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USA/Africa: After the Speech
Jul 21, 2009 (090721)
(Reposted from sources cited below)
President Obama's speech met with mixed reviews. In Africa as well
as in the United States, there was applause for the criticism of
corrupt African rulers and the inspiring rhetoric calling for
Africans to take responsibility for their future. But many
commentators also called for a reality check.
"You have the power to hold your leaders accountable and to
build institutions that serve the people," President Obama declared
to African youth, and promised "America will be with you." An
honest effort to keep that promise, however, would require much
more change in Washington than the president seems to realize.
This AfricaFocus Bulletin contains a selection of post-speech
commentaries stressing that making space for African initiatives
also requires a more critical look at U.S. policy. AfricaFocus
readers may have already seen several of these commentaries, and
length precludes including the full text in the e-mail edition of
this Bulletin. So I have opted to include excerpts from four that
struck me as particularly incisive, with links to the full text of
each in the web version of this bulletin at
http://www.africafocus.org/docs09/usa0907a.php, as well as links to
several additional shorter commentaries.
Another AfricaFocus Bulletin sent out today contains excerpts from
the latest U.S. government report on U.S.-Africa trade,
highlighting the prominence of oil exports from Africa to the U.S.,
an implicit reality check to the president's aspirational emphasis
on the linkage between good governance and economic progress.
For the text of President Obama's speech, see
For earlier AfricaFocus Bulletins on U.S. Africa relations, visit
++++++++++++++++++++++end editor's note+++++++++++++++++++++++
Obama in Africa: A Major Disappointment
by Gerald Caplan:
[Gerald Caplan, a Toronto-based researcher-writer and activist with
a Ph.D. in African history, is the author of Rwanda: The
Preventable Genocide and The Betrayal of Africa.]
As expected, President Obama used his twenty-four-hour trip to
Ghana to send messages about his thinking and his priorities for
Africa. This was a moment that progressives involved in Africa have
been waiting for, hoping for some clear thinking about Africa's
many challenges and the American role in addressing them. On the
basis of his interviews and speeches, they will be sorely
disappointed. Once we get beneath the eloquence and style, it's
hard to point to anything in any of his remarks that couldn't have
been said, however inarticulately, by George Bush.
Just because President Obama possesses African heritage doesn't
mean he couldn't learn a thing or two about the continent's
In one interview, Obama, with no false humility, stated that "I'm
probably as knowledgeable about African history as anybody who's
occupied my office". No question that's true. Still, the bar in
that particular competition was not exactly set very high. And as
his various comments demonstrated, he's not nearly as knowledgeable
as he thinks he is. Much of what he believes about Africa and how
it can meet its many challenges is simply wrong.
At every opportunity, the President emphasized internal African
causes for the continent's woes, highlighting especially the need
for good governance and ending corruption. So he argued, for
example, that "you're not going to get investment without good
governance." That's just wrong. For decades most foreign investment
in Africa has gone to South Africa first, even under apartheid, and
then to such oil-rich nations as Angola and Nigeria. First and
foremost, western companies, backed energetically by their
embassies, are after Africa's resources--oil, gas and to a lesser
extent minerals. These are the very sectors where we find vast
corruption, environmental degradation, the vicious exploitation of
African labor, and, often enough, Africa's wars. In no case does
good governance play a role in investment decisions. Often enough
venal leaders are precisely what investors look for.
Similarly, Obama insisted that business won't invest where
"government officials are asking for 10, 15, 25 percent off the
top." That's an illogical assertion. If foreign businessmen weren't
only too eager to play the bribery game, those African officials
couldn't get away with demanding a cut off the top. Nigeria,
Angola, South Africa, Kenya, Cameroon, Congo--everyone knows how to
get a contract in these and other countries. Which also should
remind us that high-level corruption in Africa could not and does
not happen without intimate western collaboration.
Obama's repeated insistence on this theme of good governance and
corruption is somewhere between ironic and farcical, given the
eight African leaders who were invited to last week's G-8 summit.
