President Barack Obama and Africa’s Uncompleted Journey, Part I

By Richard Joseph

A public meeting of the Chicago Council on Global Affairs on February 28 will consider the question, “President Obama and Sub-Saharan Africa: Just Right or Not Enough?” Several commentaries which demonstrate the increasing demand for enhancing American engagement with Africa are provided on the Council’s website.[i] Africa is an ineluctable part of Mr. Obama’s legacy and he brings to African affairs a unique understanding of its constraints. “With better governance,” he declared in Ghana in July 2009, “Africa holds the promise of a broader base of prosperity”. Millions of Africans today are constructing the pillars of that prosperity. How President Obama can engage the United States in deepening this process, in ways that are mutually beneficial, should summon forth ideas that are feasible and also consonant with his philosophy of government. In the first of a two-part essay, I will show how this debate relates to ideas for bolstering a liberal international order. In the second part, I will elaborate on specific policy priorities.[ii]

1960 was the year of African Independence when 17 countries, about a third of the continent, pulled down the flags of their colonial powers and raised their own. The following year, on August 4, 1961, Barack Obama was born. He is not only linked to Africa as the son of a Kenyan, his life calendar and that of Africa are intertwined. On the two occasions when Mr. Obama gave formal addresses in speeches in Africa, he spoke to the heart of the dilemma of new nations that had stumbled along the path of progress. As a U.S. Senator in Nairobi, Kenya, Mr. Obama described in August 2006 how corruption corrodes the state from the inside, preventing it from bringing peace, justice, and prosperity to the citizens of Kenya and other African countries. On his return to the continent three years later as U.S. president, he declared in Ghana that enlightened leadership, democratic institutions and good governance are the keys to economic growth and prosperity. These themes are woven into the U.S. Strategy toward Sub-Saharan Africa issued by the White House in June 2012.

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