Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Is Obama Exploiting Africa?

. Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Michael Stulman sees something sinister:

It seems the White House and the Obama administration has made the African continent the focus of their P.R. campaign this summer. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will soon begin her seven-country tour of Africa. This comes on the heels of President Barack Obama’s speech in Ghana earlier this summer; the aim of both tours appear to stress U.S. commitment to Africa. The public is made to believe that addressing health, corruption, gender-based violence, poverty, trade, conflict, democratization and foreign assistance, among others, are the goals of a U.S. newly devoted to Africa and its unique challenges.

In their recent book, The Scramble for Africa: Darfur, Intervention and the USA Steven Fake and Kevin Funk eloquently detail how U.S interests in Africa are far from altruistic or humanitarian, even though they appear so on the surface.

According to the authors, the U.S. is engaged in a scramble for Africa’s resources, chiefly oil. The U.S. gets more oil from Africa than it does from the Middle East; by 2015, up to a quarter of its oil imports will come from Western Africa, including Ghana. Therefore, it is not surprising to see that Ghana was chosen for Obama’s first Sub-Saharan Africa appearance. It is a democratic and stable country for one, and the recent discovery of oil certainly has weight. U.S. interest in Africa has grown as the oil fields have multiplied. Africa is of national strategic importance because of what it can do for the U.S., not because of what the U.S. can do for Africa.

The same is true of recent Chinese, Indian, and European excursions into Africa as well. I don't know whether this is supposed to be surprising, but I do wonder what motivates conclusions like Stulman's:

Far from humanitarianism, the U.S. policy towards Africa has become increasingly concentrated on creating an environment amenable to resource exploitation, no matter the consequences on the level of poverty or democracy in African nations.

On the one hand, the rich West must dedicate itself to African development; on the other hand, the rich West must not engage in any commerce with Africa that might actually foster such development. On the one hand, Africans should lift themselves out of poverty; on the other hand, Africans should not use their natural resources to lift themselves out of poverty. On the one hand, the U.S. should abstain from nation-building; on the other hand, the U.S. should not "support corrupt and oppressive regimes" in Africa.

To some extent, I share Stulman's cynicism about all of this. But in many ways, the best thing that could possibly happen for Africa is for the rest of the world to start throwing themselves at Africa's feet. Africa needs to strengthen economic ties with the world's major economies, it needs to develop national industries, it needs a source of employment, and it needs a rising middle class to challenge corrupt governments. Foreign aid hasn't worked; why not try commerce?


Is Obama Exploiting Africa?




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