.S. can help African nations practice more responsible governance and achieve democracy is some pretty contentious stuff for debate. What is good governance and how do we help other nations to achieve it? Do we use the benchmarks for good governance championed by The Mo Ibrahim Foundation and Harvard University’s Belfer Center (John F. Kennedy School of Government) or do we abide by what the African Union defines as ‘good governance and democracy’ under the leadership of the present AU Chairman Libya’s Colonel Muammar el-Qaddafi?

Belfer Center at John F. Kennedy School of Government (Harvard University)
Governance and Leadership in Africa: Measures, Methods, and Results by Robert Rotberg (Chatham House UK International Affairs Journal, Spring/Summer 2009)
Strengthening African Governance: Small States and Islands Top 2008 Rankings
Researchers at Harvard University’s Belfer Center release results of the Mo Ibrahim Foundation 2008 Index of African Governance

Security, crime, growing terrorist threats and conflict resolution

The Ghanaian President, John Atta Mills, addressed the growing problem of organized criminal activity threatening countries in West Africa: drugs and contraband smuggling, human trafficking, small arms smuggling, diamonds and gold smuggling, and so forth. The problem has driven the West African states of Guinea-Bissau and Guinea to the brink of ‘failed state’ status. The U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Johnnie Carson recently testified before the U.S. Senate Committee for Foreign Affairs about this growing threat in Africa and how it is endangering the whole world, especially countries in Europe and North America.

And then there is the unspeakable violence taking place in Somalia under the tutelage of Al Shabab and Al Qaeda. Its no wonder the U.S. President decided not to visit his father’s homeland (Kenya) on his first visit to sub-Saharan Africa. It’s just too damn dangerous with a full-blown failed state right across the border of Kenya. Good Luck to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton when she visits Kenya with a delegation of 300 Americans for the AGOA Forum in August and make sure that you take along ‘a U.S. delegation’ of about 1,000 security personnel.

BBC News
Crime lords 'ruining West Africa' 07/08/09
New report by the UN Office on Drugs and Crime says organized crime is ‘plundering West Africa’ as illicit goods flood the region

The New York Times
Fears in the West About Al Qaeda Affiliate’s Boldness in Africa 07/09/09
The U.S. military (AFRICOM) is helping train West and North African soldiers to fight against the rise in terrorist activity and attacks by Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb and in the African Sahel

Darfur! Darfur! For God’s Sake, What About Darfur…and Congo, Uganda, and...?

The ongoing crises in Darfur and South Sudan (an almost fully completed genocide and battles over land rights and oil and gas resources), threats against civilians in northern Uganda (Joseph Kony and the LRA are still at-large), and the eastern Democratic of Congo (disarming the FDLR, stopping the plunder and pillage of rural villages and towns and the mass rape and violence against women and girls, halting the unabated exploitation of Congo’s minerals and timber) are all problems that deserve more attention and public comment from President Obama. This is especially ture when he is addressing all the people of Africa in a major, televised speech. I expect to hear more from President Obama and his national security and foreign policy teams about these ‘challenges’ in the coming weeks and months.

The Enough Project to end genocide and crimes against humanity
Enough Said – official blog of the Enough Project
Leading Organizations Sound the Alarm on Eastern Congo 07/21/09
Countdown to the Abyei (Sudan) Ruling: A News Round Up 07/20/09
STRATEGY PAPER: Abyei: Sudan’s Next Test 07/20/09
Eastern Congo: An Action Plan to End The World's Deadliest War by John Prendergast and Noel Atama 07/16/09
Obama in Ghana: U.S. is On Africa’s Side but Future Up to Africans 07/11/09
Obama, Africa, and Peace: reframing the overall approach to U.S. relations with Africa by John Norris and John Prendergast 01/13/09

Special projects and campaigns (Enough Project)
Raise Hope for Congo – protect and empower Congo’s women
Conflict Minerals: Raise Hope for Congo Project