Five were from sub-Saharan Africa, three from North Africa. Every
one of them is ranked poorly or abysmally in Transparency
International's 2008 Corruption Perceptions Index. Seven of the
eight are considered only partly free or not free by Freedom House
in 2009; only one (South Africa, led by the deeply corrupt Jacob
Zuma) is deemed free. It was an important if inadvertent lesson:
Corruption and poor governance are indeed widespread, if not quite
ubiquitous, across Africa, and the west cheerfully plays footsies
with all those governments.
Obama says there is "a direct correlation between governance and
prosperity." That's why he chose democratic Ghana for his first
official state visit, rather than his father's country, Kenya.
Heaven knows that the ruling parties in Kenya are brazenly corrupt
and dedicated to little beyond enriching themselves and their
supporters. Ghana, on the other hand, after years of bad
governments following the CIA-backed coup that overthrew its first
president, Kwame Nkrumah, can now be said to be fairly stable and
democratic (though hardly free of corruption). Obama knows lots of
interesting things. When his father left Kenya in the early 1960s
to study in the USA, he noted, the GDP of Kenya was higher than
that of South Korea; today, Korea is one of the world's great
economic success stories, while Kenya languishes.
The UN's Human Development Index backs this up. In 2008, of 179
countries listed, Korea was ranked an impressive twenty-fifth while
Kenya was 144. But the President should look at these ratings more
closely. Despite good governance, and though some real progress is
being made, Ghana was ranked 142, virtually tied with Kenya among
the bottom 20 percent of the world's nations. Something else must
be going on here that accounts for this depressing situation
because Obama's analysis can't.
Here's the heart of his diagnosis,: While the international
community "has not always been as strategic as it should have been
[regarding Africa]...ultimately I'm a big believer that Africans
are responsible for Africa...for many years we've made excuses
about corruption or poor governance, that this was somehow the
consequence of neocolonialism, or the West has been oppressive, or
racist. I'm not a believer in excuses."
This is really a startling argument for the head of a country whose
great political battles still rage around the meaning of its
Constitution, adopted in 1787 while the slave trade still raged,
and whose personal inspiration comes from a predecessor who was
murdered in 1865, twenty years before formal colonialism began in
Africa. To dismiss the slave trade and a century or more of
colonial rule, to minimize the impact of neocolonialism by France
and the US, to ignore the incalculable decades-long damage done to
Africa as a pawn in the cold war--all of this seems to requite
willful blindness in order to peddle a particular agenda.
Of course Obama's obsession about appalling governance is not
wrong; I share it completely. Africans have for decades been
betrayed by a veritable pageant of monstrous leaders, one more
egregious than the other. But another truth is that the United
States actively backed almost all of them, and if the US didn't,
France did; that's part of the neocolonial record. The west also
supplied many of the arms that were used in the appalling internal
conflicts that have roiled Africa for so long. Even today, the US,
Britain and France continue to remain close to many African leaders
whose democratic credentials leave much to be desired, as the G-8
The President raised Zimbabwe to make his case. The West, he is not
responsible for the destruction caused by Robert Mugabe and his
government. The destruction is only too true. The West's innocence
Had Britain fulfilled its clear obligations and ended white
minority rule in Rhodesia/Zimbabwe in a timely fashion, fifteen
years of vicious civil war would have been avoided. Instead, the
final African victory left the country in the hands of an
embittered, vengeful Mugabe. America and Britain were collaborating
with the apartheid regime in South Africa at the very moment it was
actively working worked to sabotage Mugabe's new government. The
IMF forced structural adjustment programs on an unwilling
Zimbabwean government, helping to undermine its economy. All this
is well known. So is the fact that for the first twenty years of
his reign, "Good old Bob" Mugabe was one of the west's favorite
"Big Men", blithely ignoring his ferocious oppression of his
opponents. Not until he began expropriating the vast holdings of
white farmers ten years ago--all of whose land was stolen from
Africans during the twentieth century (though not necessarily by
the current owners)--did western media and western governments
decide he was Enemy Number One. Can Obama know nothing of this
"Development depends on good governance," Obama lectured Ghana's
Parliament. "That is the change that can unlock Africa's
potential." With all due respect to the President, this is
malarkey. The reality, which surely Obama grasps, is that for
centuries, year in and year out, far more of Africa's wealth and
resources pour out of the continent to the rich world than the west
provides Africa through all sources, from aid to investment to
trade. Good governance will not end this perverse truth.
