As the presidential election zooms towards the final lap, Africa finds itself in the throes of debate for the first time since the major party primaries ended in June. Since Barack Obama and John McCain beat back their respective challengers earlier this year, the two major party candidates have focused on other issues in the race for the presidency, like the global financial crisis and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Ironically, Africa quietly nudged its way into the policy debate by two unlikely supporters of sitting President George Bush, who recently argued his legacy in Africa provided the continent a substantial commitment from the U.S., surpassing the work of most other presidents. Another issue: Wednesday, October 1 marked the day the United States African Command became operational. AFRICOM, as it is popularly known, is a unified command of the U.S. military that is responsible for U.S. military operations within nearly every African country. Previously, the U.S. military divided Africa amongst three different commands. Some U.S. commentators claim it will allow the military to increase bilateral relations with African militaries. However, AFRICOM has never been popular among African leaders or citizens, who have attempted to link the military project to the U.S. growing thirst for African oil.
With this in mind, the McCain and Obama campaigns recently outlined their vision and objectives for Africa. Nonetheless, a U.S. foreign policy expert argued at a recent seminar that whoever wins the election will largely continue President Bushâ€™s African strategy, including ending the â€œgenocideâ€ in Darfur; fighting corruption; and, finding a political solution for the Zimbabwe crisis.
Regardless of not having a place at the table, many Africans and African bloggers have followed the U.S. presidential race with keen interest.
Xcroc, writing in African Loft, finds the nuances of Obamaâ€™s policy towards Africa may be quite different from Bushâ€™s. In fact, Obamaâ€™s willingness to â€œstrengthen relationships with those governments, institutions and civil society organizations committed to deepening democracy, accountability and reducing poverty in Africaâ€ is a clear break from the president.
The Bush people did not consult with Africans before creating and announcing AFRICOM. Bush Cheney want diplomatic and development functions to be controlled by the Pentagon. They talk about partnerships, but when they do talk to Africans, they talk to military men who are graduates of US military training programs such as IMET. So generally Bush and cronies hear only what they want to hear. Obama presents a refreshing willingness to deal with a wided spectrum of people, institutions, and business, not just the military.
Xcroc also opposed McCainâ€™s plan, which was written by J. Peter Pham, who he calls a â€œneoconâ€ and â€œa supporter and apologistâ€ for AFRICOM.
Like most neocons, his answer to the worldâ€™s problems is US military intervention. In his writings he is very much concerned with security, â€œungoverned spacesâ€, and al Qaeda in Africa. The most positive thing in his presentation is his call to end cotton subsidies in the US, ending the unfair subsidized competition with African cotton producers.
Taking a step back, letâ€™s look at President Bushâ€™s legacy. Sean Jacobs from Africa is a Country contends that the presidentâ€™s policies towards Africa may be in many ways impressive, they are not uncontested.
America says it wants to create a different legacy for the United States on the continent that emphasises partnership, democracy and respect, but democracy activists cannot square this with some recent actions. The US was the first western government to declare the violence in Darfur genocide, but the CIA has also been accused of working with Sudanâ€™s notorious state security agency. US officials insist that the two issues â€” condemning genocide and partnership with Sudan to fight terrorism â€” are unrelated.
The Ethiopian President, Meles Zenawi, who won a biased and fraudulent election in 2005 (more than 200 people were killed in election violence), remains a key US ally. With tacit American backing, he invaded Somalia to remove an Islamist government that had some popular legitimacy and replace it with one run by weak warlords. As Reuters reported last week: â€œThat government and the Ethiopians are now bogged down in an Iraq-style insurgency while Somali suffering has increased.â€
In December last year, the US was quick to declare flawed Kenyan elections free and fair despite internal intelligence that its ally, Mwai Kibaki, had been defeated.â€¨â€¨
Now comes the official unveiling of Africom, the US militaryâ€™s new regional command to coordinate its military affairs on the continent. Until now, these responsibilities were divided between its regional headquarters in Europe, the Middle East and the Pacific. US officials are spending much of their time on the defensive about Africomâ€™s motives. The catastrophic American military presence in Iraq does not help their cause. Since it was first publicly mooted in 2003, plans for Africom have been vague, ill-defined, confusing, and in many ways doomed. Some critics, including US congressmen and the Washington-based Africa Action, have described Africom as â€œthe militarisation of US aid to Africaâ€ since its arrival coincides with increased US military sales, financing and training expenditure on African countries seen as strategic for the â€œwar on terrorâ€. The military, clearly skittish, has announced that, for now, the Africom headquarters will be in Stuttgart, Germany.
In many ways, Africans — and people from elsewhere — are looking at the prospects of what a possible Obama victory would bring to the political culture in their own countries. From Che Oyimnatumba in the blog Which Way Nigeria:
Can a rookie called Obama emerge in the murky ideologically barren political Nigerian landscape? Barack Obama crossed the Rubicon of history with an audacity of hope that can only be found in the dreams from my father when he dusted an Amazon and experienced Hilary Clinton to pick the Democratic Party nomination…This prophesy is already real even if George Bushâ€™s brother in Florida feeds the crocodiles with votes on November 4thÂ or takes a lesson from INEC.Â Obama has rekindled hope in every oppressed group, especially blackman in â€œgods own countryâ€ that yes WE CAN live our dreams by being the CHANGE WE NEED.
Also from Nigeria, Oro in Gbenga Sesan writes:
I have spent much of the month speaking to various youth groups about the need for our generation to stand up to the task of nation building, including the day spent discussing The Audacity of Hope in Ibadan. Everyoneâ€™s got Obamaâ€™s name (and possible post-November 4 story) on their lips but how many young Nigerians have thought about daring to macth our hope with deserving action? One question that keeps coming my way in each meeting is: â€œWith the way our youth want to hammer by all means, are we not in trouble?â€
Finally, for you policy wonks, The Angry African on the Loose, a South African living in the U.S., takes John McCain to task for his tax policies.
McCain is attacking Obama for wanting to raise the taxes of the wealthiest of Americans. One key line of argument from McCain is that the top 1% of Americans will pay almost 35% of American taxes under the Obama plan. That just doesnâ€™t sound right. That is just unfair. It isnâ€™t just. Why should 1% pay so much of the taxes? Wellâ€¦ Because that same 1% also own almost 35% of Americaâ€™s net worth. Thatâ€™s why. Mr McCain.
If you own 35% then it makes perfect sense that 35% of the taxes will come from you. Easy economics. Not socialism. Just easy economics.
And before I forget. Just 10% of the population owns 71% of Americaâ€™s wealthâ€¦ I expect that 10% to pay 71% of the taxesâ€¦
I wonâ€™t even mention that â€œin a survey of 120 major cities, New York was found to be the ninth most unequal in the world and Atlanta, New Orleans, Washington, and Miami had similar inequality levels to those of Nairobi, Kenya andÂ Abidjan, Ivory Coast. Many were above an internationally recognised acceptable â€œalertâ€ line used to warn governmentsâ€. I wonâ€™t go into that. Just saying that the distribution of wealth in America is beyond unfair. It ranks with the most unjust systems in the worldâ€¦