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Obama unveils new Africa strategy

Source : | 15 June 2012 |  News, Politics, World | 1931 views


by Stephen Collinson – WASHINGTON (AFP)

US President Barack Obama released a sweeping new Africa strategy Thursday, declaring a continent torn by poverty, corruption and discord could be the world’s next big economic success story.

The new US blueprint seeks to boost trade, strengthen peace, security and good governance and bolster democratic institutions, and is designed to help Africa’s increasingly youthful population lead its development.

“As we look toward the future, it is clear that Africa is more important than ever to the security and prosperity of the international community, and to the United States in particular,” said Obama, a US-born son of a Kenyan father.

It comes as Washington, tooling a regional policy towards trade and development, also views Africa’s intractable conflicts with concern, including areas vulnerable to extremists, including in Somalia and even Mali.

The Washington Post reported Thursday that the US military was expanding spying across Africa, using small private planes operating from isolated bush airstrips, as part of a “shadow war” against Al-Qaeda and affiliates.

While Obama faced multiple crises during his presidency, from Iran to North Korea and Libya to Syria, his Africa policy has garnered less coverage: his Ghana trip was his only one to sub-Saharan Africa since taking office.

But Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Obama believed “passionately” in Africa’s future and noted the continent hosted six of the world’s 10 fastest-growing economies over the past decade.

“I want all of my fellow American citizens, particularly our business community, to hear this: Africa offers the highest rate of return on foreign direct investment of any developing region in the world,” she said.

“We in the United States like to talk about ourselves as the country that is the land of opportunity. It’s a point of national pride. In the 21st century, Africa is the continent that is the land of opportunity,” she said.

The administration Thursday touted “successes” from helping restore democracy in Ivory Coast, nurturing the new state of South Sudan, backing stability efforts in Somalia and engaging young African leaders.

The president also sent 100 US special forces troops to train African forces chasing Joseph Kony, the leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army, which is known for gross human rights abuses including rape and the use of child soldiers.

Obama has responded to humanitarian crises in the Horn of Africa and the Sahel, and the president invited the leaders of Benin, Ethiopia, Ghana and Tanzania to the G8 summit at Camp David. In a prelude to the new strategy, Obama warned “the United States will not stand idly by when actors threaten legitimately elected governments or manipulate the fairness and integrity of democratic processes.”

Obama has also highlighted food security challenges, and in May unveiled a scheme designed to lift 50 million people, including in Africa, out of poverty by linking up governments, civil society groups with the private sector.

He maintained former president George W. Bush’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief which has improved life expectancy on the continent and will support lifesaving treatment for six million people by the end of next year.

The plan commits Washington to encourage legal and regulatory reforms that could spur investment and trade and improve economic governance, and to promote regional economic integration.

The freshened focus on Africa comes as China increasingly funnels investment toward the continent, seeking to bolster its diplomatic footprint partly as a route to new energy sources.

But some analysts worry that China’s billions of investment dollars, often spent on infrastructure projects, do not come with the same good governance strings attached as US and European help.
Clinton was addressing an annual meeting set up by the African Growth and Opportunity Act, a bill signed in 2000 by then president Bill Clinton that gives African exports duty-free access to the US market.

But one key provision of the act — which allows African nations to include goods produced with fabrics from third countries — is set to expire in September unless renewed by Congress.

The administration and business groups have urged Congress to renew the provision, saying that its expiration would cost thousands of jobs on what is still the poorest continent and mean more costly garments for US consumers.

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