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African Experts Expected More from Obama Administration


As President Barack Obama completes his first year in office, Africa experts in the United States say they were expecting more from the country's first African-American leader.

Many so-called Africanists in the United States had high hopes when President Obama took office one year ago.

Nigerian American political science professor Mojubaolu Olufunke Okome is among those now confronting reality. "I like President Obama, so maybe I am cutting him some slack, more slack, but I think he represents his country, and as the representative of America, since Africa has not been big on the policy agenda of the U.S., it is not going to overnight become big just because somebody who was born to a Kenyan man and an American woman is now president of the United States," she said.

A senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, Kenyan Mwangi Kimenyi, says he believes there have been good intentions, such as ideas outlined in a speech by President Obama in Ghana in July, but little change.

"When he went to Ghana, one of the key messages that he actually focussed on was on the importance of governance in Africa, and he specifically said that he is waiting to work with Africa, he is ready to support Africa, but governance must be at the cornerstone of what the leaders are doing. But so far, we have seen some attempts to flex some muscles, but I do not think the administration has gone far enough. I do not think we can say we have seen a shift in the old way of doing business," he said.

The director of the Africa program at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, which is right by the White House, Steve McDonald, shares these assessments.

But on a positive note, he is impressed with the team Mr. Obama has assembled for Africa policy, even if the administration has had other priorities.

"The Assistant Secretary of State [for the Bureau of African Affairs] Johnnie Carson is a well respected professional in the field. Michelle Gavin, the person who runs Africa at the National Security Council, [is] again very well respected in the field. Susan Rice at the United Nations, Ambassador Rice of course, has a long history in Africa and is well respected, and a number of others, special envoys who have been appointed, the special representative to the Great Lakes Region, all of these are very very good pieces of the puzzle fitting into place. But there has yet to be seen any real change in policy. I think everyone understands that is partly due to diversion of interest and resources to other pressing problems by the administration, both domestic and international," he said.

Okome who teaches at the City University of New York says she believes it is up to Africans and African immigrants to make Americans take the continent more seriously, and not just for aid and resources. "I think there needs to be better understanding of Africa in the United States, and I think that out of that better understanding, would develop probably, I hope, more respect for the African continent, and more respect for Africans as well, and possibly as a side effect more trade between the United States and Africa. I hope that trade is beneficial to Africans as well," she said.

Africa related challenges for the Obama administration in the months ahead include the return of instability between north and south Sudan, pirated waters in both east and west Africa, political uncertainty in regional heavyweights like Nigeria and Kenya, as well as possible havens for extremism in lawless areas of the continent.

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