Beyond that, even if every African country was led by a saint, they
could do nothing about the severe environmental and economic damage
that global warming--for which Africa has no responsibility
whatever--is inflicting across the continent. Obama actually
mentioned this in his speech, yet ignores it with his obsessive
fixation on Africa's sole responsibility for its problems.
Even the most exemplary African leaders could do nothing about the
destructive impact on African development of the present worldwide
economic crisis, for which Africa has no responsibility whatever.
No African leader has the slightest influence on the drastic
increase in food prices that is causing such suffering, including
outright starvation, to millions of Africans.
Even a continent of Mandelas couldn't change the massive subsidies
that western governments provide to their agribusinesses. When
they're in Ghana, the Obamas should do some comparison shopping.
They may be taken aback to find that it costs more to buy a
locally-bred chicken than a subsidized one that's been shipped
frozen all the way from Europe. To this, Obama reassured his
Ghanaian hosts, "America can do more to promote trade and
And nothing can be done about the enormous damage already done to
Africa by the destructive neoliberal policies that were imposed on
African governments by the World Bank and IMF over the past thirty
years. Even today, while their rhetoric has changed, these
institutions, deeply American-influenced, continue to insist on
discredited policies that have failed to promote growth while
vastly increasing inequality.
None of this was tackled by Obama. For him, the relationship
between Africa and the rich world is a one-way street. Africans are
screwing up, and if they want more American aid, they've got to get
their act together. This is the Obama analysis--simplistic, myopic,
patronizing, implicitly threatening, just what we expected and got
from George Bush. Like Bush, evidence based-reality takes a back
seat to whatever reality a president chooses to concoct.
For the past decade, it's been widely agreed that the US has three
overriding interests in Africa: exploiting natural resources, above
all oil and gas; fighting Islamists; and competing with China. In
all cases, Africa is merely a pawn, something to be used to pursue
America's interests, not Africa's. African development and
everything related to it are secondary matters. Substantively,
nothing Obama has committed himself to alters these priorities,
especially his strong endorsement of the suspiciously vague new US
military command structure for Africa, called AFRICOM. But the
Americans have been unable to persuade a single African country
except ever-cooperative Liberia to host the base for this
structure, all fearing the increasing militarization of US-African
relations. Given that they're a gang of corrupt leaders who govern
poorly, this should surely send Obama a pretty clear message.
I documented the case against the Obama analysis of Africa in a
book published last year, The Betrayal of Africa. It demonstrates
the twin burdens that actually account for Africa's
condition--their own wretched leaders combined with destructive
western policies and practices. I know the President is a pretty
busy guy, but it's a short book and he clearly enjoys reading and
learning. Unless he learns what's really going on in Africa, his
administration will become yet another in an endless line that has
caused Africa more grief than good. Hard to credit, but yes it can.
Obama in Ghana: The speech he might have made
2009-07-16, Issue 442
Good morning. It is an honor for me to be in Accra, and to speak to
the representatives of the people of Ghana. I am deeply grateful
for the welcome that I've received, as are Michelle, Malia, and
Sasha Obama. Ghana's history is rich, the ties between our two
countries are strong, and I am proud that this is my second visit
to Africa as President of the United States.
Let me begin my admitting that the history of my country's
relationship with Africa has not always been positive. The United
States government and its agencies have on a number of occasions
undermined the legitimate democratic aspirations of African people,
either by sponsoring opposition, destablising governments,
assisting coups d'etat, and, God forgive us, assassinating your
elected leaders. During my visit to Egypt, I offered my apologies
for the role played by the CIA in the overthrow of a legitimate and
democratically elected government in Iran. The litany of such
actions taken by successive US governments, either directly or
indirectly, would be too long to recount here. Suffice, for the
moment, to mention Kwame Nkrumah, Patrice Lumumba, Thomas Sankara,
and the events in countries such as Mozambique, Angola and others
where we have supported the use of terror against the liberation
movements and the people, just as our government has done in many
countries in Latin America. I could not legitimately place my feet
on this beautiful continent, this land of my father, without my
I say this knowing full well the tragic past that has sometimes
haunted this part of the world. I have the blood of Africa within
me, and my family's own story encompasses both the tragedies and
triumphs of the larger African story.
