John Campbell

Africa in Transition

Campbell tracks political and security developments across sub-Saharan Africa.

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Diplomacy and Africa

by John Campbell
June 17, 2011

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton addresses the 53-member African Union at the AU's headquarters in Ethiopia's capital Addis Ababa, June 13, 2011. (Courtesy Reuters/Stringer)

There seems to be a new flurry of Obama administration diplomatic engagement with Africa. While it is not necessarily in response to African criticism that President Obama, whose father was Kenyan, does not pay enough attention to sub-Saharan Africa, it highlights the complexities of balancing our sometimes contradictory interests in Africa.

Last week, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton visited Tanzania, Zambia, and Ethiopia, becoming the first secretary of state to address the African Union. The purpose of her trip was to emphasize the Obama administration’s commitment to democracy, good governance, economic development (in particular, the African Growth and Opportunity Act), and public health.

Michelle Obama, along with her daughters and mother, will tour the continent from June 21 to 26, with planned stops in South Africa and Botswana. The first lady’s trip to South Africa will emphasize the role of African youth and underscore the country’s democratic transition: she will speak at forum on women leaders in Africa; tour Robben Island, where Nelson Mandela was incarcerated for eighteen years; and meet with South African President Jacob Zuma, among other activities. The trip will bound to have a very high profile in Africa.

In Washington, President Obama recently received Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan and Ali Bongo Ondimba of Gabon. Both have oil and the latter has a notoriously poor record on corruption and human rights abuses, contrary to the democracy and good governance agenda highlighted by the first lady and secretary’s African travel, though the White House reports that President Obama raised human rights issues during his latter meeting.

Post a Comment 4 Comments

  • Posted by Chike

    Everyone knows the reason for this flurry. China. Hu Jintao visits Africa almost every year and depth and quality of visits by Chinese officials is much higher than what America has to offer.

    Of course, American diplomacy is conflicted. Half of it is driven by the Oil and Gas majors, the other half is driven by the NGO community. Neither group coordinates effectively with other. In fact, neither group can effectively coordinate with the other.

    There was a glaring gap in Western engagement with Africa – real economic growth / development of infrastructure. (I am not talking about “fair trade” trinkets here!) The Chinese have seized those opportunities and the Indians are not very far behind.

    Note to Mrs. Clinton: Bad-mouthing China is of little use. We accept the Chinese because they provide jobs, period. If you can’t do the same keep quiet.

  • Posted by Joe Musafiri5

    When will Africans wake up the chinese are after oil and minerals in Africa. You might think that The chinese are providing jobs to Africans. African governments should create jobs for their citizens not the other way around

  • Posted by Edith Buzzell

    China doesn’t provide jobs, you must know that. Not real, lasting jobs. Some construction labor. But in Ethiopia, from which I just returned, a lot of the road builders were Chinese, except at the lowest levels. Is there equipment operator training? I asked, was told there is little.

    Africa’s historic rage at the West is understandable. But it’s a poor excuse for closing African eyes to what China is really doing….some good, some bad. Snide remarks about ‘keeping quiet’ suggest motives you don’t want to own up to.

    Mineral extraction hires few. You know that. But Chinese immigrants are crowding out local merchants. You must also know that. Have you been to Angola?

    China’s impact on Africa will be no better than colonialism’s impact on Africa. It’s today’s form of exploitation. It always benefits the exploiter more than the exploited. You must know that.

    The sooner Africa gets over its ‘victim identity’ and harnesses its considerable power, and reins in its autocrats and kleptocrats, from Ethiopia to Kenya to Nigeria, to name only a few sinners, the faster it will unleash the huge pentup energy of the continent.

    Look at what Africans have achieved in the US, where their brains and energy can flow freely. One day African governments will let them do the same at home. When that day comes, Africa will flourish. But not until then.

  • Posted by Ajong Mbapndah L

    More American presence in Africa can only be a good thing.For over fifty years, it has dawn on many Africans that partnership with Europe has not brought a lot of dividends and if you doubt this go to the former French colonies and sample opinions.

    Despite its “generosity” there are many who are uncomfortable with the suffocating presence of the Chinese.Apart from low interest loans given to countries some with little regards for human rights,democracy or good governance, and the infrastructure they help to improve, Africans realise Chinese products are not models in terms of standards.

    With the Europeans still in the game, the Chinese, Koreans, Indians, Brazilians and even countries showing interest in the continent,in the long run it is countries and business entities which treat Africans with fairness and contribute substantially to sustainable development which will make it. Give loans to leaders with questionable legalities and who excel at mismanagement will only put you at odds with the people and if there is anything that events in Tunisia and Egypt have thought us, it is that the people will not be fools all the time!

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