Obama's Second Term: Expectations
Barack Obama won re-election for another four years as the president of the United States of America after a bruising contest against Governor Mitt Romney. Within hours of his re-election, the issue of what to expect in Africa from President Obama’s second term has been doing rounds in print and electronic media following the perception in the West and the continent that he had not “engaged significantly” in Africa during the first term. I briefly discuss what could be expected in Barack Obama's second term.
|Barrack Obama and Mitt Romney Photo courtesy|
Domestic realities will shape US Foreign Policy in the next four years
The immediate clue to the thrust and orientation of the incoming US administration became evident during President Obama’s election night victory speech where he outlined broad nation building priorities at home for the next four years, with little reference to foreign policy issues. These broad priorities include:
(1) Addressing the runaway national deficit, now approximately 7% of the GDP;
(2) Simplifying the tax code;
(3) Enacting comprehensive immigration reforms; and,
(4) Pursuing energy independence.
Domestic economic concerns dominated both the 2008 and 2012 US elections. The incoming administration must continue work on reviving a sluggish economy (about 2% growth in the third quarter) and reducing high national unemployment rates, currently at 7.9%. To fully revive the US economy in the next few years, the US government must contend with the fallout from the ongoing economic meltdown in Europe and the slowdown of powerful emerging market economies. Europe’s 11% unemployment rate, unsustainable debt profiles of multiple countries and policy gridlock regarding the way forward portends long term uncertainties. Slowing growth rates in the BRIC countries (Brazil, Russia, India and China) traditionally expected to anchor global economic recovery suggests a long road ahead.
The ongoing economic crisis in the West in the last few years has led to the emergence of new leaders committed to an agenda that reflects voter restiveness over domestic priorities and the necessity for prudent foreign policy commitments. Leaders that emerged in the West in the last four years, including the US, the United Kingdom, France and Italy continue to operate a less expansive, less flamboyant and more prudent foreign policy agenda compared to their predecessors. This voter influenced, prudent approach will not change in Western democracies until economic outlook dramatically improves.
Candidate Barack Obama’s foreign policy agenda during the re-election campaign reflected this voter influenced foreign policy agenda. The campaign emphasized close attention to China’s emerging economic and political power. Ending the nuclear crisis with Iran was another concern. Concluding the war in Afghanistan, jumpstarting the Israel-Palestinian peace process and responding to the aftermath of 2011 Arab Spring, including the ongoing civil war in Syria were additional campaign promises.
African Governments and institutions must come to the table
The US-Africa partnership in the next four years will largely depend on whether Africa is willing and able to seize opportunities for stronger, mutually beneficial relationship. African governments and institutions have the unique opportunity to reset policy and program priorities during Barack Obama’s second term by taking stock of the current US domestic realities and taking advantage of the almost universal understanding that Africa’s future is virtually limitless with smart policies and programs. In fact, 2012 and early 2013 present a once-in-a lifetime opportunity for Africa to recalibrate relationship with the United States and China, two most powerful countries going through delicate political transition.
Current United States upgraded partnership strategy with Africa is key
During the second term, the Obama administration will rely on its 2012 US Africa Strategy anchored on strong democratic institutions, trade and investment opportunities, and, inclusive economic growth. I had in an earlier article indicated that the revamped US Africa Strategy recasts Africa as an important destination of global prosperity rather than a perpetual recipient of international aid. The US government envisages a self-reliant Africa actively tackling continental problems.
President Obama’s engagement in Africa in the second term will likely revolve around short and longer term objectives. Short term objectives will focus on expanding existing partnerships. In the longer term, the US government will likely focus on how best to assist African governments and institutions prepare Africa youth of today for future leadership roles in the continent. This commitment is evident in the well-known Cairo and Accra speeches in his first term.
2013 through 2015 US/Africa partnership issues
In the immediate term within the 2013 through 2015 window, the Obama administration will likely pay close attention to six major partnership issues in Africa. First, strengthening support for free and fair elections in Africa. Forthcoming elections in Kenya (2013) and Nigeria (2015) will receive special attention. Kenya barely survived the violent aftermath of disputed 2007 national election. Nigeria’s 2015 national election will test collective resolve to end a long history of electoral malpractices and associated violence.
