President Obama has again stunned the world. In stark contrast to his predecessor he has once again demonstrated the political will to provide international leadership on one of the central problems that plague the global community. This past Sunday, in the city of Prague, he called for the reinvigoration of the struggle against nuclear weapons. Describing nuclear weapons ‘as the remainder of the cold war’, he described it, and in particular such weapons landing in the hands of terrorists, as one of the great contemporary threats confronting humanity. Refreshingly, for the first time, Obama implicitly acknowledged the unequal character of the international bargain on nuclear weapons, encapsulated in the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NNPT), and how this has contributed to the proliferation of nuclear weapons and technology. Moreover, he explicitly recognized that if the nuclear threat is to be addressed, then the nuclear powers themselves have to come to the party and begin a serious program to decommission and ultimately eliminate their nuclear stockpiles. This is absolutely necessary and non-negotiable. Until now both the United States and Western Europe have tried to reinforce this unequal international nuclear bargain by threatening developing countries and what they perceive as ‘rogue states’ either through […]
In 1958, eminent Africanist scholars including David Apter, Elliot Berg, Rupert Emerson, Ruth Schachter and Emmanuel Wallerstein, among others, wrote “A New American Policy Toward Africa”. The document became the blueprint of the Kennedy Administration’s policy for an Africa then struggling to unyoke itself from European colonialism. Unfortunately, its principal recommendation–that America should support elite rule in Africa—may be the source of the West’s eagerness to set a very low bar for African governance; today, poor governance by successive elite regimes is par for the course in Africa, universally acceptable by western governments and the inter-governmental institutions they control and direct. To uplift Africa, the Obama Administration must jettison this policy, as acceptance is a restatement of the view that non-Caucasoid are incapable of self-government. Following Kennedy’s assassination, his popularity in Africa escaped all boundaries; Africa felt the presumed dream of Kennedy commitment to uplift Africa unrealized is partially reflected in the response to his assassination by elite rulers. For example, Liberia’s William Tubman cabled that the “urn of grief has been opened and our tears are pouring in”. The diminutive but regal Haile Selassie showed in his appearance in the Capitol Rotunda, his irretrievable loss. In contrast, African youth […]
In November 2006, Jendayi Frazer, then Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, prided herself of “no longer traveling to Africa via Europe”, adding: “We don’t need that any more. We deal with the continent directly, our own way”. She made the statement in San Francisco when addressing the annual meeting of the African Studies Association (ASA), appositely convened under the theme (Re)Thinking Africa and the World: Internal Reflections, External Responses. A month later, if not at Washington’s instigation at least with American backing, Ethiopian troops officially invaded Somalia – boots had been on the ground since July – to oust the Islamic Court Union in Mogadishu. This was the beginning of, arguably, the Bush administration’s biggest African blunder (together with the palempsestuous policy vis-à-vis Khartoum and the resulting inaction in Darfur). Would a stopover in Rome have been such a bad idea before starting a proxy war to flush out presumed al-Qaeda affiliates in Somalia? If it were to see 21st-century Africa through postcolonial lenses, and to rehabilitate the “colonial library” as a surrogate for on-the-spot assessment and direct engagement with Africans, Europe’s capitals might very well be over flown. One may even concede that Donald Rumsfeld’s “old Europe” […]
The past decade of U.S. Africa policy has made some wish most for policies that would “first, do no harm.” A Hippocratic test could be useful for President Obama’s new Africa team at the NSC and the State Department, as they reflect on the harm that has punctuated their predecessors’ policies towards many African countries. The sins fall into (at least) three categories: omission, commission, and intersecting them at times, militarization. Here are three. First, “democratic” elections in Nigeria and, relatedly, Kenya; this could also be called non-regime-change. Second, fear and loathing of “Islamist” regimes, as in Somalia; thus, regime change. Finally, the rushed creation of AFRICOM, with a mission that looks likely to ingest functions of the State Department and USAID. In Nigeria missed opportunities and worse have led to pervasive pessimism as Nigerians face the future. Key in this was President Olusegun Obasanjo, fresh from political imprisonment, who became president in May 1999 through an only slightly flawed election. Nigerians and Americans alike rejoiced at the departure of the military; Obasanjo had more goodwill at home and abroad than any head of state before him. The relief in Washington was palpable, and largely set the tone for the […]
