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President Elect Barack Obama

Africa’s Expectations from Obama’s visit

Africa’s Expectations from Obama’s visit

by Nii Okaijah

 

CHICAGO-When President Barack Obama of the United States of America (USA) makes his first official African visit to Ghana July 10-11, the question that will be raised is whether he can meet expectations of Africans for strong American assistance to help uplift their economic condition.

The brief nature of the visit and the U.S. own deep economic problems give an indication that Africa must not expect too much. Africans, however, must seek President Obama’s full support for changes in the policies of the West to improve their well-being, as they join the U.S. in promoting democracy, anti-terrorism and the emergence of Obama, the first Black as American

president.

 

Ghanaians and other Africans strongly admire President Obama whose father originated from the African nation of Kenya. During visits to the country before his election as president, he was accorded enthusiastic receptions, but Kenyans now feel slighted that the P/960U.S. leader is not visiting their country reportedly for security reasons. His presidential campaign and victory generated widest support in Kenya and the rest of Africa for any foreign election.

Despite President Obama’s background, Africans have reason to expect substantial American assistance as the U.S. heavily relies on African products, oil and strategic minerals.

 

Although Ghana’s choice for the African visit was attributed highly to the country’s successful democratic efforts, economic factors could not be ruled out. Most important to the visit may be that Ghana has something the U.S. really wants – oil. Ghana recently announced the discovery of oil deposit in commercial quantity and production is expected to begin this year.

But Ghana has an ambitious plan to boost the living standards of her people and will be inclined to court America’s support.  Consequently, President Obama would be urged to support Ghana’s proposal for a one billion loan from the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

 Indeed, Ghana’s Information Minister has said that the country expects economic benefits from the visit. As the world’s second largest producer of cocoa and Africa’s biggest gold producer after South Africa, Ghana has a bright economic future given some support.

 

Another factor in Ghana’s choice is that Ghanaians are known for their hospitality to visitors. Every year, thousands of Americans visit the country, and U.S. investment in the country is increasing. Former

Presidents Bush and Clinton received the warmest receptions in Ghana during their African visits.

A few months ago, the country opened a brand new government palace, and one can only imagine the reception that will be accorded the first black American president, who is likened to Ghana’s Kwame Nkrumah, the first black person to head a modern government in the whole sub-Saharan Africa.

In Ghana, a major tourist attraction for Americans is the shrine of W.E. B. DuBois, the eminent black American Scholar/activist, who spent his last years in Ghana as director-general of Encyclopedia Africana. His wife, Shirley, also served as director of Ghana Television Service.

Another site of historical significance to American tourists, which President Obama is expected to visit, is the “Door of No  Return” at Cape Coast Castle that served as a final post for slaves that were sent to the American.

 

    An additional reason for Ghana’s choice is that the U.S. is counting on the country’s support to combat drug trafficking into West Africa through Ghana. The U.S. concern about this was expressed by President Obama in a congratulatory telephone call to Ghana’s President John Atta Mills after he won the country’s election early this year to succeed John Kufour.

During Kufour’s rule, there were reports of laxity in efforts to control the drug influx.

In a statement after President Obama’s call, the new Ghana government expressed its determination to work with the U.S. to take strong measures to help curb the illegal activity. Already, Ghanaian security forces are up to the task; barely two weeks ago, they uncovered a major drug smuggle worth millions of dollars.

 

    With issues relating to terrorism and piracy high, President Obama’s visit could indeed have ramifications beyond Ghana. Some African leaders are expected to converge on Ghana’s capital of Accra after the Africa Union (AU) summit in Libya.

President Obama will have a firsthand account from African leaders about their problems ranging from AIDS, major economic problems to various trouble spots such as Somalia, Sudan, Zimbabwe and the Congo. Admittedly, U.S. has provided a sizable economic and social support to African countries, but increased assistance is now critical.

According to a recent U.N. report sub-Sahara African countries are now paying the highest price for the world’s economic downturn that originated from the U.S. On this account, African leaders will need to

take pains to point out the value of their resources to Western economies, and request for more assistance.

 

       South Africa, Nigeria, Congo, Angola and the Sudan are among African countries with vast oil and strategic mineral resources that are needed by the U.S. Nigeria’s oil exports to the U.S. alone accounts for

14 percent of the U.S. oil imports.

Consequently, African leaders should call for concrete actions to address problems that have been hindering their development. These include the need for fair trade prices, increased access to markets, more investment in infrastructure, agriculture and industry devoid of exploitation to generate economic stability.

 A Marshal Plan type program patterned after the successful U.S. assistance to Germany after the Second World War would be ideal. The impact of slavery, colonialism, ethnic wars, poverty and diseases make the situation in Africa even worse than that of Germany.

 In Rwanda and Congo alone, over six million people have died from conflicts in the area.

 

Amid insufficient Western support, Communist China has embarked on a major economic drive into Africa giving generous loans and building vast infrastructural and industrial development that are unmatched.

Most recently, the Russians, apparently capitalizing on the failure to include Africa’s economic giant, Nigeria, on President Obama’s visit, sent President Medvedev to the country where he sealed nuclear and gas deals worth billions of dollars.

Also, European countries have just concluded an agreement with Nigeria and two other African countries, Niger Republic and Algeria to supply $10 billion worth of gas to Europe.

Barely a week to President Obama’s expected arrival in Ghana, the European Union (EU) also announced nearly $250 million in grant aid to the country.

.

With the critical economic situation in the US, top officials may claim that the country cannot do much in addition to what the industrialized countries agreed upon at their recent summit.

But America should not avoid providing effective assistance to Africa, as well as curbing the new drive by foreign powers to control Africa. Major U.S. economic assistance to help avert poverty is preferable to building military bases on the continent.

Unlike past leaders, President Obama gained substantial knowledge of Africa as a U.S. senator, and, if he cannot help the continent as the first African-American President. Who can? 

 He brought Africa to spotlight more than any American politician during the presidential campaign, and Africa must now not be allowed to remain at the back burner of U.S. foreign relations.

Consequently, President Obama must not only criticize African dictators, corruption and promote democracy during his visit, he must also initiate firm U.S. support and advocate changes in policies of Europe that have largely helped to exploit Africa and create immense poverty and sufferings on the

continent.

 It is the only way that will make meaningful President Obama’s statement in Kenya a few years ago that Africans ultimately must be responsible for helping themselves. More than any Western leader today,

President Obama knows that the overwhelming desire of Africans is to help raise their standard of living.

 

  If he succeeds in laying down new effective U.S .policies towards Africa for the West to emulate, it would augment Africa’s own efforts through strong political and economic unification to improve living conditions.

President Obama’s failure would seriously mar U.S.- African relations and jeopardize mutual security and economic interests.

 

Nii Okaijah is an African journalist and educator.

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