NEW YORK, July 5, 2013 — President Barack Obama and former President George W. Bush meeting in Tanzania symbolizes one area of bipartisan agreement - to make Africa a better place. Obama is often criticized on his lack of attention to Africa, unlike his predecessor Bush, but he has continued many of Bush’s programs and created some of his own.
Above the debate of comparing the leaders, American foreign policy in Africa is a success story of making the continent a priority.
On Tuesday the two presidents attended a wreath-laying ceremony in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, revealing a solidary between Republican Bush and Democrat Obama to remember the lives lost in an al-Qaeda attack in 1998. The day concluded Obama’s second tour of Africa since becoming president, which seems infrequent considering Bush made a total of 10 trips during his presidency.
Regardless of the number of visits, the al-Qaeda attack led Bush and Obama to deal with several deadly conflicts with peace and counterterrorism measures in Africa.
Bush brokered peace agreements in seven of the deadliest civil wars on the continent— Angola, Burundi, Cote d’Ivoire, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Liberia, North-South Sudan, and Sierra Leone. However some regions are still vulnerable to conflict including Darfur, Eastern Congo, and Somalia. To maintain peace and guard democracies from terrorist take over, Bush created the U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM).
AFRICOM is known for training African militaries, but it is ramping up its security programs. The Obama administration has trained more than 66,000 African troops in 2011, up 67 percent from the year before according to the State Department. Lately, it has assisted the new government of Somalia against violence caused by the terrorist group, al-Shabaab. Since Benghazi, AFRICOM established a rapid-reaction Embassy Response Force in Djibouti, to conduct potential embassy evacuation missions in East Africa. To support the democratic transition in Mali, AFRICOM has built a new base for unmanned aerial drones in Niger.
Bush and Obama also developed strong programs that go beyond security.
The President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) started as an $18 billion global initiative by Bush in 2003. In the Sub-Sahara alone, there is about a 33 percent drop in HIV infections and AIDS-related deaths over the last decade. PEPFAR’s funding has drop to $4.2 million despite its achievements. Obama supports PEPFAR, but decided to redirect some of its funding to fight tuberculosis and malaria, which are also major health concerns on the continent.
In addition to making gains in health reform, Africa’s economic activity is growing with American support. Bush maximized Bill Clinton’s bill, African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) to cover 98 percent of all exports from Africa to the U.S. The policy allows African exports to be duty-free, and thus lowers the price of African products to generate demand. AGOA exports totaled $20.5 billion in 2001 and by 2011 it rose to $71.1 billion according to the Department of Commerce.
In 2008, imports peaked at $81 billion, but the combination of the global financial crisis, the European sovereign debt crisis and the rising prices of food and commodities has decreased global trade. AGOA will expire in 2015, but Obama announced on Monday that he supports extending the policy. The President cannot guarantee an extension because it requires the approval of Congress.
“Power Africa” is a new initiative started by Obama- made public on Sunday. It is a $7 billion energy strategy aim to boost access to electricity in Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Liberia, Nigeria and Tanzania. In these counties more than 60 percent of people live without electricity. General Electric and Symbion Power and other private companies are following Obama lead and are providing an additional $9 billion to forward the initiative.
The Washington Fellowship for Young African Leaders is the new flagship program of the Obama’s Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI) that will bring 500 African leaders between ages 25 to 35 to America for leadership training and mentoring. The program will start next year with the aspiration that the Fellows will use their training to forward economic growth and strengthen democratic institutions.
Obama launched YALI in 2010 to invest in Africa’s next generation of leaders. YALI has funded $100 million to 76 African universities so they can enhance training in health, agriculture, education, environmental science, technology, and other sectors.
As Obama focuses on the next generation of African leaders, U.S. foreign policy must look to the next steps of U.S.-African relations. The policy continuity from Bush to Obama is an accomplishment, but America must continue to seek innovative ways to work with Africa whose growth and stability is admirable, but remains fragile.
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