This is Africa

Historically, Africa has largely remained in the periphery of American foreign policy interests except where American security is at stake.


Presidents Jonathan and Obama

Egypt alone, which is of significant security interest to the United States, receives about 20 percent of U.S. aid to Africa.  The limited U.S. interest in Africa is also evidenced by the fact that despite the free trade policy efforts of the Africa Growth and Opportunity Act, US commercial interests in Africa remain very low. In 2009, of the $282bn foreign direct investment outflows from the US, less than 2 percent went to Africa – the majority of which went to the oil and extractive minerals sectors.

A few months into his presidency, President Obama appeared to signal a new dawn in US – Africa relations.  In speeches he made in Ghana and Egypt, Obama articulated a relationship based on partnership and mutual interests.  While making it clear that Africans were solely responsible for their destiny, President Obama indicated his administration’s desire and commitment to support Africa’s development efforts. Although his speech in Egypt was directed at the Muslim world, it did resonate positively with Africans who saw a president willing to engage them with respect and dignity.

The President’s early signals on his interest in dealing with Africa solidified the high expectations that the continent held following his election.  Africans expected that with their ‘native son’ as president of the most powerful nation in the world, their interests would feature more prominently in America’s policy space as evidenced by more development cooperation through trade and investment; increased aid flows and support initiated in previous administrations.

These expectations were largely misplaced: the president inherited a dismal domestic economy which means he had to focus on economic recovery.  In addition he did not have resources at his disposal to support Africa. But more importantly, what seemed to have been missed is that Africa does not have any constituents who deliver votes and thus there are no substantive political returns for focusing on the region.  For a president keen to be re-elected, a focus on Africa is hardly an optimal political investment.  Read more…