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New Report Identifies Challenges in Africa for Obama

  • Joe DeCapua

A new report says the Obama administration faces key challenges in Africa this year, including poverty, climate change and HIV/AIDS.

Africa Policy Outlook 2010 says the U.S. must take action to ensure it “does not miss a historic opportunity to bring meaningful change to the continent.” The report is co-published by Africa Action and Foreign Policy in Focus.

Gerald LeMelle, executive director of Africa Action, “The policy outlook is something we’ve put out now for 10 years. What we try to do is give a sort of an honest look at what the following year will look like vis-à-vis U.S. foreign policy in Africa based on the trends that we’ve seen from the year previous.”

Poverty is the biggest challenge

“We don’t like to discuss poverty that much because it’s kind of an indication that some of the free trade deregulation policies so favored by Western countries and Bretton Woods Institutions (World Bank, IMF) are in fact failing,” he says.

LeMelle calls poverty the greatest single threat to U.S. security today.

“We have seen the result of failed states across the globe and including in Africa, places like Somalia, that have come back to haunt The United States and other countries. And therefore, if we are not seriously addressing the question of poverty, then we’re really setting ourselves up for a fairly dismal future,” he says.

The Africa Policy Outlook report calls for a “nuts and bolts” approach to deal with poverty.

“We have to stop promoting deregulation. We have to stop promoting free trade. We have to stop promoting structural adjustment programs that make it safe for foreign direct investment to make 20, 30 percent profit at the expense of even minimal reinvestment in these communities where the money is being taken from,” he says.

LeMelle says an example of how failure to reinvest in the community can cause major problems is Nigeria’s Niger Delta.

“Fifteen years ago, we were organizing with Ken Saro-Wiwa, the peace activist from the Niger Delta, to get the oil companies to stop dumping oil into the environment. And by and large they refused to meet even minimal demands of reinvesting in schools and in housing and in roads for poor people in the Niger Delta. Today, people in the Niger Delta are picking up guns and shooting,” he says.

He calls it an attitude of profits being more important than people.

Ken Saro-Wiwa and eight other Ogoni activists were executed after being convicted by a military tribunal for allegedly instigating violence that led to the deaths of pro-government Ogoni chiefs. Saro-Wiwa and the others were hanged in 1995.

Climate Change

The report says another major challenge to Africa is climate change. And LeMelle is critical of the major powers for failing to take stronger action at the Copenhagen climate summit in December.

“Climate change is going to be a major contributing factor to death, disease, conflict, insecurity - all the things that we are concerned about from the perspective of national and global security. So we have to begin to address this,” he says.

LeMelle says while the rich nations pledged $100 billion to help developing countries deal with climate change, it’s unclear whether that’s new money or funds reallocated from other programs.

HIV/AIDS

The Africa Action report says HIV/AIDS will also remain a major problem, despite programs such as PEPFAR, the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief. LeMelle says it’s responsible for an 18 percent decrease in AIDS-related deaths across Africa since 2004. But he says the increase in funding for PEPFAR is not as large as in years past.

“The end result has been that countries like Tanzania are beginning to turn people away. New patients approach them and they are told they can only enter the rolls (for treatment) if someone else dies. Or they’re saying they’re not taking any new patients for the coming year. This is going to reverse the trend toward successfully decreasing the deaths from HIV,” he says.

He calls on the Obama administration to keep the strong U.S. support to provide anti-retroviral drugs to those infected with the AIDS virus.

LeMelle says with the many problems facing the continent, “Africa deserves a more sophisticated approach than what has been afforded to its people.”

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