Thursday, 15 January 2009
Divining Obama's Africa Policy
A day after Hillary Clinton pledged to implement "smart power" diplomacy at her confirmation hearing, her husband and the former US President, Bill Clinton was in Abuja the Nigerian capital on what would be his third visit to Nigeria this decade and the 2nd since he left office.
This visit was his first foreign trip as the spouse of America's new top diplomat, and as such his words were being watched closely. He was in town to deliver the keynote speech at the Thisday Awards and he also paid a visit to President Yar A'dua.
While the media spotlight was on Clinton, the real action was elsewhere. At a panel discussion chaired by former Nigerian Foreign Minister, Bolaji Akinyemi in Abuja yesterday, political heavyweights from the outgoing Republican and incoming Democratic parties made the case for the Obama administration's Africa policy.
The Associated Press reports that panel member and outgoing Democratic party chair, Howard Dean said
"He will see an increased emphasis on Africa, not just because Barack Obama is an African American but because he hired some people in key positions who know and have worked on African issues."
Dean may be referring to people such as Susan Rice and Samantha Power, who are well known for their Africa expertise.
But this view was countered by another panelist, Karl Rove, a key player in the outgoing Bush administration once described by the Washington Post as "President Bush's eyes and ears." He was reported as saying "Africa was not at the center of American political dialogue this year."
He went on to say "Sure, Barack Obama talked about the genocide in Darfur but gave no indication of what he will do differently than the current administration. He, like the current administration, decried Mugabe, but he did not talk specifically what he will do differently," Rove said. "He talked about Somalia and the desire to have civil government, but again did not talk specifically about what he will do differently than the current administration."
So there you have what the old guard think. Old guard in that none of these panelists are seasoned Africa hands and more importantly, none will play any significant role in crafting or implementing Obama's policy towards Africa.
A better bet on defining what the future will look like would have been any of the 2 afore mentioned ladies who will play key roles in this area. An even better choice for the organizers whould have been Witney Schneidman, who is being touted as the man to suceed Jendayi Frazer as Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs.
He advised the Obama campaign on Africa policy and laid out the framework for Obama's policy toward Africa in this September article.
Here's the executive summary:
"Barack Obama will pursue three fundamental objectives on the continent.
- One is to accelerate Africa's integration into the global economy.
- A second is to enhance the peace and security of African states.
- And a third is to strengthen relationships with those governments, institutions and civil society organizations committed to deepening democracy, accountability and reducing poverty in Africa."
If the conventional wisdom holds true, then we will certainly hear a lot more from Dr Schneidman in the coming years. Watch this space!