Development aid and poverty reduction in the midst of a global financial crisis

It is evident that countries that donate large amounts of aid and humanitarian assistance to countries in Africa need to better coordinate their efforts with African governments and civil authorities and civil society organizations (NGO’s). It is also true that during a massive global recession foreign aid and direct foreign investment to developing countries may decline due to economic and financial constraints at home. The ‘aid vs. trade’ and aid effectiveness debates are well known to all who follow these important global issues closely, and yet we are no closer to a mutual global agreement on how foreign aid should be distributed and administered: how much aid and who should receive it, what are the conditions for receiving and distributing foreign aid, and so forth. Is Aid Dead like the controversial young Zambian economist Dambissa Moyo (and several others) say? If so, that’s great. Wow, what a big savings bonanza that would be to the U.S. Treasury and American taxpayers.

The whole global debate on aid and trade with developing nations in Africa is simply a merry-go-round spinning round and round and ending up nowhere. This impasse is not good for people in Africa who desperately require the assistance that aid should provide, and it is not good for the millions of taxpayers in richer nations (donor countries) whose tax dollars and Euros finance government aid, the World Bank, and the International Monetary Fund. In America more than 7 million jobs have been lost due to the economic and financial meltdown of the past few years. Where is all of this increased development aid ($$$) that the President has promised in his recent statements at the G8 Summit in Italy and his speech in Ghana supposed to come from? Obama and his foreign policy and finance chiefs need to address this question with more clarity and transparency___ for the American people and for the African recipients of U.S. development aid. Show me the money, Mr. President.

Aid Watch (a group blog edited by NYU economist William Easterly)
Don’t say colonialism! the debate on economist Paul Collier 07/08/09

CGD – Center for Global Development
CGD Views from the Center blog
State Department Launches Inaugural Review of Diplomacy and Development by Sheila Herrling 07/13/09
Obama Right to Highlight Ghana’s Success, But Will Oil Be the Spoiler? By Todd Moss 07/06/09
A Wish List for The G8 Summit by Ben Edwards 07/08/09

Africa's Private Sector: What's Wrong with the Business Environment and What to Do About It (CGD publication) 03/23/09
The White House and the World: A Global Development Agenda for the Next U.S. President by Nancy Birdsall 08/22/08
Global Development Matters – a special website on development issues for U.S. citizens, civic, business, and political leaders and decision makers
Center for Global Development : Research Topics: Aid Effectiveness
US foreign aid and development policies, aid effectiveness, CGD blog

Another point I’d like to make about increased U.S. aid and trade with Africa:

The growing influence of China, India, and Middle Eastern countries on African politics, resource exploitation, business and trade is often times in direct conflict with the development policies and poverty reduction initiatives of the United States and European countries and our closest Asian allies (Japan, South Korea, and Australia).

Programs to support entrepreneurship, business partnerships between U.S. companies and African companies, and direct foreign investment, improving the competitiveness of American companies who want to do business in Africa are sorely needed. And I am not talking about only helping organizations like the CCA (Corporate Council for Africa) which represents about 80% of all U.S. trade with African countries. What is the Obama Administration doing about The Red Dragon and other mythical creatures from the East who have descended upon the Black Continent in grand style as of late building roads, dams, schools, hospitals, and government buildings in exchange for cheap access to oil, timber, and minerals?

To date the U.S. remains the largest single (per country) trade partner with Africa followed by the European Union member states (27 in total), and yet more than 90% of our import trade with African countries is in petroleum products (oil and gas) under AGOA – African Growth and Opportunity Act. Chinese trade with African countries has increased from approximately US$10 billion in 2001 to more than US$ 100 billion in 2008. Chinese, Asian, and Gulf State countries are buying up farmland and open natural reserves (suitable for national parks, resorts, and game reserves) by the million of square acres all across Africa WITHOUT the consent and approval of African citizens. In many cases it is occurring without the knowledge of the people who have lived upon these lands for generations.

