Thursday, January 15, 2009

African Policy Issues for Obama (2)

Credit should also be given to the former government of Bill Clinton for his pro-Africa foreign policy initiatives. For example, in the vital area of world trade, the Clinton administration took a significant step of conceding tariff-free exports of African goods into the U.S through the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGoA) – an initiative that was laden with potentials of fuelling economic growth on the continent.
Hopefully, the incoming administration of Senator Obama would build on such landmark African policy initiatives of its predecessors. As “son-of-the soil” of the continent, the Illinois senator should employ his international goodwill to wade into various armed conflicts that have buoyed political instability, economic collapse, social dislocation and underdevelopment and the attendant human suffering. For example, in the troubled Great Lakes region (DR Congo, Rwanda, Burundi, Uganda), Somalia, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Sudan, Algeria, Niger, Chad, Central African Republic and a host of others, vicious cycles of political violence and armed conflicts have spread like cancer and claimed millions of lives. The cases of Somalia and DR Congo paint the most pathetic picture, as the former is riven by bloody clan conflict that has occasioned anarchy, turbulence, disintegration, looting, plundering and devastation since 1991 and the latter by monstruous civil war and the resultant instability, violence, ethnic cleansing, rape, massacres and unparrallel refugee crisis since 1997.
Given that classic failed states in Africa like Somalia have constituted a major source of anxiety to Western countries, especially the U.S, because of the likelihood of anarchy there providing a perfect environment for small but dangerous groups of terrorists and bandits (including Somali pirates now threatening sea transportation within and beyond the country’s territorial waters), the incoming Obama government should draw attention of the international community that has seemingly shown cold indifference to such continuous and silent Tsunami of conflicts and brutal insurgencies. The administration should help restore some semblance of normalcy in such conflict – stricken African states through provision of additional support and assistance with programmes of reconciliation, disarmament, demobilisation, rehabilitation and reintegration.
As part of the impelling necessity for conflict resolution and peace-building in the post-Cold War Africa, the Obama administration should assist the continent with capacity building in the area of preventing and managing conflicts through fostering of the policies of good governance, the rule of law, social justice, fundamental human rights and equitable distribution of economic resources. The administration should enlist the support of the Group of Eight (G-8) highly industrialised countries for African peace-keeping through the AU and other regional peace-keeping initiatives like ECOMOG in West Africa. And aware that conflicts and wars are a deterrent to economic growth and development, the new occupants of the White House should encourage international financial institutions (IFIs) like the World Bank to strengthen their efforts in post-conflict reconstruction in war-torn countries like Mozambique, Angola, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Ethiopia, Eritrea, DR Congo, Rwanda, Burundi, Uganda, Sudan, Guinea-Bissau and others, to enable them not to fall back to the dark and hideous past of bloodletting and destruction.
It is also hoped that the incoming Obama administration would make the growth of democratic process in Africa one of the fulcra of its foreign policies. This can be done through economic aid, capacity and institutional building and development of institutions of democracy – including the justice system, legislatures, the police, local authorities, trade unions, the media, electoral bodies and civil society organisations.
The Obama administration should equally assist in efforts to build democratic and free countries in the seemingly close political societies of North Africa, which have lagged behind sub-Saharan African countries in embracing political reforms. Notably, most of the countries in the region, though economically buoyant but democratically backward, have been under absolute monarchy (like Morocco) or under one-man rule like Ghadafi’s Libya (since 1969), Hosni Mubarak’s Egypt (since 1981), Zine al Abidine Ben Ali’s Tunisia (since 1987), or under shaky democracy marked by repressive conditions like Abdelaziz Bouteflika’s Algeria and neighbouring Mauritania.
Considering that full democratisation of the national societies in North Africa would be crucial in appeasing the rising sense of alienation, disillusionment and political bondage that led to the upsurge of hardline Islamic militancy in the region, as found outlet in violent guerilla uprising in places like Algeria and Egypt, as well as nefarious activities of Al Qaeda in the Maghreb region, which also portends danger to the U.S now waging war on terror, the Obama administration should help re-stimulate interest in democratic process in the entire region. To achieve this, the administration should elicit the support of other Western democracies and supranational bodies like the UN and AU to clear out the swamps of political oppression and socio-economic alienation that have made such region one of the hatcheries of international terrorism. Thankfully, in his 2006 book, The Audacity of Hope, Senator Obama wrote of America’s need to build a new international consensus to confront international threats, which religious extremism and virulent ethnic nationalism are part of. Hopefully, his incoming administration, unlike that of outgoing President Bush that fights fire with fire, would meet the destructive hate and bigotry of Islamic zealotry with creative love of dialogue and engagement.
The incoming administration in the U.S. is also expected to give support to politically convulsive states in Africa like Nigeria, Chad, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Equatorial Guinea, Zimbabwe, Cameroon, Kenya and other sub-Saharan African countries where the process of political pluralism, spurred by public protests and demands for greater leadership responsibilities, has been captured, under the guise of bitter and divisive competitive elections, by the authoritarian groups already in control of power and the state resources. The untoward effects of such turbulent partisan politics in some of these countries that are on the rocky road to democracy are the epidemics of authoritarianism, disregard of the rule of law and electoral fraud that have not only undermined democratic and civic institutions, but have also heightened the level of civil tension and unrest.
