What Should U.S. Engagement With Africa Look Like in the Age of Obama and Beyond?

4 Min Read

July 3, 2013 By C. Matthew Hawkins

During his recent trip to Africa U.S. President Barack Obama asserted that, despite perceptions to the contrary, he has not neglected Africa during his first five years in office.

While his two immediate predecessors made more extensive trips to Africa (Clinton visiting a total of eight African countries and George W. Bush visiting a total of ten, compared to Obama’s four), and had a large business entourage (Clinton came to Africa with an entourage that filled five passenger plans, while Obama’s entourage was 500 business men and women) and pushed through highly visible initiatives (Clinton’s pushed through his Africa Growth Opportunity Act and Bush authored a $15 billion Emergency AIDS Relief Plan) some of Obama’s U.S. critics suggested that this president — ironically, the first with African ancestry — is considerably more detached from African affairs, other than his expanded military presence on the continent.

Indeed, on the advice of Dr. Ezekiel Emmanuel — the brother of Obama’s former chief of staff — President Obama has actually reduced the rate of increase in spending on HIV/AIDS relief to Africa as contrasted against increases that occurred under the Bush administration.

As evidence that Obama does, indeed, have a vision for engagement he announced a $7 billion “Power Africa” plan to double access to electricity over the next few years.

What will this initiative mean for Africa? Is this the kind of engagement that Africans and Obama’s American critics have been looking for? Does this electrical power initiative, coupled with an expanded military presence on the continent, add up to a “progressive” agenda overall?

Moreover, is it possible for Obama to build on the work of his predecessors? Should he try to expand on the Bush initiative and focus more comprehensively on strengthening the public health infrastructure in Africa?

Should the administration to build on the Clinton initiative to encourage increased trade and investment in Africa?

Is it possible for him to do these things? Will the politics at home, or conditions in Africa itself, allow it?

Obama says that, in contrast to his predecessors, he is more focused on investment and trade rather than charitable aid — do you agree with this assessment of his administration, or is this just a rhetorical cover for having to reduce aid during times of overall austerity in government spending worldwide?

Are there benefits to be derived, for the global economy as a whole, from increasing technology transfer and development, trade and investment in Africa?

Might this actually be a way out of the global financial crisis?

Might the U.S., and other advanced economies, actually help themselves by helping Africa?

To explore these and other questions to do with Obama’s foreign policy in Africa join our twitter conversation on Friday 7-8pm BST using #aotbchat

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