In These New Times

A new paradigm for a post-imperial world

What the US wants to do in Africa ?

Posted by smeddum on August 15, 2009

August 13, 2009

Peoples Daily

“Obama fever” in Ghana is as hot as ever and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton steps foot on African soil. From August 5 through 16 she is scheduled to visit seven African states, which is said to be her longest visit since she took office as the top US diplomat. The difference between Obama’s first visit and Clinton’s first visit to Africa is that Obama only visited one country and Clinton toured several African states. The US has launched a comprehensive diplomatic campaign on energy-rich Africa.

Economic benefit is the top priority

What does the US want from Africa? Clinton’s travel route will cover oil rich powerhouses such as Kenya, Angola, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Nigeria in East Africa, as well as Africa’s economic giant, South Africa. Essentially, most of these countries are either big energy nations or economically developed nations; economic benefit is really the US’s primary objective in Africa. At Clinton’s first stop in Kenya, her first activity was to participate in the Eighth US and sub-Saharan Africa Trade and Economic Cooperation Forum, where she urged African countries to remove trade barriers, and pointed out that the 700 million population of sub-Sahara Africa is larger than the US market. The focus of her trip is to ensure that the US secures a stable oil supply from several oil-producing countries.

Clinton’s other objective is to advance democratic politics to help achieve economic benefit. During her trip Clinton frequently emphasized that “True economic progress in Africa will depend on responsible governments that reject corruption, enforce the rule of law, and deliver results for their people. This is not just about good governance — it’s also about good business,” Some analysts responded bluntly with the evaluation that as long as good governance is achieved, then Africa has done a good thing.

US foreign policy toward Africa is virtually unchanged

With its increasingly tight global energy supply, Africa with potential oil resources and relatively high exploration success rates has become a target coveted by the US. It is predicted that by 2015, oil imported by the US from Africa will account for a quarter of its total oil imports, more than the total oil imports from the Gulf States. This naturally means the US cannot afford to neglect Africa. Furthermore, US President Obama’s African heritage has removed some obstacles for the US to make positive diplomatic moves in Africa.

However, Obama has never substantially elevated Africa’s political status because of his ethnic identity. His previous brief visit to Ghana was so superficial that his viewpoints on numerous issues were the same as those of George W. Bush, dampening ideas that the African-American President must be pro-Africa. Nevertheless, Obama is adept at tactics. According to the New York Times, “Mr. Obama—playing one of America’s strongest and recently most-neglected cards: its soft power.” Compared with countries such as the UK and France that were former colonial states of many African countries, in terms of their influence in Africa, the US is slightly inferior in the respect of politics and culture. Hillary Clinton’s current visit to Africa seeks to fill the gap and strengthen cooperation with African democratic states. Analysts believe that this move is like “using a carrot and a stick” – using every possible means to get “democratic” countries on its side on the one hand and warning “non-democratic” countries on the other hand. In essence, however, the objective behind the changes in tactics to advance “democracy” is simply to ensure that the US is able to secure economic interests there. The Associated Press said that economic recession and two wars have left the US no time to allocate its political energy to Africa. Although the White House reiterated that Africa is a foreign policy priority, it appears to be more like political posturing than actual changes.

Actual influence is under question

What influence will such a high-profile visit to Africa have? A series of high-level diplomatic activities did not create enthusiasm among Africans but rather made them calmly see through this new round of diplomatic passion from the US. The day before Hillary’s visit to Kenya, the host’s Prime Minister Raila Odinga called on Western developed countries to stop preaching to African countries about their internal affairs. He said that indiscriminate criticism of African countries’ internal affairs is impolite and vulgar, and what Africa needs is concrete actions to help Africa’s trade go global. An article published by a Nigerian media agency and titled “Future without America” clearly pointed out, “American regime, democracy and good governance translate to governments that protect American interests. Any government that ignores American interests is undemocratic.”

Even US analysts have agreed with this point. Bronwyn Bruton, a fellow from the Council on Foreign Relations, said that the US and Africa are talking to themselves, “There is a huge craving for investment as opposed to development and preaching.” Former US Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Jendayi Frazer simply said that Clinton’s visit to Africa was a “factoid.” She added, “The question is what meat they will put on the bones, what substance they will bring.”

By People’s Daily Online

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