Barrack Obama, Hilary Clinton and Donald Trump.
By Karoli Ssemogerere
It will be ironic that George W Bush’s two foreign policy signature achievements were in Africa. Bill Clinton signed the African Growth Opportunities Act, AGOA into law in 2000 but it mostly fell to George W Bush to implement it. Whether African countries took up the opportunity or bungled it is another matter altogether.
Bush will also be remembered for Pepfar the presidential anti-Aids programme that pumped billions into prevention and treatment. Some aspects of Pepfar like abstinence training, ABC are criticised but Pepfar highlighted the need for continuous treatment of persons living with Aids.
The availability of anti-retroviral therapy on a wide scale reduced unit costs and enabled millions to carry on with normal lives. Inside the United States, Bush provided billions of funding for historically black colleges, delaying what has become inevitable, the shrinking of an important segment of America’s liberal arts college sector due to demographic and economic shifts.
Many small colleges are struggling with enrollment and funding.
It’s too early to assess Barack Obama’s Africa legacy but a few things have emerged. He has had little patience for the “African strongman” yet he has maintained or even improved relations in the “strongman corridor”.
The one major foray intervention into Africa, the Libyan campaign was an unmitigated disaster. America has been distant from near anarchy in Libya preferring to bomb “it-in” and watch from the sidelines. Syria in the Middle East which together with Libya has produced millions of refugees swarming Europe has ended with a white flag of surrender by American-backed rebels and serious questions about the true character of ISIL.
In January, Donald Trump enters the White House in part pursuit of Americana, the golden age which may be impossible to achieve in today’s vastly changed circumstances. Two major changes are in the offing. He is trying to fix the US-Russia relationship which may return informal spheres of influence, a threat to Europe whose European integration project is under severe political and economic strain.
Trump’s strong dollar America first policy cannot be described as a major round of santa donating to the rest of the world. Trump’s foreign minister nominee Rex Tillerson is an oil baron from Exxon Mobil whose entire foreign policy resume comprises of Russia. Condoleezza Rice’s resume was similar she didn’t do well in other parts of the world. John Kerry has been a European specialist in the mould of Madeleine Albright.
For Africa, the culture of blaming others and relying on requests for more aid, this is a wake- up call. Africa’s chances lie in playing up the big African opportunity, big markets, and improved capacity to produce and export fresh fish and produce and sell the picturesque African story to tourists.
Africans will need to work more on freedom of movement and all the silly nonsense that makes Africans look small and inward when faced with minor adversity. As economies rebalance at the end of the second resource extractive phase, the modern age, there is no time to sleep without portending disaster. The experience of the three largest economies, Nigeria, South Africa and Egypt shows exactly that.
Africa is currently deficient of a Nelson Mandela figure. None of the big majors has filled his shoes. Robert Mugabe, 92, is still around but is mostly seen as a humorous figure and fodder for social media jokes. But there is still a thing or two to learn from him and his retiring colleague from Angola, Eduardo dos Santos. It will boil down to the economy.
Mugabe has successfully run down a successful economy to smithereens before waking up to get good on his debts and return to the global economic system. Dos Santos like the Nigerians cut some hay during the good times but just not enough. His countrymen remain poor and angry. If this is not a message for the preachers from the oil bible here, what will it be?
Mr Ssemogerere is an Attorney-at-Law and an Advocate.