China and India alone account for more than 70% of the infrastructure construction projects awarded by African governments to foreign contractors. The billions of dollars (or Yuan) in shaky low-interest loans provided by the state-owned China Ex-Im Bank (and other Chinese ‘private’ banks) which often finances these less than transparent, no-bid transactions almost never trickles down to African-owned and operated companies and African labor (workers). When is the Obama Administration and the politicians on the Republican side of the aisle going to jointly confront our global trade allies (the Chinese, Russian, Indian, and African governments) about this unfair competition? How can U.S. companies and entrepreneurs increase their investments in Africa and compete in such an environment?

The Economist
Equatorial Guinea’s durable president: Oil makes friends of us all 07/16/09
Three decades at the helm isn’t long, says a pitiful place’s ruthless president
The United Arab Emirates and Sudan: An odd deal over land 07/09/09
Are gulf Arabs taking a chunk of South Sudan for themselves?
Chinese aid to Africa: Spreading its bets, and its gold 07/02/09
Beijing finds news friends in Zimbabwe
Land deals in Africa and Asia: Cornering foreign fields 05/21/09
The Chinese and Arabs are buying are buying poor countries’ farms on a colossal scale. Be wary of the results.

Foreign Policy Magazine - The Blogs
FP Passport – a blog by the editors of Foreign Policy Magazine
Why is Saudi Arabia buying up African farmland? 07/15/09

Human Rights Watch
Well Oiled: Oil and Human Rights in Equatorial Guinea (press release) 07/09/09
A new report by HRW shows that the dictatorial regime of President Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasongo, a longtime ally and major oil exporter to the U.S.A., has reached new lows in political and economic malfeasance in the handling of billions of dollars in oil exports revenue.

Recognition of prior U.S. administrations’ work and successes in improving U.S.-Africa policy and bilateral relations

As many a foreign policy wonk has correctly pointed out, the Obama Administration has a hard act to follow in Africa due to the initiatives and programs of the previous U.S. administration under the leadership of President George W. Bush, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Secretary Colin Powell, and Assistant Secretary of State Jendayi Frazer___ just to name a few.

Interestingly, President Obama has yet to acknowledge (in public) the successes of his predecessors in dealing with African leaders, crises and issues that threaten and challenge not only the people of Africa but the people of America too. It’s time to stop playing politics re: the advances made on U.S.-Africa policy over the past many years and give credit where credit is due. It may help the Obama Administration and the Democrats with problems they are having with the loyal opposition re: domestic issues such as health care reform and selecting the next Supreme Court Justice. Then again, these people are politicians so just forget that brilliant idea.

The Economist
Barack Obama and Africa: How different is his policy? 07/16/09

End of Part 1 of the Obama Speech in Ghana Global Reaction Roundup

Additional articles, editorials, and resources

CSIS – Center for Strategic and International Studies
‘U.S. Africa Policy beyond the Bush Years: Critical changes for the Obama Administration’ by Jennifer G. Cooke and J. Stephen Morrison
(CSIS book release, multimedia, roundtable event) – April 10, 2009
CSIS Press Briefing: President Obama’s Trip to Russia, the G8, and Ghana 07/02/09
AFRICOM: Rationales, Roles, and Progress on the Eve of Operations 07/23/08
China in Africa: Implications for U.S. Policy 06/04/08

Council on Foreign Relations (
Beyond Humanitarianism: What you need to know about Africa and why it matters edited by Princeton N. Lyman and Patricia Lee Dorff – September 2007
Princeton N. Lyman is an adjunct senior fellow for Africa Policy Studies at CFR
A ‘must-read’ in depth report on U.S.-Africa policyPrepared Testimony on Strengthening U.S. Diplomacy to Anticipate, Prevent, and Respond to Conflict in Africa by Princeton N. Lyman – April 21, 2009

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CO.NX Moderator (Mark) said...

Greetings! The link to the CO.NX webchat transcript mentioned above (President Obama Visits Ghana: Your Thoughts) is available here. There are more than 27,000 words commentary, questions, and debayte about Africa, the U.S. and future relations.

BRE said...

Wow! Thanks for the link to the Webchat transcript Mark. You guys over at are really on the ball when it comes to tracking the global blog posts and discussions surrounding President Obama's visit to Ghana. Again, thank you and I will add your link to my next update.