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.