My grandfather was a cook for the British in Kenya, and though he
was a respected elder in his village, his employers called him
"boy" for much of his life. He was on the periphery of Kenya's
liberation struggles, but he was still imprisoned briefly during
repressive times. In his life, colonialism wasn't simply the
creation of unnatural borders or unfair terms of trade - it was
something experienced personally, day after day, year after year.
My father grew up herding goats in a tiny village, an impossible
distance away from the American universities where he would come to
get an education. He came of age at an extraordinary moment of
promise for Africa. The struggles of his own father's generation
were giving birth to new nations, beginning right here in Ghana.
Africans were educating and asserting themselves in new ways.
History was on the move.
I do not see the countries and peoples of Africa as a world apart;
I see Africa as a fundamental part of our interconnected world - as
partners with America on behalf of the future that we want for all
our children. That partnership must be grounded in mutual
responsibility, and that is what I want to speak with you about
We must start from the simple premise that Africa's future is up to
Africans. This is the simple truth of a time when the boundaries
between people are overwhelmed by our connections. Your prosperity
has expanded America's. True, the western world has contributed
more than $2 trillion in aid to developing countries over the last
five decades. But at the same time, the West's wealth has grown
exponentially as a result of aid being used as fuel for the engine
of wealth creation, taking many trillions of dollars out of Africa
for the benefit of a few. If the West is able to find $18 trillion
to bail out the banks from the result of a financial crisis that
has been largely of their own making, it should not be difficult
for us to raise much more to bail out Africans from impoverishment
that has largely not been of their own making.
The greatest burden faced by African people is the burden of debt
accumulated often as a result of the irresponsible lending
surprisingly similar to those that led to the crisis in the housing
market in the United States of America recently. I commit my
government to calling on the G8 countries to cancel all debt - not
just for the poorest countries. To be making money out of
impoverishment should be unacceptable.
And if trade partnerships are to work, then there has to be an
equality of opportunity in the market. I don't believe that we will
be able to stop subsidies to farmers in the USA in the immediate
future. But I believe that one way forward is to ensure that
African farmers receive a subsidy that is equivalent. Only then
will the market work for the many, not just the few.
I am deeply aware of the increase in suffering through starvation
that has affected the continent. By the end of 2008, the UN has
reported, "the annual food import basket in LDCs cost more than
three times that of 2000, not because of the increased volume of
food imports, but as a result of rising food prices." These
developments added 75 million people to the ranks of the hungry and
drove an estimated 125 million people in developing countries into
extreme poverty. With record grain harvests in 2007, there was more
than enough food to feed everyone at least 1.5 times current
demand. Globally, population is not outstripping food supply. We
are seeing more people hungry and at greater numbers than before.
There is food on the shelves but people are priced out of the
market. So the problem is not that there is not enough food, but
how it is produced and for whom. Rather than chaining African
farmers to the agro-industrial complex of fertilisers, pesticides,
and genetically modified crops, my government will seek to learn
from, and promote, African family farming systems that have
thousands of years of experience of ensuring the production of
nutritious and environmentally sustainable agriculture.
I believe that this moment is as promising for Ghana - and for
Africa - as the moment when my father came of age and new nations
were being born. This is a new moment of promise. Only this time,
it will be the young people - brimming with talent and energy and
hope - who can claim the future that so many in my father's
generation never found.
To realize that promise, we must first recognize a fundamental
truth that you have given life to in Ghana: development depends
upon good governance. That is the ingredient which has been missing
in far too many places, for far too long. That is the change that
can unlock Africa's potential. And that is a responsibility that
can only be met by Africans.
