Tuesday, 28 July 2015
President Barack Obama on Tuesday became the first American president to address the African Union in the institution’s 52-year history
ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia—President Barack Obama on Tuesday became the first American president to address the African Union in the institution’s 52-year history, a moment lauded for its historical significance but one that underscored how far behind the U.S. is in investing in the continent. Mr. Obama’s visit capped a five-day African trip where he pledged enhanced U.S. economic ties. The U.S., however, is playing catch-up to other world powers, particularly China, which built the 54-member Union’s headquarters where Mr. Obama spoke.
His statements reflected the way that burgeoning Chinese investment in Africa has changed the way major Western powers like the U.S. approach the continent. The promise of rapid economic growth has dramatically increased many African economies’ leverage with foreign powers. Mr. Obama spent as much time courting African governments as criticizing Ethiopia’s repression of opposition leaders and calling out Burundi’s president for ignoring constitutional term limits.
“African governments are in a better position because they can negotiate,” between the U.S. and China, said Ahmed Salim, an East Africa analyst with Teneo Intelligence in Dubai. “From an African government perspective, it’s a win.” The president has made the case in Kenya and Ethiopia that African economies should embrace the U.S. over other world powersbecause America’s approach isn’t to simply give aid but also to build the continent’s capacity to flourish on its own.
“Now, the United States isn’t the only country that sees your growth as an opportunity,” Mr. Obama told an enthusiastic audience Tuesday in a hall named after the late South African leader Nelson Mandela. “But economic relationships can’t simply be about building other countries’ infrastructure with foreign labor or extracting Africa’s natural resources,” he said. “Real economic partnerships have to be a good deal for Africa—they have to create jobs and capacity for Africans.”
Mr. Obama used this trip to Africa to market America’s particular offering—one that is shorter on direct funding and more slanted toward encouraging private businesses to invest—such as the Obama administration’s trademark Power Africa program, which is designed to expand access to electricity on the continent, but has been slow to show concrete results.
“The pledge of private money can’t really be a pledge. It’s only a hope,” said Deborah Brautigam, the director of the China Africa Research Initiative at Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies. Ms. Brautigam called it a myth that Chinese investment doesn’t create jobs, saying Chinese projects often employ many African workers as well as Chinese contractors. She said the U.S. has a lot of catching up to do if it is going to compete with China on infrastructure projects in Africa. “The U.S. is only recently moving into that area and we’re doing it very slowly and with not much in terms of money,” Ms. Brautigam said.
Even while Mr. Obama highlighted the business potential of the African continent on this trip, the visit didn’t include any new African initiatives. Instead, Mr. Obama found himself defending Power Africa—saying it takes time to build power plants—and announcing funding for entrepreneurship globally.
Mr. Obama also called on African leaders to end widespread government corruption and advance democracy and human rights as part of the continent’s drive toward economic growth. At the same time, he used China as an example of how he engages with countries that don’t share U.S. governing values.
“I may interact with a government, out of necessity, where we have common interest,” Mr. Obama told civil-society leaders in Kenya on Sunday. “But if there are areas where I disagree, I will also be very blunt in my disagreement. And that’s true whether it’s Russia or China, or some of our European friends, or a great friend like Kenya.”
On Tuesday, Mr. Obama received some of his most enthusiastic applause for sharp comments on democracy, particularly his calls for African leaders who cling to power without term limits.
“We all know what the ingredients of real democracy are. They include free and fair elections, freedom of speech and the press, freedom of assembly,” Mr. Obama said. “Democracy is not just formal elections.”
Mr. Obama singled out Ethiopia as a burgeoning democracy that held elections without violence. He didn’t, however, repeat his characterization of Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn as “democratically elected.”
Mr. Obama’s decision to engage with leaders such as Mr. Desalegn rather than isolate them is fundamental to his approach to foreign policy and an acknowledgment that if he doesn’t another country will.
“These countries have options,” said a senior administration official traveling with the president. “It’s not as if they have nowhere to go. This is the world as it is, and engagement is our best lever.”
Mr. Obama used a personal anecdote to argue why term limits can benefit a democracy.
“I actually think I’m a pretty good president. I think if I ran I could win,” Mr. Obama said, referring to a third term. “But I can’t.”
The trip was a personal journey for Mr. Obama as the first African-American U.S. president whose father was born in Kenya. His familial ties to Africa and the story of his unlikely ascent to the presidency gave added weight to his words.
The White House hopes it will also help the U.S. more quickly make up for the lack of time Mr. Obama has spent focusing on Africa.
Mr. Obama, in Kenya and Ethiopia, focused on his two signature Africa initiatives: a program for African farmers, Feed the Future; and Power Africa. He noted on Tuesday his plans to host a U.S.-Africa Business Forum next year focused on trade and investment.
“America’s approach to development—the central focus of our engagement with Africa—is focused on helping you build your own capacity to realize that vision,” Mr. Obama said.
He described engaging young Africans as the most urgent challenge facing the continent, given the growth in population and the spread of terrorist groups like Somalia-based al-Shabaab.
Security threats are among Mr. Obama’s most pressing challenges in engaging Africa. Mr. Obama said he will host a summit at the United Nations this fall aimed strengthening international support for peacekeeping, including in Africa.
“The choices made today will shape the trajectory of Africa for decades to come,” Mr. Obama said. “As you build the Africa you believe in, you will have no better partner and friend than the United States of America.”Sauce Wall street Journal