President Obama’s long-awaited trip to Africa is coming to an end, and he didn’t manage to hide the real reason he was there.
Many Presidents are visiting the continent these days, but the fact that Obama is half white American and half black African means that, in Africa itself, his visit has generated a lot more interest than when (for instance) China’s new president embarked on a trip less than two weeks after taking office earlier this year. What also differentiates Obama from the others is that he makes great speeches, and I especially liked his ideas for a “Power Africa” initiative and “sustainable” African energy strategy.
All through his trip, the President has looked happy, relaxed, and “at home”, despite all the security that he has surrounded himself and his family with. What seems to have been most significant to those he went to visit is that, in all three countries (Senegal, Tanzania and South Africa), Obama emphasised that he welcomes world economies turning their sights to Africa. However, as his trip matures, his real views are increasingly being felt.
African leaders should “pick their international partners carefully”, and “push back against countries that bring in their own workers”, a clear criticism of China. Another clear criticism of China was Obama’s “wildlife and importance of tourism speech”, condemning illegal trafficking. The White House has already issued a statement this morning regarding the launch of a new anti-poaching initiative in Tanzania as of next month.
From the cheers heard yesterday in Dar es Salaam however, it is clear that the word “partnership” is the magic word in Africa these days. When Obama said the West’s goal is to “partner” with Africa, the crowds went wild.
It is important to note that both the USA and Europe are home to large communities with strong African heritages and that Africa and America/Europe often share a common language, making training and technology transfer much more straightforward. Africans know this, and they clearly want it. We also have a common history, for better or for worse. It is Europe’s common history (mostly violent) that unites them now within a European Union that, even though it is still in its infancy, seems to be doing alright despite some teething problems.
The younger generation in Africa, Europe and America have a lot in common through a shared history, that we are coming out of together, and the significance of this cannot be trivialised. This does not mean that partnerships with China are a bad idea. In fact, Africa has already partnered successfully with many countries in Asia, forming the bulk of the South-South trade. Obama’s words should however be a warning to China, one that I’m sure they’ll heed given the investments they’ve made on the continent in the last decade.
The bottom line is that the whole African continent is full of promise. I would therefore like to reiterate what I wrote in my previous blog: A united Africa will be stronger, but I agree that it must choose its partners well. Yesterday afternoon, Obama revealed a venture, dubbed ‘‘Trade Africa,’’ that aims to increase the flow of goods between the United States and sub-Saharan Africa. The initial phase will focus on East Africa — Burundi, Kenya, Rwanda, Uganda, and Tanzania — and in a couple of years, the phase will be extended to the rest of Sub-Saharan Africa.
Let’s hope that this will be a partnership made in heaven, and just one of many.