By Bahati Jacques, Policy Analyst. This article was first published in our Oct-Dec 2012 “Around Africa” newsletter
What kind of Africa policy will President Barack Obama adopt during his second term? Who will the new key players be in his administration? These questions are debated each time US citizens exercise their democratic right to free elections. The answers interest Africa advocates, policy and business analysts, peace and war promoters, responsible investors and resource grabbers, government officials, and religious leaders.
Here is one aspect of this debate that played out recently. When rumors of nominating US Ambassador to the UN Susan Rice as the Secretary of State surfaced, her judgment was questioned on the genocide in Rwanda, the crisis between Eritrea and Ethiopia, the 1996 Rwanda and Uganda invasion of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and her recent position on the on-going Rwandan support of the rebellion in DRC, and much more. This protest against Ambassador Rice’s potential nomination ended Thursday December 13 when she dropped out of the race for this position.
On a positive note, the reelection of President Obama brings certainty that sections 1502 and 1504 of the Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act of 2010, also known as the Dodd-Frank law, will not be repealed.
Some components of this law have direct implications on African nations. Section 1502 re-quires companies which are registered with the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and use tin, tantalum, tungsten, or gold in their products to publicly disclose evidence of due diligence they exercised to ensure that their sup-ply chains do not contain the above mentioned minerals in their products and do not come from the conflict mineral network financing the war in eastern DRC. Section 1504 promotes transparency in the extractive industries. It requires oil, natural gas, and mining companies registered with the SEC to disclose certain payments made to governments for every extraction contract. This information is key to civil societies and other bodies who want to combat corruption, and track revenue and allocation from these con-tracts.
Furthermore, we hope that President Obama will continue implementing and improving some of his predecessor’s policies which have had a positive impact. The President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) has been a successful project in some parts of Africa such as Uganda and South Africa. Similarly, the campaign to prevent and treat malaria and tuberculosis has made progress in places where it is implemented in Africa. Congressional funding for these pro-grams has been bi-partisan for the last decade and we hope that it will survive into fiscal year 2013 despite necessary government spending cuts.
For example, it used to be that every 30 seconds a child died from malaria, but now half as many children are dying. This also means children are spending more time in the class-room instead of the hospital, and families are saving money on medical bills. In cases of pregnant women, we have seen tremendous progress in preventing mother to child HIV-AIDS transmission. It is estimated that Africa spends about 12 billion dollars on malaria treatment every year. If funding was to be cut, major gains in the past decade in the fight against malaria, HIV-AIDS and tuberculosis would be lost.
However, President Obama strengthened the militarization of US aid to Africa through the Africa Command (AFRICOM). AFRICOM, a project begun by President George W. Bush in 2007, initially faced strong protests and has its headquarters in Germany as a result. Many Africa advocates suggest as an alternative to AF-RICOM, which serves American interests, more robust policies focused on trade, diplomacy, development, conflict resolution and prevention and promotion of democratic institutions. These are not new ideas and some of the goals are included in President Obama’s Sub-Saharan Africa strategy which he launched in June 2012. Previous administrations have set these goals, but the report card shows more support of dictatorial regimes than promotion of citizen-led democratic principles.
AFRICOM is active in several parts of Africa including Mali, Rwanda, Uganda, South Sudan, DRC, and Egypt, just to name a few. Taking into account terrorist threats to US interests in Africa, the best policy remains a very limited US military footprint on the ground and more empowerment of local and responsible governments.
While President Obama positioned the US on the right side of history in his first term by supporting the revolution that ended the dicta-torial regimes of Zine El Abidine Ben Ali (1987-2011) in Tunisia, Muammar Muhammad Abu Minyar al-Gaddafi (1969-2011) in Egypt, and Muhammad Hosni El Sayed Mubarak (1981-2011) of Libya, the real challenge remains to be seen if President Obama sides with African civil society in these nations and everywhere in Africa where people want to replace dictatorial regimes with peaceful, accountable and democratic leadership. In the coming weeks as President Obama makes his second term administration public, Africa Faith and Justice Net-work is (as it has been for the last thirty years) ready to engage the administration and congress on the grounds of fair and just policies toward Africa.