On the face of it, Africa has been relatively unharmed by the world financial crisis. The fact is that it remains the continent that has been the least penetrated by formal institutions of investment and credit – mortgages, bank loans, share dealings, that sort of thing. Much low-level business in Africa is done with cash or even barter. In South Africa, the continent’s leading economic power, the banks are still regulated in a way that was regarded as orthodox in North America and Europe before the doctrines of free-market globalization became fashionable, so South African bankers are actually forbidden by their government to deal in the dubious financial instruments that have brought down so many famous names in the banking world. Good news so far, then. Yet the world is not just dealing with a financial crisis, but with a recession as well. Here, Africans are affected like everyone else. The continent still depends largely on exporting primary products. Because of a fall in demand, the prices of most commodities have fallen sharply, with exceptions only for a couple of items, including gold and cocoa. The consequence is a decline in foreign exchange earnings for most African countries, compounded by […]
It will be difficult to discuss anything this week but the inauguration of the first black man to be elected President of the United States of America. It is an election that is resonating with historical symbolisms and promises of new beginnings and great expectations. A nation whose wealth was built on genocide of the indigenous peoples and slavery of Africans has elected, not a direct descendant of these slaves, but a descendant of the enslaved peoples as its president. America does not disguise its white hegemony which it proclaims more symbolically in the name given to its seat of power: The White House. Now that house, built by slave labour and proceeds of slavery, is to have a black man calling the shots. Talk of poetic justice and the empire striking back. But beyond the symbolism and the historical proportions of Obama’s remarkable ascendancy to the Presidency of the USA, there are many challenges. One’s disappointments are usually directly proportional to one’s expectations. Obama is not a messiah, even though that is what many expect him to be. He cannot solve all the problems of the world. He cannot even solve all the problems of America. However, potentially his […]
The ideals of American democracy, and the spirit of African liberation, have been intimately linked for more than half a century. At pivotal historic moments the two have intersected. In the 1950s, inspired by Mahatma Gandhi, Kwame Nkrumah was a proponent of non-violent “positive action” and he and his fellow African nationalists saw their cause as inextricably linked to the efforts for emancipation in the U.S.
Around the world, America’s presidential election caught the imagination of young people. Nowhere was that more true than here in Darfur. In the displaced camps, people huddled around transistor radios as the election results came in during the pre-dawn hours. Barack Obama’s victory speech, received here after daybreak on November 5, was one of those rare Mandela moments — a jubilant triumph over injustice, a day marked in history when the impossible seems suddenly possible.
Fifty years before Barack Obama’s historic election last November, a group of American intellectuals met in New York to begin thinking about what a new American policy toward Africa might look like at the beginning of a decade of profound global change. That informal gathering, led by Immanuel Wallerstein, David Apter, Wayne Fredericks and others—along with the “New American Policy Toward Africa” (PDF) they signed their names to—eventually became the blueprint for President John F. Kennedy’s Africa policy.
Today, January 20, 2009, Barack Obama, a man of both African and American ancestry, will become President of the United States. He has an abiding interest in Africa as well as African friends and relatives. President Obama will be assisted by a Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, who herself has long been interested in Africa and in issues important to Africa, such as economic development and human rights. At the United Nations, the Administration will be represented by an Ambassador, Susan Rice, who was an Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs in the Bill Clinton Administration. Learning from the failures of that Administration during the Rwanda genocide, Rice has become a leading proponent of humanitarian intervention to save lives and an advocate for the international protection of human rights.