President Obama’s New Strategy on Sub-Saharan African Development
On June 14, The White House released US Strategy towards Sub-Saharan Africa, an outline of the Obama administration’s policy strategy in Africa. The document announces a recommitment to many of the principles highlighted by President Obama in his 2009 speech in Ghana, such as the US’s active role in supporting and strengthening democratic institutions and spurring economic investment and growth. Africa is a key region for international development because of its fast-growing economies and increased investment from China. This announcement signals the Obama administration’s desire to remain a leading contributor to sub-Saharan Africa’s continued development of democracies and economies.
President Obama’s strategy can generally be regarded as a recommitment to and elaboration of existing principles and strategies rather than an introduction of substantive or original policy ideas. The administration’s own reference to President Obama’s speech in Ghana shows that the foundation of the strategy had been laid before the announcement was made. For this reason, Obama’s announcement cannot be seen as a bold departure from his past approach to Africa, but rather a restating of pre-existing principles, and a statement to more vigorously pursue these goals.
Obama’s strategy outlines a four-pillar approach to achieve the President’s long-term goals in Africa: 1) Strengthening democratic institutions, 2) Promoting economic development, 3) Ensuring regional security, and 4) Continuing to improve development assistance initiatives. The strategy makes clear that the focus of Obama’s plan lies in the first two pillars.
First, the US pledges to help strengthen democratic institutions in Africa. Obama characterizes young African leaders who are committed to democratic principles as vital for the future of democracy in the region. The administration plans to aid these efforts by fostering networks of activists that will spread democratic values. The President also commits to supporting freedom of the press and expression, particularly to ensure that the voices of minority ethnic, women or LGBT groups are not silenced by oppression. Obama claims that the reason for the focus on democratic institutions is because they “lead countries to achieve greater prosperity and stability; are more successful in mitigating conflict and countering transnational threats; and serve as stronger partners of the United States.”
The second pillar of this strategy highlights plans to promote economic development in Africa by strengthening institutions that support economic development. He then argues for improving African exports by helping products meet global health and security standards through increased cooperation and technical assistance. Finally, the administration introduced the “Doing Business in Africa Campaign,” an attempt to foster US private investment in African markets. The President emphasizes the importance of economic growth, stating “promoting sustainable, inclusive economic growth is a key ingredient of security, political stability, and development.”
The third and fourth pillars of Obama’s plan concern security and quality of life (health, environment, etc.), respectively.
While much of the strategy is merely an elaboration of ideas Obama had articulated previously, one decidedly new policy is the “Doing Business in Africa Campaign,” the President’s intitiative to promote US investment in African markets. While the specifics of the program have yet to be detailed, some believe this novel campaign to have the potential to significantly boost African economies and spur regional growth.
Although the investment initiative is new, the strategy provides few changes from Obama’s previous approach to Africa. However, the announcement marks the first time President Obama outlined an organized and decisive strategy towards African development. More importantly, the announcement signals a newfound desire for US involvement in African development, marking a level of interest that has not been expressed by a US President since the Clinton administration. This is significant particularly when compared against Obama’s predecessor President George W. Bush, who was often (and somewhat unfairly) criticized for regarding Africa as a secondary concern in his foreign policy, according to Sarah Margon.
The difference between the approaches of the two Presidents’ strategies is stark. President Bush’s policies toward Africa focused on the improvement of quality of life factors, primarily health. The Bush administration’s two most significant policies concerning sub-Saharan Africa are probably PEPFAR, a moderately successful attempt to curb the spread of AIDS, and the Malaria Initiative, a program that provided malaria drugs, sprays and nets to fifteen African countries. B did push the creation of the Millennium Challenge Corporation, which includes a number of development and democracy initiatives.
Obama’s plan is primarily concerned with strengthening democratic and economic institutions in Africa. This reflects trends in the democratization literature, which regards the creation of strong government, economic, and civil structures as necessary for democracy to be successful. It detracts focus away from short-term gains in health, food security, and environmental concerns, and instead strives for long-term improvements in the economy and government accountability.
For the full text of Obama’s new policy, please see:
Full text of US Strategy Towards sub-Saharan Africa
Council on Foreign Relations - Radelet: Bush Policies Have Made a Difference in Africa
Democracy Now - Africa Policy Under Bush: Powell and Rice
Think Progress - Obama Outlines New Strategy To Encourage Investment In Africa