January 22, 2009

HARRISONBURG—Today in his weekly “Strategic Interests” column for the World Defense Review, Dr. J. Peter Pham, Director of the Nelson Institute for International and Public Affairs at James Madison University, offers several suggestions on how President Barack Obama and his administration can avail themselves of the historic event and Africa’s enthusiastic response to it to both help the continent and promote America’s interests:

First, President Obama needs to acknowledge and build upon the firm foundations which were laid by his predecessors…It is very much in the interests of the United States that the Obama administration to not only maintain these programs…In addition, older agencies of the U.S. government, including the Department of State and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), will need resources to strengthen their work in an Africa whose strategic importance to America has increased significantly.

Second, there is broad recognition that security is a precondition for sustainable development in Africa… The establishment of the U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM)…is a significant step to helping meet the security needs of the continent… [But] the Obama administration must convince its congressional allies to provide the resources necessary to stand up the new command… [Also] it is time to have a serious dialogue not only between the U.S. governmental and private sectors, but also involving America’s African partners, on the contributions that contractors will make to an “all of America” approach to helping build up Africa’s security capabilities.

Third… the security objectives of Americans and Africans cannot ultimately be achieved and sustained unless alongside the investment in building security there is an investment in developing the infrastructure, legal and physical, that will facilitate for the emergence of both effective governance and prosperity-bringing markets…[T]he new administration needs to look for creative ways to encourage the private sector to be more engaged with efforts to develop and modernize Africa’s infrastructure.

Fourth…the new administration needs facilitate a concerted effort to mobilize the private sector…to invest in Africa, creating new possibilities not only for American business, but also for Africans…

Fifth… the Obama administration…would do well to place a premium on America’s support for and engagement with the African Union, subregional bodies like the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and the Southern African Development Community (SADC), and Africa’s specialized multilateral institutions like the African Development Bank and the Maritime Organization of West and Central Africa (MOWCA), recognizing that Africans must take the lead.

The essay also notes somberly that:

In the months ahead, Africa faces a number of armed conflicts and other security challenges…which will consume the attention of the new administration, its African partners, and the international community. However, even while these crises are being attended to, attention must also be given to the less sensational, but nonetheless important, challenge which the global financial climate poses to Africa by decreasing the amount money available in the budgets of donor countries for foreign aid programs to which African states are still disproportionately dependent, limiting the capital available for investment in the continent’s still-emerging economies, reducing the prices commanded by their commodities, and even cutting back on the remittances which Africans in the diaspora are able to send home. To a certain extent this challenge may even be a more stubborn obstacle to progress than armed strife since it is, fundamentally, a structural question of development; hence it is all more important for President Obama to renew America’s commitment to tackle it.

Dr. Pham concludes:

Undoubtedly, what many Africans believe Barack Obama will do for America’s relationship with the continent is daunting, perhaps even surrealistically so, although the heightened expectations are understandable given their immense pride in and affinity for him as a son of Africa. At the same time, however, the wave of enthusiasm for the new president and, consequently, for America in general which has swept across the continent gives the forty-fourth president an unprecedented opportunity to not only secure key U.S. interests in Africa…but to also to confirm the hope of millions of Africans that they too can dream of living securely, with dignity and in prosperity, assured of a place in the globalized world of the 21 st century. Indeed the achievement of Africa’s full integration into the international order would be a change everyone, Americans and Africans alike, should believe in.

To read the full text of the article, “How President Obama can Help Africa—and America as Well,” click here.