Opinion

Op-Ed

The Emerging Obama Doctrine on Africa

President Barack Obama speaks to the crowd in Accra, Ghana, on July 11. (Photo: Pete Souza/ The White House via Getty Images)

President Obama's July visit to Ghana created the opportunity for the administration to discuss its emerging thinking on U.S.-Africa relations. In a speech to the Ghana Parliament, Obama spoke with a blunt directness not often associated with U.S. presidents. In the visit to Africa by Secretary of State Hilary Clinton, the same directness in addressing issues was evident. Statements credited to the assistant secretary of state for Africa, Johnnie Carson, also revealed a blunt approach.

We are seeing key pillars of Obama's Africa doctrine emerging. First and foremost, we are seeing that the administration expects Africa to take charge of its development. Although this is not a new sentiment, Obama made it forcefully clear in his speech to the Ghana Parliament that he expects African leaders and governments to be in the driver's seat regarding development initiatives.

This administration is also making it clear that it will speak frankly to African leaders and governments. Obama and Clinton did not mince words discussing issues such as corruption, the need for electoral reforms and the importance of good governance.

Good governance will become a holy grail of the U.S.-Africa relationship. By unambiguously linking economic development to good governance, U.S. engagement in Africa will include a sustained focus on the rule of law and population-based democracy.

The Obama administration may not focus significantly on individual African leaders but on the creation of strong national and regional institutions. By identifying lack of strong institutions and the dearth of democratic checks-and-balances in the continent as inimical to Africa's development, the administration is signaling a major emphasis on working with African governments to strength the legislative branch of government, the judiciary, the civil society and professional organizations.

Pro-active conflict prevention and resolution will also garner significant attention. The appointment of a special envoy for Sudan to work directly with stakeholders in Darfur and southern Sudan as part of a comprehensive peace process in Sudan is a notable example of the evolving strategy on conflict resolution.

In the areas of trade, energy, agriculture and health, the administration appears to favor an integrated development partnership with African countries. Both Obama and Clinton have discussed the desire for a "true" partnership with Africa, with mutual responsibilities for both sides that is anchored on a growing global economy. However, what constitutes a "true" partnership in practice is yet to be tested.

Finally, the administration is taking a long view in Africa by focusing on the African youth. In Ghana Obama spoke of the unique responsibility of young people in Africa to play decisive roles in Africa's renaissance. It is very likely that the administration will seek to work closely with African governments to improve access to education, health and other social services for the youth in Africa.

The evolving Obama doctrine in Africa is yet to receive a strong response from African leaders and governments. Their silence may suggest a wait-and-see attitude to a young administration. The Obama Administration, after all, is busy with significant domestic matters at the moment, grappling with its national economy, healthcare and energy reforms.

The next few years will be the test to see if the global slow-down in the economy or the war on terrorism affect the implementation of the doctrine. While Africa is simultaneously ramping up its relationship with China, the way in which African governments react to a sustained focus on governance from the Obama Administration will also be a significant determining factor.

View the Worldpress Desk’s profile for Chinua Akukwe.

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