For the seven years or so that he’s been in office, U.S. President, Barack Obama has focused on the African continent. This is something that is not talked about much, despite such accomplishments as holding the first US-Africa Leaders’ Summit in 2014. Before him, President George W. Bush was praised for his Africa policy.
Since the beginning of 2016 U.S. election season we at Africa Agenda have paid attention to Africa-related issues that have come up in the debates, interviews and town-hall meetings in which the candidates have participated.
As we have stated already, to our dismay and disappointment, not much has been said about the continent. Even as we scoured the candidates’ websites to see what they have to say about the continent, we found little.
Jean-Claude Masangu Mulongo who served as governor of the Central Bank of the Democratic Republic of Congo, as well as president of the G24 of the International Monetary Fund, deputy governor for the DRC at the World Bank and president of the African Central Banks Association, has expressed similar concerns which he thinks are vital to U.S. national security and economic interests.
“The United States has a significant interest in making sure Africa — all of Africa — develops in a democratic, stable manner with the resources it needs. And it’s not just about charity. Africa is home to eight of the world’s fastest-growing economies, and at the moment China is winning the race for investment and influence in Africa. U.S. presidential candidates ignore the continent at their own risk.”
Whoever becomes the next president should pursue a vibrant Africa policy, even if we don’t hear much about the continent during the 2016 Election cycle.
Why is this important?
To start with, it is critical for Americans to take an interest in issues which go beyond domestic matters which affect them. We should look for where there is opportunity and progress, and make it known to our law-makers so they are aware how important these issues are.
We should demand that the media be held accountable for how it reports the news – Africa is a work in progress, but it is not a land only of death, disease, and war.
But Africa really matters! So what have the candidates been talking about?
The debates have primarily focused on the issues that the American people view as being the most important to them. Most voters are unaware of Africa’s economy or its innovation. They are only aware of the Islamic State or ISIS in North Africa, Boko Haram, and of Ebola in West Africa, because that is all they hear about when the continent is mentioned.
ISIS and Boko Haram are issues that concern us, so they get a mention in the media. But since subjects like trade, manufacturing and technology in Africa don’t hit us like talk about war or disease; no one pays attention to them.
There is innovation, and change happening in Africa as I write this. Likewise, there is more to foreign policy than simply going to war or building a wall to keep out the people we don’t like.
An emerging Africa is now making a name for itself. Free from the colonial rule of the past and working to overcome the political and social issues that have plagued it for so long.
From an economic standpoint, the continent has things we want, and we can boost their economies in return. For example, “More than 30,000 U.S. businesses exported to the African continent in 2012, of which 92 percent were small- and medium-sized businesses (SMEs),” according to the International Trade Administration, an arm of the U.S. Department Commerce.
Meanwhile “In 2013, U.S. goods imports from sub-Saharan African under AGOA and the related GSP program totaled $26.8 billion..,” according to the office of the U.S. Trade Representative.
The U.S. President, his administration, the Congress, and others, exert a lot of influence, for good, over the agreements which make this happen. This should continue.
Some countries in Africa, such as Nigeria, which has Africa’s largest economy, are rich in oil, a commodity that we in the U.S. are unhealthily dependent on.
African nations are now free to build their own economies for themselves, and they intend to. The continent is rich in minerals, agriculture, and other natural resources as well. Its people are innovative and creative, and within Africa there is a strong demand for manufacturing and new technologies.
Our old economic rival China knows this, and has known this for decades. China is Africa’s largest economic and diplomatic partner, and imports large quantities of oils, minerals, and other resources from the continent. Since we in the U.S. have made so much about competition, maybe this would be a good incentive to increase our partnerships with Africa.
This isn’t all just about economics, though. Since 2001, America has fought a war that we call the “War on Terror.” As discussed earlier, Islamic terrorism remains a central concern for Americans, even though the odds of being killed in such an attack in America are extremely low.
Regardless, the U.S. is committed to wiping out terrorism in one way or another. Because the goal is to wipe out terrorism entirely, we should boost our partnerships with nations that are fighting terrorism outside the Middle East. An example would be expanding partnerships with Nigeria, Cameroon, and other West African countries that are fighting against the terrorist group, Boko Haram.
By forming a coalition of nations with the same goal, we would strengthen our international relationships, create allies, and actually have a shot at dismantling terrorist groups worldwide. We can’t wipe out terrorism on our own, and it would be absurd for any candidate to suggest so.
However, it is baffling that candidates are not discussing terrorism other than in the Middle East, or that ISIS is not the only terrorist group that should be addressed. We are not the only commentators to notice this and find it troubling.
According to Ballotpedia, a website that keeps track of where the candidates stand on the issues, only Ben Carson even mentioned Boko Haram, when he mentioned that he would travel to Nigeria, Kenya and Zambia at the end of 2015.
Carson suggested that he would visit these countries in order to observe the current economic situation and to see what effect Boko Haram was having on the people there. However, Carson cancelled the trip, citing security concerns. The candidate has since dropped out of the race.
Forming alliances and providing support for the countries that are fighting terrorism elsewhere needs to discussed in the election and made a priority for the next president.