Obama in Africa

President Obama’s trip to Africa early in his term is a departure from past Presidents. Most don’t get there until late in their terms. For this reason the Obama visit is viewed with great hope.

In a letter to the President, a group of faith leaders affirmed his visit and called for four changes in U.S. strategy toward the continent.

First, they say the U.S. should speed bilateral and international actions to cancel unsustainable debt owed by African countries and reform international financial agencies dealing with Africa to promote democratization and transparency. They specifically call for closer work with the UN and its policies and "less privileging" of the  the World Bank and International Monetary Fund.

Secondly, they call on the U.S. to restructure its foreign assistance agencies to encourage cooperative partnerships with other countries and international agencies to address global problems. The letter says the Obama Administration can promote a just approach to development by contributing a fair share to multi-lateral agencies, coordinating bilateral programs with international programs, e.g., the universally agreed-upon Millennium Development Goals, and ensuring the integration of U.S. funded development programs within broader frameworks of regional and bilateral cooperation.

Third, the leaders say it’s urgent to create inclusive approaches to problems regionally and globally and encourage frameworks for broader dialogue between civil sectors in the U.S. and Africa, in contrast to the expansion of military ties on the one hand and trade ties through the African Growth and Opportunity Act on the other.

Fourth, they call the U.S. to reduce military spending and defuse threats through cooperative security measures, arms reduction and multilateral peace initiatives.

The letter points to a basic reality. Africa’s poverty is structural. It’s the result of political decisions, policy choices that favor military expenditures over humanitarian development and economic models that favor big multinational financing over targeted self-development. It also recognizes the need for broader participation in the planning and decisions that affect the countries on the continent. And it calls for the U.S. to engage Africa multilaterally, recognizing the new reality of globalization.

The Obama visit to Ghana could be the first small step toward significant change. That is the hope this visit carries.

3 Responses to “Obama in Africa”

  1. Betty Wingfield July 7, 2009 at 8:29 am #

    Thanks for the confirmation. I thought this was earlier than most President’s typically make official trips to Africa.

  2. Rev. Nancy Day-Achauer July 8, 2009 at 7:37 am #

    Thank you for the summary on the letter, very helpful for appreciating the complexity of the issue. Past presidents have frequently put Africa on the backburner and often treated the countries with disrespect. I think Obama will be the first to take Africa seriously. Visiting an African country so early in his presidency is a sign of hope.

    • Larry July 8, 2009 at 9:50 am #

      Thanks for the comment. I think the letter spells out a more reasonable, if complex approach to Africa. Having travelled often to the continent and seen how the U.S. assistance can be a helpful input or a troubling one, I am hopeful Pres. Obama’s more considered approach will result in change that helps address democratization, corruption and more effective partnerships. It’s a tall order but because Africa hasn’t been a strategic priority the problems have been left to simmer on the back burner. Somalia, it seems to me, ought to bring it to higher consideration. But today instability anywhere ought to be a strategic concern given our interconnected world.
      Thanks again.

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