Vanguard (Lagos)

27 November 2012

Africa: Obama's Washington and Africa

In spite of the Euphoria That Swept Across Africa At the Re-election of US President, Mr. Barack Obama, an African-American, Africa in Mr. Obama's second term, just as in his first term, will not get any significant engagement or attention from Washington, except in its universal obsession with counter-terrorism and other security-related concerns.

Following his re-election last week, President Barack Obama's foreign policy priority appears clearly to be the Asia pacific, even the poorer bit of the extensive region. He has announced a historic visit to Mymmar, former Burma, where the entrenched military establishment is cautiously crafting a transition to civil rule.

Mr. Obama will be the firstUSPresident to visit the country. The strategy seemed a well-laid out Washington outline to contain China in its backyard in the overall obsession of the United States to remain the pre-eminent power in the region, an aspiration contested by the shifting balance of power in the region and even beyond.

The euphoria that gripped Africa in respect of Mr. Obama's re-election is obviously and plainly emotional and Mr. Obama has never expressed such emotions for his far-flung kith and kin, and if he has haboured any at all, has managed to suppress it.

Mr. Obama might be engaged in Africa but after his tenure inWashington, like his other predecessors who believed thatAfricais more worthy of humanitarian than of any policy engagement.

It will not be a surprise that after his tenure in Washington, Obama and his wonderful family would take to wandering across Africa, hugging babies with swollen tummies and even set up a foundation to tackle one of Africa's numerous malaise.

Like Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton and even George W. Bush, Africa would come into Mr. Obama's focus after he has left the White House. This is not entirely his fault. The American President is the most powerful man in the world. But he is also a hostage of a ruthless and faceless but powerful political machine, aggregating an array of vicious special interest groups who actually decides in what direction Washington would go.

Sometimes, the irrational policy of Washington as to which war to fight next and in what corner of the world or the next regime to undermine or topple, is not actually the function of a deficit of commonsense or logic by any sitting President, but due to the unavoidable pressure of the Washington machine.

President Obama won his recent re-election by more numerous votes than was predicted by pundits. His finely crafted rhetoric resonated across America and struck deep to their sentiments of a fairer society, especially among vulnerable groups: Hispanics, Latinos Africa-Americans, White women and young people.

In spite of what seemed like a bitter fight over different visions for the change of America between President Obama and his Republican challenger, Mr. Mitt Romney, what actually was in contention was the different strategies or approaches to preserve the status quo, while containing its harshest excesses. President Obama's modest signature legislative triumph in the last four years, the health care insurance, which barely covered half of all Americans was a target of bitter recrimination by the Republican contender, who did not also spare the President for the bailout of Chrysler and General Motors.

Given the dire stress of the American economy,Washington's foreign policy would be dominated in the next four years by the traditional geo-strategic and political concerns but also increasingly by economic consideration, especially with the flow of capital. Africa is of less geo-strategic and political concern as far as there are no competing ideological or political currents that threaten the hegemony or ideological dominance of Western liberalism.

China's economic and commercial penetration to Africa does not offer any slightest hint of ideological contestation with the Western hegemony. The political ramification of China's penetration in Africa would at best provide a bargaining strength, which the spineless political elite are yet to take up.

So, in spite of Africa's obvious marginalization in Washington's policy engagement, the continent would remain safely tucked away in America's sphere of influence.Africa's rich mineral resources may matter very little in American economy, currently in post-industrial stage.

In fact, President Barack Obama has pledged to seek alternative energy sources that would further marginalize the modest presence of Africa in America's economic life. The fact of Africa's marginal impact in any US economy recovery plan is the objective condition of the uncomplimentary economic structure of the two sides.

Therefore Africa, in the next four years of Obama presidency, would continue as in the past, to evoke Washington's moral indignation at the crass and excesses of its venal political elite, the cyclic misfortunes of its state institutions and the consequent destitutions and misery of its vulnerable populations.

The modest role of Africa in any US or the larger Western economic recovery would continue to feature raw cash flight through the operations of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, exploiting the bankruptcy of the political elite. In this regard, the Washington and other Western moral outrage at the deepening socio-economic and political atrophy in Africa would remain a largely ideological rhetoric without any commitment to substantive reform, a term currently in serious abuse in most of Africa by the ruling elites and their Western principles.

In fact, Washington does not choose regions or countries to engage out of benevolence or other such considerations. Countries and regions work their way into Washington's geo-political and strategic calculations through enabling relevance acquired through a meticulous growth of national power and influence.

The choice of President Obama to go to Mymmar after his recent re-election is based on the calculation of the relevance of the country, straddled between India and China, two major US strategic competitors in the region.

To balance off Beijing's massive economic penetration in the country and marginalize its rising political influence obviously top Washington's reasons for a historic presidential visit.

Africa received its most serious policy attention from the United States during the period of the cold war.

According to Henry Kissinger, the veteran of US foreign and security affairs, the cause of majority rule in apartheid South Africa was largely of minor concern to voluble liberals in America, but became something of America's policy concern after the former Soviet Union and other Warsaw states of the socialist block has made it a fundamental policy, which also struck enormous chord to the rest of Africa.

Without the influence of the former Soviet Union and the socialist block,Washington would certainly have sat comfortably with the racist regime in South Africa and its rampaging policy of political exclusion and social ostracization of Africans.

In effect, as now as it was then, Washington's moral rhetoric is considerably way off from policy engagement and both are mutually exclusive in the effect they are supposed to have.

However, Africa's relevance in the today's world is not necessarily a function of US policy engagement or otherwise, and even the world itself has grown beyond the mere calculation of one power, even if it is a 'hyper power' as the former French foreign minister, Mr. Vederine, characterized the United States.

In spite ofAfrica's phenomenal lethargy, the continent has immense possibilities and opportunities, providing it with a vantage and strategic attention, which clearly the rest of the world is determine to explore.

Despite the emotion that has welled up in most of Africa on the re-election of president Obama, any expectations of such reciprocals from Obama's Washington would be supremely naïve.

Mr. CHARLES ONUNAIJU, a journalist , wrote from Abuja.

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