United States Army Africa (USARAF) inspects troops from the Republic of Sierra Leone Armed Forces (RSLAF) in Freetown. AFRICOM trained 1,000 troops from the West African state for deployment to Somalia to participate in AMISOM., a photo by Pan-African News Wire File Photos on Flickr.
Obama’s visit and US Africa ghost
Friday, 28 June 2013 00:00
In recent years, the United States has increasingly been sidelined in areas of deep economic transformation in Africa because US engagement with Africa has been primarily through militarism and military relations. The visit of US president Barack Obama to Africa should be viewed against this background.
From June 26 through July 3, 2013, for the second time in his presidency, Obama will be visiting Africa; specifically Senegal, South Africa and Tanzania.
According to the White House Press Release, “The President will reinforce the importance that the United States places on our deep and growing ties with countries in sub-Saharan Africa, including through expanding economic growth, investment, and trade; strengthening democratic institutions; and investing in the next generation of African leaders.”
However, apart from this vague press release there is no clarity on why this trip is taking place at this particular moment.
President Obama’s visit comes at a moment when the world is gripped with the spectacle of a young American, Edward Snowden, fleeing the United States because he was promoting information freedom, against the militaristic and police state in America.
With all the problems facing him at home — sequestration, unemployment, drums for escalating wars in Syria and divisions over immigration laws — Obama’s trip to Africa lacks substance and definition. What can he offer the continent? What does he bring to the table to justify his visit?
Former presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush both visited Africa during their second terms in office. When Clinton and Bush made their journeys to Africa, the US foreign policy establishment had been guided by a three-pronged mantra.
These were: (a) the notion that Africa was facing a “threat” from international terrorists, (b) that the United States had strategic interests in Africa (especially with the flow of petroleum resources), and (c) the emerging competition with China.
The crisis of capitalism since 2008 and the hype about petroleum and gas self-sufficiency as a result of shale oil and new gas finds in the United States have added another layer to all. More importantly, the US plans for confronting China in Africa have been tempered by the reality that the US policy makers have to beseech China to continue to purchase US Treasury Bills.
In previous commentaries I have critiqued the imperial merits of Clinton’s and Bush’s reasons for visiting the continent.
They were at least arguably more substantive and better articulated than Obama’s. The lack of specificity of Obama’s upcoming visit supports the argument advanced by some that as the first Black president of the United States, he has to visit the Africa.
After all, he has visited Europe numerous times.
This argument renders his visit nothing more than an item to be checked off his overarching presidential agenda.
But in the context of the sidelining of US economic interests in Africa by other key players like China, Obama’s visit could be seen as one effort to boost support for US capitalists on the continent.
Giving credence to this argument is the fact that Obama is visiting two of the countries also visited by the President of China, Xi Jinping, a few weeks ago — Tanzania and South Africa.
Past presidential visits had the paternalistic agenda of lecturing Africans on governmental transparency, democracy, human rights, fight against corruption, freedom of speech, etcetera.
Yet, given the current climate of scandals orchestrated by the media in the US, Obama would appear hypocritical in making these panned statements about supporting democracy in Africa.
While that has not stopped past presidents, this time the cat is out of the bag.
The multiple scandals surrounding the banks and the extent of the corruption of Wall Street exposed by Matt Taibbi and others have dwarfed any discussion of corruption in Africa.
America’s inability to rein in the mafia-style activities of the bankers is open and in full view of the world audience.
In this commentary I want to place President Obama’s African trip in the context of the depth of the political and economic crisis in the United States. Starting with the efforts of the G8 in calling for the western mining companies to follow laws and pay taxes, this commentary will reference the success of the Pan African opposition to Africom and US militarism that has predisposed the Obama administration to retreat from the perpetual Global War on Terror as conceived by the neo-conservatives.
The conclusion will again call for the peace and justice forces to support reparative justice so that the relations between the citizens of the United States and the citizens of Africa can move in a new direction.
Barack Obama won a convincing victory for a second term in November 2012.
However, despite the mandate he received from the electorate to break from the policies that enrich the one per cent, this second term has been bogged down because Obama has refused to take bold steps to join with the majority to confront the Wall Street moguls.
Since Barack Obama entered the White House in January 2009, the question of which section of the US government directs policy towards Africa has swirled at home and abroad.
Joseph Mutambo writes for Day Africa.com.