Friday, February 27, 2009

Slow Movement on Obama's Africa Agenda

Reed Kramer has an excellent review at on the personnel filling out Obama's Africa team. I came away more hopeful than I had been. The bottom line: while Africa may not be today's priority, Obama is putting together an effective crew who in due time may make some serious policy changes in how the US deals with the continent. I was particularly interested to learn that the Obama transition team had compiled a lengthy dossier, authored by prominent U.S. and African experts, "of 23 thematic and country-specific papers, looking at energy, governance, peacekeeping and women, as well as Nigeria, Zimbabwe, South Africa, Angola, Uganda and the Mano River states (Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea, plus Cote d'Ivoire)." I'd be interested in seeing the Great Lakes section, or at least in learning who authored it.

That said, I still worry that Obama will have neither the resources nor the political capital to make significant changes in US policy towards Africa, given the scale of the domestic crises that confront him. For example, a number of the most effective things Obama could do for the continent would require that he take on entrenched domestic constituencies, for example on banking, on food aid, and on agricultural subsidies and textiles. For another, I worry that much of his policy may come to be predicated--if only by default--on a belief in the magical powers of US diplomats. The notion that a sprinkling of special envoys--the main policy prescription of a leading advocacy group with close links to the new administration--can bring a resolution to the complex emergencies in Darfur, the Great Lakes, Zimbabwe and elsewhere seems . . . a little optimistic. The Onion's featured a few good pieces over the years satirizing America's messianic complex towards Africa. Unless the Special Envoys come equipped with the kind of checkbooks and military might that back up Ross, Mitchell, and Holbrooke, there's no reason to believe they'll be any more effective than Houser or Merlin Olsen. And on the Great Lakes, in particular, I worry that many of the same people who presided over the catatstrophic policies of the Clinton era are back in the saddle, and still none the wiser about what drives the conflict, or how truly ambiguous the characters they once saw as "the good guys" really are.

No comments:

Post a Comment