By good governance, I mean not only how citizens hold their elected
governments to account, but also how citizens hold other
institutions, including in the private sector, to account. Many
American corporations have offered to help in Africa's development
by investing in oil, mining, and other industrial ventures. But
their capacity to ensure that the investment benefits the countries
and the people requires active engagement of citizens in monitoring
their behavior. Just as having a written constitution ensures that
there is a code of ethical behavior that you expect your
representatives to abide by, so you need to have a written code of
conduct for the operations of foreign companies - whether they be
from China, Europe or the United States of America. My
Administration has limited powers to enforce an appropriate code of
conduct overseas. It is up to citizens in Africa to ensure that
their governments enact legislation that ensures that foreign
corporations prioritise benefits for the majority and ensure that
we do not see the kind of environmental destruction that some
corporations have been involved in in neighbouring countries. That
is the heart of good governance. The US administration cannot do it
from Washington. But together we can.
The actions and views of citizens are central to any effective
democracy. In the United States, our citizens would not accept -
under any conditions or for any reason - the presence of foreign
troops on our soil. Yet it is a sad fact that current negotiations
between a number of African governments and AFRICOM may indeed lead
to the presence of such troops on your soils. How does that reflect
on good governance, governance that is based on the will of the
people? My father lived through the tragic times of foreign
military occupation of much of the continent. It would be a tribute
to his memory if I were to ensure that the future of Africa brings
an end to such a situation.
The world's attention has often been focused on the scale of
corruption in Africa. Good governance requires citizens to hold to
account those who take corrupt money for favour. But corruption is
a two-way street, it is not just the taker but also the giver who
has to be held to account. Where there is evidence of any US
government or corporation that engages in this practice, my
Administration needs to know about it. But we depend on the
citizens of Africa to police the behaviour of all those in
positions of power.
I am aware that my election, as a son of Africa, to the office of
the President of the United States of America has unleashed great
hopes and expectations - most of which it is impossible for me to
fulfil on my own. I am President of all citizens of the United
States of America. But I also recognize that not all American
citizens voted for me. My administration has to work within the
constraints of building consensus for policies amongst people who
have widely different aspirations. Policies that my administration
adopts are frequently a reflection of the balance of forces of
different constituencies. Until and unless there are strong voices
expressed from American citizens in combination with the voices of
the citizens of Africa, the policies of my Administration will
inevitably have shortcomings from the perspectives of Africa's
people. The same goes for claims for reparations that are demanded
of the former colonial powers. Until and unless there is clear
evidence of popular demand for reparations, and governments in the
North recognize that there is no alternative but to concede, then
individuals, no matter what position they hold, can do little to
change the prevailing consensus. Let me repeat. Together we can.
So I do not see the countries and peoples of Africa as a world
apart; I see Africa as a fundamental part of our interconnected
world - as partners with America on behalf of the future that we
want for all our children. That partnership must be grounded in
As I have repeatedly said during my election campaign and since, we
can change the world, together we can. My visit to the continent is
about listening and working with you all to bring about that
change, a change that benefits all, irrespective of our color,
class, creed or nationality. Above all, it will be the young people
- brimming with talent and energy and hope - who can claim the
future that so many in my father's generation never found. As for
America and the West, our commitment must be measured by more than
just the dollars we spend. I have pledged substantial increases in
our foreign assistance, which is in Africa's interest and
America's. But the true sign of success is not whether we are a
source of aid that helps people scrape by - it is whether we are
partners in building the capacity for transformational change.
Visiting Ghana gives me great pleasure especially as Africa is not
only the birthplace of my father, but also of humanity and some of
the oldest civilisations of the world. That a continent with such
a rich heritage should have been reduced to its current
impoverished state in so short at period of time is unacceptable.
I commit myself and my administration to building with you a world
that respects that heritage and where the people of Africa will
benefit directly from the wealth and richness of this continent.
Across Africa, we have seen countless examples of people taking
control of their destiny, and making change from the bottom up.
Young people, especially women, across the continent have risen up
in the shack settlements, farms, cities and countryside to clamour
for their rights, to claim their share of the fruits of
independence. We all need to listen to their views, their vision of
One area that holds out both undeniable peril and extraordinary
promise is energy. Africa gives off less greenhouse gas than any
other part of the world, but it is the most threatened by climate
change. A warming planet will spread disease, shrink water
resources, and deplete crops, creating conditions that produce more
famine and conflict. All of us - particularly the developed world
- have a responsibility to slow these trends - through mitigation,
and by changing the way that we use energy. But we can also work
with Africans to turn this crisis into opportunity.
