UNITED NATIONS (FinalCall.com) – President Barack Obama March 3 extended for a year Executive Order 13288, which declared a national emergency and blocked access to the property of persons undermining “democratic processes or institutions” in Zimbabwe. In explaining his actions, the president said the extension was necessary “because the actions and policies of these persons continue to pose an unusual and extraordinary threat to the foreign policy of the United States.”
Some analysts immediately seized on this action, saying extending sanctions against Zimbabwe showed President Obama’s African policy was essentially the same as former President George W. Bush–meaning regime change for an African government that does not bow to Washington’s will.
During a March 10 meeting at the White House with United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon, most of the discussion reportedly centered on the situation in the Darfur region of the Sudan. The White House released a statement saying the president wanted to put the U.S. and the UN on “a path for long-term peace and stability in Sudan.”
The Brookings Institute said Sudan would be a bellwether for the new president, “a test of President Obama’s multilateralism.”
What seems most troubling to some U.S.-based scholars and advocates is that the administration has yet to appoint an assistant secretary of state for African affairs. “I would have hoped that the administration would have moved quickly in filling this post,” Bill Fletcher, a journalist, international labor activist and the former head of TransAfrica Forum, told The Final Call.
“We need someone who knows something about the continent, someone who can be seen as an advocate,” Mr. Fletcher added.
The Final Call contacted the State Department to inquire about when the post would be filled, and was told by a spokesperson that Ambassador Philip Carter III had been designated as interim appointee.
“With Carter as the interim it means that the administration is saying that they don’t have to answer for anything they are doing in Africa at this time; and is a nice way of saying we will decide this later,” said Gerald Lemelle, executive director of Washington-based think tank Africa Action.
Amb. Carter was appointed deputy assistant secretary of state with the Bureau of African Affairs by President Bush in August 2008. He has served as ambassador to the African nation of Guinea and has extensive diplomatic experience, particularly in positions related to economics. Calls to Amb. Carter were not returned.
Semhar Araia, an Africa analyst for the Obama-Biden transition team suggested at a gathering of scholars attending a Feb. 19 Africa Action forum on U.S. policy for Africa that the administration should host a White House summit on African affairs.
Dr. Leonard Jeffries, professor of Africana and Black Studies at City University in New York City, said it’s too early for such a summit. President Obama hasn’t really had enough time to formalize a pragmatic policy that can be articulated clearly, he said. “That doesn’t mean that I am willing to let the administration off the hook, but the reality is that we cannot expect policy clarification on Africa just yet,” Dr. Jeffries told The Final Call.
Dr. Jeffries believes think tanks, Pan-Africanists and African policy advocates in the U.S. need to meet first to shape a policy, “and when we articulate this policy, President Obama can fight for it,” he argued.
Mr. Lemelle told The Final Call the president should take the first step. “By engaging a broad spectrum of civil society organizations, and most importantly, taking into consideration the concerns of African people, U.S. policy in Africa could be much more successful and effective,” Mr. Lemelle said.
Mr. Fletcher wants to see the Obama administration sit down and have a discussion with the African Union on how Washington and Africa can work together. “We also need to create in the U.S. a strong overlapping voice for Africa and right now we lack a broad coherent, pro-Africa movement that can influence the administration,” Mr. Fletcher said.
“What we see now is there is no coherent African policy in place in the Obama White House,” Dr. Krista Johnson, a professor of African Studies at Howard University, told The Final Call. Dr. Johnson feels the administration must put more emphasis on multi-lateral initiatives. “There is a need for balance between soft power, a reliance on diplomacy not hard power, which means more military,” she said.
Advocates for a strong American policy on Africa want a mature, robust, and sympathetic relationship between Africa and the U.S.A. Observers say a desirable Obama policy would be to de-emphasize poverty reduction as a missionary adventure, and to embrace the call for wealth creation instead.
Sadia Aden, president of the Minnesota-based Somalia Diaspora Network, said so far advocates for a change in U.S. policy towards Somalia “haven’t seen anything yet that shows that the Horn of Africa nation is even on the administration’s radar screen. We hoped that there would be a different strategy in place towards Somalia by now. They should be saying something because there is a serious humanitarian crisis there,” Ms. Aden said. Somalia has been mired in nearly 30 years of civil war, fought a proxy war with Ethiopia (which was backed by the United States), and there have been U.S. charges of so-called Islamic terror groups in the country.
The first Black president, who has lived overseas and whose father was Kenyan, has inspired much hope globally, particularly on the Motherland. During his White House campaign, Mr. Obama outlined some African issues his administration would address and the list included stopping genocide in Darfur; promoting stability in the Democratic Republic of the Congo; mobilizing international pressure on Zimbabwe; fighting corruption in Kenya; demanding honesty concerning the issue of HIV/AIDS in South Africa; and developing a coherent strategy to stabilize Somalia.
In addition, he discussed doubling foreign assistance from $25 billion in 2008 to $50 billion by the end of his first term in office. Strengthening trade, market access and U.S. investment, supporting efforts to cancel foreign debt crushing the poorest African nations, and launching an initiative to ensure African countries have access to low-carbon energy technology were also on his agenda.
“I have no doubt he (President Obama) is going to do something for Africa, but we are concerned that it could be too late when he does,” said Mr. Lemelle.