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President Obama Gets Mixed Reviews on Africa

  • Nico Colombant

President Barack Obama (file photo)

President Barack Obama (file photo)

Halfway into his four-year term, President Obama is placing attention on creating jobs in the United States, defeating Islamic extremists in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and looking for ways to deal with a growing U.S. budget deficit. But Africa analysts say he is also trying his best to help improve governance and democracy on the African continent.

John Campbell from the U.S.-based Council on Foreign Relations says Mr. Obama continues to make his African focus very clear.

"He has been quite outspoken as his administration has been on issues of African governance, development, partnership with Africa on a host of issues of mutual concern so I would expect that the enhanced engagement with Africa will continue in the second part of his first term," said Campbell.

Analysts point to Mr. Obama's 2009 speech in Ghana on democracy, his administration's engagement to have Guinea transition from a military leader to an elected president last year, as well as the U.S. help with the recent south Sudan referendum as successes. They also appreciated his invitation in August 2010 of young African leaders to Washington to celebrate and discuss many African countries marking 50 years of independence.

But analysts say U.S. influence has limitations. They say a pledge by Mr. Obama to stop the roving based rebel Lord's Resistance Army, which operates in several central and eastern African countries, has had little effect.

Daniel Chirot, from the University of Washington, says the case of Ivory Coast is an interesting example. Mr. Obama and his administration have clearly spoken out against incumbent President Laurent Gbagbo who refuses to leave power after elections U.S. officials say he stole, but Chirot says there are limits to U.S. action.

"I doubt very much the United States is prepared to commit any substantial amount of money or number of troops or a naval expedition to help solve the situation," said Chirot.

Olayiwola Abegunrin from Howard University points to the disclosure of thousands of leaked diplomatic cables by the WikiLeaks website, which he says has not only been an embarrassment but also a hindrance to Mr. Obama's impact on the continent.

"America has been exposed with this new development which has been done by a new technology exposing all the American dirty work all over the continent of Africa and this is also affecting and is going to affect American policy towards Africa," said Abegunrin. "America is losing its respect and friendships with other countries, it has already been damaged."

Some analysts say the combination of tough talk on governance and spilled secrets is leading many African governments to want to deal with China more and more, and other emerging powers, such as India, Brazil, and Iran, rather than the United States, even if the president's father was a Kenyan.

The White House has said Mr. Obama plans to travel to Africa again during his first term, most likely this year. His administration is also closely monitoring dozens of elections taking place this year on the continent, including in the West African oil-rich powerhouse Nigeria.

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