Together, we can partner on behalf of our planet and prosperity,
and help countries increase access to power while skipping the
dirtier phase of development. Across Africa, there is bountiful
wind and solar power; and geothermal energy. These need to be
harnessed primarily to bring benefits to the majority of Africans,
rather than yet another resource that is sold to the developed
world for a string of beads and benefits for a few. From the Rift
Valley to the North African deserts; from the Western coast to
South Africa's crops - Africa's boundless natural gifts can
generate its own power, while exporting profitable, clean energy
abroad. There has been much talk of the putative benefits of
biofuels: but linking the price of food (already excessive) to the
price of fuel would have disastrous consequences and result in
escalating starvation. My Administration is deeply concerned by the
threat to the livelihoods of ordinary people by the large scale
land-grabbing taking place supposedly for economic development.
We are today living in times of economic crisis. The policies of
leaving everything to the market place, and expecting benefits to
trickle down to the poor is now a discredited idea - it has failed
to lift people out of poverty in Africa and even in the United
States of America. We must seek an alternative way forward, one
where the governments elected by the people take responsibility for
ensuring that the economy is run to satisfy need, not greed.
Together we can.
I remain ultimately hopeful of the capacity of Africa to show the
way forward, to transform the landscape into what it once was - a
land of plenty, a land that produced some of the world's finest
art, literature, science and philosophy. It is to be part of that
ambitious project that I am here today setting foot for the second
time this year in this continent of hope, this continent of my
Obama, Africa and food insecurity
Global Trends with Martin Khor
Star (Malaysia) July 13, 2009
US President Barak Obama visited Ghana last week, after the G8
Summit pledged funds to boost Africa's food security. But Africans
will continue to be food dependent unless the West changes its own
policies towards African agriculture.
Last week, Barrack Obama visited Ghana on his first trip to Africa
as President of the United States. In his speech in Ghana's
Parliament, he stressed the role of good governance and the need
for democratic practices and correct policies if the continent is
to develop out of poverty.
Just before that, the G8 Summit in Italy agreed on a US$20bil
(RM71.6bil) programme to promote food security in Africa, to help
the countries produce their own food instead of relying on food aid
At a press conference, President Obama compared Kenya to South
Korea, saying that both countries once had the same per capita
income but Kenya remains poor while South Korea had become an
The implication of all this is that East Asian countries like South
Korea did well because they had good governance and democracy while
African countries have lagged behind because of undemocratic
practices and bad policies.
The assumption of the G8 Summit, and of President Obama, are
correct only to a limited degree - South Korea's development, for
example, took off while the country was under dictatorship.
It misses the main reasons why Africa has become food dependent and
as a result, the large funds pledged may miss the opportunity of
helping Africa become food secure.
Of course governance and good policies are crucial elements. But
any comparison between the developments in Africa and East Asia
must take into account that most African countries were unfortunate
enough to come under the influence of World Bank and IMF
conditionalities, whereas most East Asian countries did not and
were free to adopt their own policies.
The decline in agriculture in many African countries was due to the
structural adjustment policies of the IMF and World Bank. These
countries were asked or advised to dismantle marketing boards and
guaranteed prices for farmers' products; phase out or eliminate
subsidies and support such as fertiliser, machines, agricultural
infrastructure, and reduce tariffs of food products to very low
Many countries that were net exporters or self-sufficient in many
food crops experienced a decline in local production and a rise in
imports which had become cheaper because of the tariff reduction.
Some of the imports are from developed countries which heavily
subsidise their food products.
The local farmers' produce were subjected to unfair competition,
and in many cases could not survive. The effects on farm incomes,
on human welfare, on national food production and food security
were severe. The case of Ghana itself, which President Obama chose
for his first African visit, illustrates this.
The policies of food self-sufficiency and government encouragement
of the agriculture sector (through marketing, credit and subsidies
for inputs) had assisted in an expansion of food production.
But the policies were reversed from the mid-1980s.and especially in
the 1990s, when Ghana relied on loans from the World Bank and IMF
and these two bodies conditioned their loans on new agriculture
policies. The fertiliser subsidy was eliminated, and its price rose
very significantly. The marketing role of the state was phased out.
