November 6, 2008

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, looks beyond the historic election of Senator Barack Obama to the presidency of the United States in order to examine what role Africa will actually play in the Obama administration’s foreign policy and what approaches it might adopt in with respect to the continent.

Dr. Pham notes that while some pundits on the right have already begun to express reservations about the priorities which might be embraced by the incoming administration, at least with respect to Africa policy, he had little to quarrel with the objectives outlined by Dr. Witney W. Schneidman, co-chair of Senator Obama’s Africa advisory group, on behalf of his principal during the course of the campaign. Dr. Pham argues that a bipartisan approach is needed:

Achieving U.S. strategic interests in Africa and advancing the just causes like ending the genocide in Darfur, assuring the full implementation of the [Comprehensive Peace Agreement] between the Khartoum regime and the South Sudanese, and resolving the conflict in the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of Congo are not Democratic or Republican causes, but American priorities on which both presidential candidates largely converged, even if they differed on emphases …However, given the recent financial panics and the overall climate of uncertainty with respect to the economy, mustering the political wherewithal to pursue these consensus goals—to say nothing of President-elect Obama’s ambitious Africa agenda, including the doubling of America’s foreign assistance budget to $50 billion per year—will require that Africa’s advocates on both sides of the political aisle work together. And, given the large areas where Democratic and Republican positions on Africa have overlapped, the incoming administration might find that Africa policy might be one are where it can most easily achieve an early success in the drive for “bipartisan unity on foreign policy” that the Obama-Biden campaign has promised to deliver.

Just one possible avenue for bipartisan cooperation is ensuring that the new Africa Command receives the resources it needs to adequately assume the responsibilities which have been entrusted to it, including fighting the global war on terror’s African front and managing the military relationships America must maintain with African countries in order to assist in the building up of their own security and other governance capabilities. Another is accelerating Africa’s integration into the global economy… While advocating free trade is a sensitive issue with some elements in the Democratic coalition, the Obama administration should nonetheless not only seek to open up additional trade opportunities for African economies under a strengthened AGOA framework, but it should work to mobilize the private sector to invest in Africa, creating new opportunities not only for American business, but also for Africans to achieve their own dreams. After all, worldwide it is private enterprise, especially small-to-medium firms, which delivers the sustainable economic growth which so many Africans and their friends seek to jump-start. Republicans, whose 2008 national platform strongly advocated this position, should not hesitate to support President Obama in expanding trade with Africa. The new administration also needs to call for an intensified effort by African governments to eliminate unnecessary barriers, uncertainties, and other disincentives that continue to discourage both African and foreign private investors from doing business in Africa…

One additional task that the new administration might undertake is to develop a comprehensive national strategy for U.S. engagement in Africa.

The commentary concludes:

While there are strategic and political reasons which will drive it, there is no denying that the Africa policy of an Obama administration will be given added momentum by the incoming president’s personal story. What Senator McCain said in his extraordinarily moving election night concession speech about Barack Obama “inspiring the hopes of so many millions of Americans who had once wrongly believed that they had little at stake or little influence in the election of an American president” and his recognition of “the special significance [the historic election] has for African-Americans and for the special pride that must be theirs” could be easily be extended to include Africans, both on the continent and in the diaspora. The excitement sweeping across Africa now presents the new U.S. chief executive with a rare opportunity to translate effusive sentiments of good will into a windfall of diplomatic capital which, if he husbands it prudently, can significantly advance America’s values and interests on the continent while helping to achieve Africans’ aspirations for peace, stability, and development.

To read the full text of the article, “ Africa in an Obama Administration,” click here.