Second, maintaining anti-terror partnership networks with African governments, continental institutions and regional political blocs. The US government will continue to provide critical support to anti-terror networks. In particular, the incoming administration will likely collaborate with the African Union and the United Nations to end the bifurcation of Mali by Islamic insurgents. Cross training programs with the military and law enforcement agencies in Africa will continue.
Third, working closely with the United Nations and the African Union to end instability in the Great Lakes region of Africa. The incoming administration will press governments in the region to end the war in the Democratic Republic of Congo, primarily fought over natural resources. Expanded humanitarian assistance to long suffering civilian populations will accompany efforts to end military operations. The US government working with regional partners will continue the push for a logical conclusion to the campaign against the Lord’s Resistance Army.
Fourth, emphasizing streamlined multi country, multi-sectoral and multi-partnership strategies to address overarching development problems. These problems include food security concerns, drought, timely access to basic healthcare services, affordable educational opportunities, governance and regulatory reforms and sustained support for small and medium enterprises. The incoming administration will emphasize close collaboration with other bilateral agencies, the United Nations system, the organized private sector and civil society. In addition, expect a comprehensive review, realignment and streamlining of US government agencies dealing with international development assistance.
Fifth, supporting transformation effort of continental institutions in Africa. The ongoing global economic crisis led the US, the European Union, China, Brazil and India to prioritize regional integration of economies. Strengthening continental institutions in Africa is a top global strategic priority. The incoming Obama administration will likely step up effort in this regard. The US government already enjoys robust, close relationship with the African Development Bank. Transformation efforts by the African Union will be an important priority in the second term. In particular, African Union priorities on peace and security, human rights, monitoring of national elections, regional integration and the creation of viable continental organs for banking and investment services will receive close attention.
Sixth, launching a public-private Africa Diaspora initiative to promote investment, entrepreneurial and technical linkages and opportunities. The initiative will connect skill sets within Africans in the Diaspora with identified opportunities in specific geographic regions in Africa. The Obama administration’s support for strong Africa Diaspora relationship with Africa is well known. The private sector will play pivotal roles in the initiative since job creation on both sides of the Atlantic will be a top priority. Important partners in the Africa Diaspora initiative will include the World Bank, the African Union, Africa Development Bank, Latin American countries, the Caribbean, Wall Street and organized private sector in Africa.
Longer term issues
For the long term, the incoming Obama administration will build on the modest first term initiative on youth and future leaders in Africa that relied almost exclusively on organizing meetings and conferences in the US. The longer term perspective will be on specific program support for African youth. Expanding tertiary education opportunities in the United States will be an important strategy. Increasing infrastructure and technical support for Africa-based institutions of higher learning to expand access to quality education will be another. Providing opportunities for short term immersion programs on democracy and governance for future leaders will be part of envisaged support.
Attention to self-employment and private sector employment opportunities for the army of educated but idle African youth will be important in the next four years, and possibly beyond. Educated but unemployed African youth have radically transformed the fate of countries such as Cote d’Ivoire, Egypt, Tunisia and Libya in recent years. The last has not been heard of disaffected, educated and unemployed youth, especially in Sub-Sahara Africa.
To improve employment prospects, the US government will likely increase support for skill acquisition and job training programs and expand access to entrepreneurial start off loans. For uneducated or undereducated youth, targeted vocational training programs, pathways to finish school and increasing access to microcredit facilities will be important. On a broader level, expect concern for the youth to be tied to partnership support for political, education, health, public safety and sports/recreation programs.
Finally, the most likely enduring footprint of an eight-year Barack Obama administration in Africa will be commitment to democracy. Obama’s second term is likely to revolve around a zero tolerance policy against fraudulent and sham elections, contempt for the rule of law, human rights violations and constriction of political space. I expect President Obama to be personally engaged in efforts to strengthen democracy in Africa.
In the end, the success and failure of the Obama administration’s second term in Africa will rest largely with the quality of partnership with African governments and institutions. Ultimately, the Obama administration can only supplement the role of African governments and institutions in giving African children a healthy start in life and giving its youth a fair start to adulthood. Not even the American son of a Kenya father can do for Africa what it must do for itself.
By Chinua Akukwe
The Author is the Chair of the Africa Working Group of the National Academy of Public Administration, Washington, DC. He is a former Chair of the Technical Board of the Africa Center for Health and Human Security, George Washington University, Washington, DC. Dr. Akukwe is solely responsible for this article. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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