U.S. – Africa Relations in the Barack Obama Administration: The Possibilities of Change

Feature Article Barack Obama campaigning ahead of the historic election
Barack Obama campaigning ahead of the historic election

WOODBRIDGE, Virginia - The African region continues to stand in need of processes towards peaceful existence of the people, as has been the case since the 1960s. Nevertheless, progressive Africanists can repose in the assumption that with the in-coming administration of President-elect Barrack Obama, Africa is likely to experience a shift in United States' policies towards Africa, for the reasons below.

To start with, it is fair to assume that Barack Obama is a man of peace, more than war. He has expressed his willingness to communicate politically with America's identified enemy nations, when he becomes president. It is defensible also for one to state that Barack Obama, when sworn-in on Jan. 20, 2009, would be the first United States president to have set foot on the African soil, before moving to the White House in Washington, DC.

Reasonable people will not characterize Barack Obama as an “African” President of the United States. Given his personal knowledge and familiarity of say Kenya and Indonesia, progressive Africanists expect Barack Obama to have deeper understanding of the African, and the developing world's experiences and contradictions.

Even if President-elect Obama has deficiencies regarding Africa's relevance to the United States, he has named people to be appointed to significant cabinet positions in his in-coming administration who are likely to alert him in that arena. Senator Hillary Clinton and Dr. Susan Rice, as Secretary of State and Ambassador to the United Nations, respectively, are two appointees of the Obama administration one can expect to lead the charge in crafting new United States policies towards Africa. What these two officials take to President Obama's table in the Oval Office will go a long way in redirecting America's relations with Africa.

Long before Mr. And Mrs. Clinton and their daughter Chelsea moved to the White House in January 1993 as the First family of the United States, they had made significant personal contact with immigrant Africans in Arkansas where former President Bill Clinton served as governor, according to sources. As First Lady, Clinton and her daughter went on a tour of Africa in 1997, visiting six African countries where they received friendly reception.

Since serving as United States Senator from New York State, Hillary Clinton has left a trail of remarks, positions and statements on African matters and affairs as well as problems associated with the direction and trajectory of American foreign policies affecting African people in particular. Senator Clinton has served on the Armed Services Committee of the U.S. Senate where important legislative decisions affecting Africa are made.

Dr. Susan Rice was the US Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs at the end of the second and final term in office of the Bill Clinton administration (1993 to 2001). My personal knowledge has been that Susan Rice did not only take her work seriously, but also that she had relentless passion for fighting for civil and human rights of victimized African people on the continent. On one occasion when the Sudanese government refused landing permit for her plane, she entered Sudan, anyway, and was proud of her feat.

Out of public service, Susan Rice continued her passion for speaking out on behalf of deprived populations in Africa with conflict situations in Sudan as cases. The following reflect positions that Susan Rice will take with her as United States Ambassador to the United Nations.

In 2007, addressing U.S. Congress House Foreign Affairs Hearing on Africa, that focused on Sudan, Susan Rice commended highly, leading critics of the Sudanese conflict situations for not “quibbling about how to characterize the situation in Sudan” and for showing concern. On the contrary, she lamented, “All of us sitting back and allowing some of us to kill other humans is a collective shame of humanity.”

Looking back at the Congressional Hearing on June 8, 2007, it appears part of the remarks by Susan Rice can, today, form the basis for her Africa policy formulation as US ambassador to the UN. Focusing on hostilities in the Darfur region of Sudan, Susan Rice noted that United States' action has not been robust, “We have to use sanctions. We have to put pressure on China. We have to go to the UN with a robust plan and challenge China to veto it.”

Continuing her remarks at the Congressional Hearing, Susan Rice said, “We have to provide the means for protection of civilians in Darfur; a watered down program of hybrid forces is not adequate.” The former Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs stated, “We need to let the Sudanese government know we are serious. We have to speak the language the Sudanese government will understand.”

Susan Rice shocked the large audience at the Congressional Hearing, chaired by Congressman Don Payne, when she asked, “Why are we not doing the same thing we did in Bosnia ---targeted bombing of civilian installations. Why the double standard?” Finally, she asked, “How many people have to die before the US and others get off it to do what is right?”

In February 2008, while campaigning as candidate for the United States presidency, Hillary Clinton told a group of pro-Africa activists, ONE, in a written note, “I have called for spending at least $50 billion over the next five years to fight AIDS worldwide. I have also called for spending $10 billion over five years to get kids in school around the world, and have committed to the bold goal of ending malaria deaths on the continent of Africa by the end of my second term.” In the release posted on website, the presidential candidate promised, “I am also committed to visiting Africa during my first term as President, to see the progress of our efforts and to assess first hand the necessary strategies to combat disease and poverty.”

While Susan Rice called for the need to protect lives in Darfur in 2007, Senator Clinton told President George W. Bush in a letter dated March 16, 2006, that “The government of Sudan – reported by the U.S. State Department on March 8, 2008, 2006 to be responsible for the genocide in Darfur – continues to deny the existence of a crisis. It continues to threaten retaliation against an international intervention, and, according to a UN report dated January 30, 2006, it continues to introduce additional aircraft into Darfur.”

To address her concerns about the Sudanese situation, Sen. Clinton thought the United States can, and should do more to stop the hostilities in Darfur and the region around Sudan, especially Chad. In that regard, she proposed 13 actions that President Bush could take. Today, the Secretary of State-designate, Hillary Clinton, could use the 13 suggestions she made to Pres. Bush as the foundation for formulating policies for handling the Sudan quagmire.

Sen. Clinton's 13 suggestions for resolving the Sudanese contradictions are as following: “Convene a meeting of world leaders to address the crisis in Darfur; Appoint a Presidential Envoy to Sudan; Lead the UN Security Council in authorizing a peacekeeping mission in Darfur; Support the African Union peacekeeping mission in Darfur with funding and assistance from NATO; Enforce the no-fly zone that has been established by the U.N. Security Council and endorsed by the U.S. Congress; Lead the U.N. Security Council in enforcing Resolution 1591, to freeze the assets and travel of certain dangerous individuals; Ensure that the UN Security Council listens to the experts; Stop the violence from spreading into Chad; Call publicly for better behavior from Khartoum; Work with the U.N. Security Council to address attacks by rebel groups in Darfur; Plan for reconstruction in Darfur; and Support reconstruction in southern Sudan.”

Thus far, it is clear that President-elect Obama's appointees who would lead formulation and implementation of United States' policies towards Africa would need no sensitivity training; they are ready to hit the ground running, so to speak. With the Democratic Party in majority in the U.S. legislature and a Democrat as president, it seems the secretary of state and the U.S. ambassador to the U.N. may have a relatively easy time implementing their policy goals towards Africa.

Credit: Yaw Adu-Asare : [[email protected]]
The writer, Yaw Adu-Asare, is the author of “Ghana, In Search of Illusive Positive Change: A Review of the First Kufuor Administration” (2006).