The minimum guaranteed prices for rice and wheat was abolished, as
were many state agricultural trading enterprises and the seed
agency responsible for producing and distributing seeds to farmers,
and subsidised credit was also ended.
Applied tariffs for most agricultural imports were reduced
significantly to the present 20%, even though the WTO bound rate is
around 99%. This, together with the dismantling of state support,
led to local farmers being unable to compete with imports that are
artificially cheapened by high subsidies, especially in rice,
tomato and poultry.
Rice output in Ghana in the 1970s could meet all the local needs,
but by 2002 imports made up 64% of domestic supply. In 2003, the US
exported 111,000 tonnes of rice to Ghana. In the same year, the US
government gave US$1.3bil (RM4.6bil) subsidies for rice.
A government study found that 57% of US rice farms would not have
covered their cost if they did not receive subsidies. In 2000-2003
the average cost of production and milling of US white rice was
US$415 (RM1,486) per tonne, but it was exported for just US$274
(RM981) per tonne, a price 34% below its costs. No wonder farmers
in Ghana could not compete with imported American rice.
Another major problem facing Ghana and other African countries is
the free trade agreements (known as the Economic Partnership
Agreements) they are scheduled to sign with the European Union this
year. Under the EPA, African countries are asked to lower their
tariffs to zero on 80% of their products. Agricultural products are
among those affected.
This will lock them into a trade policy that will perpetuate what
the IMF and World Bank started, with artificially cheapened imports
continuing to overwhelm the domestic food market.
Thus, if the G8 countries really want to assist Africa to boost its
domestic food production, their US$20bil in funds has to be
accompanied by a change in policies. Unless this is done, the
programme will not succeed. And Africa will most likely continue to
be blamed for its lack of good governance.
Straight Talk: Revealing the Real U.S.-Africa Policy
Gerald LeMelle | July 6, 2009
Gerald LeMelle is a contributor to Foreign Policy In Focus and
executive director of Africa Action.
It's time for some straight talk on U.S. foreign policy as it
relates to Africa. While Obama administration officials and the
U.S. African Command (AFRICOM) representatives insist that U.S.
foreign policy towards Africa isn't being militarized, the evidence
seems to suggest otherwise. While Africans condemned U.S. military
policy in Africa under the Bush administration, the Obama
administration has not only mirrored Bush's approach, but has in
fact enhanced it. President George W. Bush established Africa as a
foreign policy priority in 2003, when he announced that 25% of oil
imported to the United States should come from Africa. Like the
Cold War, the Global War on Terror establishes a rationale for
bolstering U.S. military presence and support in Africa. Yet
official pronouncement of U.S. policy is routinely presented as if
neither of these two developments occurred. Unfortunately, the more
evasive we are about our intentions on the continent, the more we
invite not only skepticism, but even resistance.
A policy is militarized when military might is deemed the only
effective way to accomplish its agenda. In a June statement on U.S.
policy in Africa, U.S. Assistant Secretary for African Affairs
Johnny Carson said the agenda of the Obama administration is as
follows: promoting and strengthening democracy and the rule of law,
preventing and mitigating conflicts, encouraging sustained economic
development and long-term growth, and working with African
countries to face both old and new global challenges. The agenda
makes no reference to the recent FY2010 budget that doubles the
size of AFRICOM's funds. Nor does it mention the doubling of
financial support for counterterrorism projects throughout the
continent - including increasing funds for weapons, military
training, and education at a time when U.S. foreign aid money is
AFRICOM has been controversial on the continent since President
Bush first announced it in February 2007. The Bush administration
discussed several sites for its headquarters, but their failure to
include African civil society in the discussion is widely regarded
as a major mistake. Though the Western press barely reported it,
the reaction on the continent was vociferous. Every country with
the exception of Liberia rejected AFRICOM, and African civil
society, where allowed to speak, has overwhelmingly characterized
AFRICOM as a means to secure oil and nothing more.
Officials in both the Bush and Obama administrations argue that a
major objective of AFRICOM is to "professionalize" security forces
in key countries across the continent. However, they don't attempt
to address the impact of this on minority parties or whether the
U.S. is effectively propping up "friendly" dictators. These are key
questions that need answering if our agenda includes democracy and
rule of law.
