Better late than never, as it relates to President Obama’s invitation of African leaders to USA for a roundtable discussion on Africa. Many Africans have argued that President Obama so far ignored Africa, while giving a strong attention to the Middle East and other hot spots. Even compared to former President George Bush, so far he has little to show in terms of rhetoric urging reform or concrete action like Bush did to fight AIDs in Africa.
What is bedeviling Africa is poor leadership and dictators. Africa has all the resources to be a politically stable and economically viable continent if it were not for the prevalence of corruption and dictators. Most of the conflicts are orchestrated by leaders or originate due to lack of good governance.
For example, ten of the poorest countries in the world are located in Sub Sahara Africa according to the latest U.N. report. From South Sudan, Central Africa to Ethiopia, the leaders have been poking ethnic tension in order to stay in power. While the U.S. is expanding its military bases throughout Africa, it finds it problematic to speak against countries where it has such bases such as Ethiopia. U.S. with 35 or more military command centers in Africa is supporting strongmen, mostly dictators that the militaries are backing.
There is nothing Obama cannot tell some of the dictators on the phone than dragging them to the White House and giving them undeserved red carpet and photo opportunity. It would have been more natural to invite only those countries respecting and applying democratic principles. Winning and dinning with African dictators will mean nothing unless he has a concrete plan and he can make it stick.
For example, he can propose a Marshall Plan for Africa like the way Truman did for Europe to build roads East to West and North to South and to connect Africa and strengthen academic and civic institutions and to promote good governance. Furthermore, he can tell them to abolish their national armies, because the armies primarily used to keep the one party dictatorship, and spend the money on education, end government ownership of land, industries, the Internet, and mines to end corruption. Adopt English, French and Swahili as national languages so that Africans can speak to one another, and form a strong economic and political union like Europe.
President Obama was perceived as a transformational figure in Africa, as well as in the rest of the world. It will be a historical mistake if he does not take advantage to transform Africa; most of all help it get rid of its worst enemy, unelected and murderous dictators and vigorously promote the establishment of democratic foundation and rule of law.
On the other hand, the west is obsessed with fighting terrorism in Africa, but not solving the root cause of terrorism, poverty and hopelessness that is translated into a Jihad. For the west promoting democracy is secondary to fighting terrorism, which is self-defeating, but it goes on. Some forget that dictatorship and hopelessness are the root causes for terrorism, but most western leaders ignore it at their own peril and continue to spend huge sums of money on barricading themselves, screening, surveillance and drones.
Raging ethnic tension primarily instigated by the divide and conquer policy of ruling oligarchy, combined with corruption and misapplication of resources are slowly sapping the economy and the political viability of the continent.
Currently, besides political oppression, and ethnic tensions, some regimes have strangled the people and the economy through government ownership of land, Internet, telephone, and other vital industries leading to massive unemployment and massive migration especially in countries like Eritrea and Ethiopia.
Some of the culprits in this case, the dictators, only thrive and survive with U.S. largesse. Some will go by the wayside without massive Western aid. This gives the U.S. tremendous leverage to coerce democratic and economic changes in the continent. For example, the rabid anti-Muslim and anti-homosexual government of Ethiopia lead by Prime Minister, Hailemariam Desalegn was forced by Washington to rescind the anti-homosexual legislation and demonstration despite overwhelming support by rubber-stamped parliament and the public. Despite the failure of the African Diaspora to take advantage of it, this shows the power of lobby groups in shaping U.S. foreign policy.
President Obama is threatening sanction against Russia and he thinks he can bring Russia to its knees using a sweeping sanction. If he thinks he has this kind of power against a resource rich and powerful country like Russia, why can he not use the some power on perpetual beggars and tinhorn dictators in Africa to reform, end the misery, the corruption, and the dictatorship if he really cares.
Ethiopia is the key to democracy in Africa. Ethiopia besides being the seat of the African union, cradle of mankind, carries great historical symbol for people of African origin. Ethiopia earned this position as one of the longest independent nations, and for repulsing Western colonial occupation. Despite this legacy, Ethiopians have never enjoyed rule of law or fair and free election.
Most African leaders look up to Ethiopia and gather every year in Addis Abeba, Ethiopia. Now representative of warring factions from South Sudan are in Ethiopia to hammer out their differences and to form democratic union. Unfortunately, Ethiopia is not a place to learn or preach democracy or ethnic harmony. The Ethiopian regime pretended for long for things that it is not in order to earn respect and foreign aid.
Human rights records in many African countries are abysmal and are well documented by Amnesty International, Human rights Watch, and independent media. Some of the African dictators such as the one in Ethiopia, Zimbabwe, Sudan, and Eritrea appeared along with North Korean dictator in the Dictators of the Month Magazine. Unfortunately, in Washington leaders like the late Ethiopian dictator, Meles Zenawi were wined and dined, as they disguised their “vicious dictatorship” by ingratiating themselves with the U.S. State Department and by hiring high power lobbyist using the money collected from the impoverished people of Africa. For example, Ethiopia spends huge sums of money to make sure Washington does not notice the cruel and evil system and to portray the regime incorrectly anti-terrorist and democratic.
President Obama has also to avoid past pitfalls. In his book Out of America: a Black Man Confronts Africa, journalist Keith Richburg rebukes some African-Americans for being too cozy with African dictators who bring untold misery to their own people.
To his credit, George Bush stemmed the tide of AIDs in Africa; Bill Clinton pretended to be the first Black President. On the other hand, there is little to brag about Obama yet, as far as his contribution to the welfare or the transformation of blacks in America or in Africa.
It might be that his hands are tied, but not for lack of empathy. Either way, there will be no legacy for Obama to brag about so far.
President Obama can rise to the challenge if he dared too. Pushing democratic values and freer market economic development strategies are critical to save the continent. With an investment of $13.3 billion under the Marshall Plan from 1948 to 1952, President Truman provided a lifeline to a devastated Europe and created strong democratic allies for the U.S. President Obama has the option to embark on a bold political and economic agenda for Africa, while opening a huge market three times that of Europe for American businesses.
Dula Abdu, is a U.S-based writer on foreign policy. (article was adopted from previous articles from similar topics).