The incoming Obama administration should also assist Africa to grapple with climate change and the associated global warming. Needless to say, the environmental degradation on the continent is alarming and unsustainable in the long run, as phenomena like global warming can radically alter human existence through negative impact on health, agriculture, land use, water resources and energy sector. In view of this, the Obama administration would need to play a critical role in enabling African countries to cope and adapt to the so-called “new order” unleashed by ecological catastrophes of climate change and global warming. To this end, the administration should make the U.S to be duly committed to the UN Kyoto protocol on climate change, which the country, one of the world’s major industrial polluters, has pulled out from. The Obama administration should use American global influence to persuade other major industrial polluter countries like Japan, China and Russia to respect global conscience on climate change by subscribing themselves to the principles of the Kyoto system and tackling global warming through cleaner energy technologies and promotion of a post-Kyoto agreement to cut green house gases.
The incoming Obama administration would as well face an uphill task in Africa in the area of disease control, especially in rolling back the menace of HIV/AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis – deadly diseases that have caused an alarming public health emergency on the continent. Take HIV/AIDS as an example, one estimate has it that more than 30 Million Africans are infected with this dreaded pandemic that has devastated families, produced orphans and presented economic and security threats to states on the continent through undermining of manpower of all institutions by illness and death, as witnessed in the critical agricultural, educational, judicial, policy-making and security sectors. Given this, the Obama administration is expected to produce a positive knock-on effect by complementing efforts to tackle HIV/AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis on the continent, in addition to major causes of maternal and infant deaths. The administration should enlist the support of bodies like Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and Harvard AIDS Institute to help African states to produce cost-effective generic drugs or anti-retrovirals (ARVs) that have made HIV survivable in the U.S and Europe for treatment of Africans living with AIDS. That several Western countries like America are investing billions of dollars in fighting terrorism but failing in subsidising ARVs for HIV/AIDS patients in Africa is a clear case of egoistic obscenity of the Western world that should be reversed by the incoming Obama administration for a humane world.
Another African policy issue facing the incoming Obama presidency is how to resolve the lingering North-South dichotomy, or the division between the developed world and developing nations (including those in Africa) over a huge developmental gulf between these geo-economic zones. Some aspects of this gulf or gap arise from the structural defects in the international political economy that put developing countries in unfair and disadvantaged positions. These include the Bretton Woods Institutions (the World Bank, the IMF, the WTO) that are adjudged in some quarters as not working in the better interest of developing countries, the lopsidedness and imbalance of the brave new world of globalisation, globalised economy, ICTs and bio-technology and the peripheral position of the developing nations in the decision-making and implementation apparati of the UN (especially the Security Council).
To reverse the stagnation and suffering associated with such conditions that have contributed to making Africa “a scar on the conscience of the world”, the incoming Obama administration should help bring the New International Economic Order (NIEO) agenda of the 1970s and 1980s back to the front burner of international discourse. Of particular interest to the continent, in this respect, are the paramount issues of debt cancellation, development aid, free and fair trade, poverty alleviation, technology transfer and radical overhaul of the Bretton Woods system. Surely, with the best will in the world, the Obama administration could set the ball rolling in making the North and the South to patch up their differences over varied issues, including world trade talks. Expectedly, the administration would inject momentum into attempts to accelerate the pace of global trade by using morasuasion or moral persuasion to nudge the developed world of the North to exude good disposition towards the developing South by working firmly and quickly for a re-ordered international political economy that is underpinned by inclusion, social justice, fairness and equality of opportunities. Of course, America is required not only to show leadership in abiding by international commitments directed at achieving a genuine new world order, but also at living up to its billing as a powerful nation that is morally obligated to helping the weaker states of the world, including those in Africa, to survive, in the interest of international peace and coexistence.
As the agitation for expansion of the seats of the UN Security Council, based on geo-strategic representation, gathers pace, the incoming Obama administration is well-advised to support any of these three countries, namely Nigeria, South Africa and Egypt, in their bid for the coveted seats. The administration should also ensure that the cornerstone of its foreign policy is to work actively with the world body as a friend of Africa. To this end, the Obama administration should influence the Security Council to resolve conflicts and political instability in different parts of the continent through peace-keeping and pressure on governments of affected countries to tackle the root causes of the conflicts, which include political oppression, social injustice, human rights abuse, extreme poverty and deprivation and illicit flow of small arms and light weapons.
It is impossible to conclude without stating that the emergence of Senator Obama as U.S. president-elect has rekindled hope of increased presence and support of the super power in Africa after the lofty years of John F. Kennedy, Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton. It was former Prime Minister Tony Blair of Britain who said in 2005 that: “A changed Africa could change the face of the world”. True, Senator Obama cannot afford to miss the opportunity of being part of the centripetal international forces working for evolution of a renascent Africa, marked by political stability, social cohesion, economic progress and techno-industrial transformation. With the goodwill and visionary dreams of the Illinois senator as a liberal progressive interested in global order and stability, Africa cannot be relegated in the U.S. foreign policy framework. And his election as president has provided a focal point for the emergence of a new spirit of trust, friendship and cooperation between America and the continent after the unfortunate echoes of Atlantic slavery, the Cold War and Apartheid system that hit this neglected part of the world hardest. Indeed, President-elect Obama is a Western leader African countries would be eager to do business with. He is overwhelmingly plebian in his leadership vision and pro-international cause and through his unbridled liberalism, he would make the U.S. a good state actor on the international stage without much display of power politics.