Training and weapons programs and arms transfers for Equatorial
Guinea, Chad, Ethiopia and even the beleaguered Transitional
Federal Government in Somalia, clearly indicate that using the
military to maintain influence in government in Africa remains the
priority the foreign policy goal. Indeed, one of the
counterterrorism projects that the Obama administration boosted
considerably is the Counterterrorism Engagement Program, designed
to "build political will at senior levels in partner nations for
shared counterterrorism challenges."
The U.S. fascination with oil, the war on terrorism, and the
military is further exemplified through the announcement that on
July 12, Obama will visit sub-Saharan Africa for the first time.
The president has chosen Ghana as his only African destination this
trip. The U.S. government itself states the purpose of the visit is
"strengthening the U.S. relationship with one of our most trusted
partners in sub-Saharan Africa, and to highlight the critical role
that sound governance and civil society play in promoting lasting
development." Indeed, Ghana's extraordinarily consistent economic
growth pattern for the past seven years (registering a GDP
expansion of 7.3% in 2008) offers the best evidence of the
relationship between government accountability and economic
On top of that, on January 3rd 2009, John Atta Mills defeated Nana
Akufo-Addo by less than 1% in the Ghanaian presidential election.
Most believe that the election was by and large free and fair, and
the transition was for the most part peaceful. There is much to be
proud of in Ghana, and the burgeoning success story there is most
welcome. However, there are rumblings that the real reason the
administration chose Ghana is two-fold: Ghana's discovery of oil in
2008, and perhaps more importantly, the geographically,
economically, and politically strategic advantage of establishing
AFRICOM's headquarters there.
Could this be a litmus test for future democracy in Ghana? Could we
begin providing substantial AFRICOM counterterrorism resources to
build political will and promote U.S. interests instead of Ghanaian
interests? It been done before. In fact, it was done in Ghana in
1966, when the CIA helped overthrow then-President Kwame Nkrumah.
These questions arise because it would be hard for Africans not to
conclude that security and energy concerns under the protection and
guidance of AFRICOM are driving our foreign policy, as opposed to
those articulated by Carson. If this isn't the case, then the
United States is failing to make clear how dramatic increases in
U.S. investment in weapons financing and military training for
countries, regardless of their records on human rights or
democracy, are ultimately going to help us achieve the agenda.
A few other diverse reactions to the speech
"How Different is His Policy?" The Economist, July 16th, 2009
"The deeper truth is that Africa is not high on the American
president's agenda. His Ghana speech was sensible and stirring. But
in the end his message was that African-American relations would
see no grand change.":
"Fine Words, but will Africa listen?" The Independent, July 13,
"There are, on reflection, things that Obama might also have
mentioned, for example America's $31bn in subsidies for US farmers
which squeeze some African farmers out of the market. And Obama,
always careful to say he is American but of African parentage,
leapt from colonial times to the present without mention of the US
role in supporting dictators during the Cold War, an apology many
Africans would like to hear."
"What Obama Failed to Admit", Public Agenda (Accra), July 17, 2009
"Much as this newspaper agrees with President Obama on the need for
Ghana and to a large extent African countries to diversify their
exports, he failed to tell the whole story. The other side of the
story is that unfair trade practices pushed down the throats of
poor countries is partly to blame for the non-diversification of
our exports. ... According to a study by some UK charities, the
chocolate industry in the UK in any given year is more than one
billion pounds. The figures could be ten times more in the US
market. Yet, hardly does one find any made-in-Ghana chocolate on
the shelves of any western super markets."
"Did Obama Say the Same Old Thing, or Was He Different", The East
African, July 20, 2009
Kevin Kelley provides a roundup of views from African and U.S.
"Africa's Surreal Future: If Obama and the G8 truly want to help
Africa's poor, they must stop supporting the continent's corrupt
rulers." The Guardian July 14, 2009
"Obama is being applauded for finally tasking Africans with
changing Africa. Well, Africans have been doing it since the days
of colonialism. They are only happy to take on the corrupt
politicians, dictators in all their hues and shades, coup mongers
and opaque institutions. But first, the west has to stop arming
them and giving them money, which in turn is used to subdue popular
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