Why Obama Changed Tack

Cor­po­rate Amer­ica rules at US-Africa Sum­mit

Diplomat East Africa - - Front Page - MO­HAMMED WARSAMA re­ports.

African pres­i­dents rel­ished the prospects of a photo-op­por­tu­nity with their US coun­ter­part Barack Obama, dur­ing the US- Sum­mit, almost as much as the State-owned me­dia across the con­ti­nent.

But on the side­lines, some se­ri­ous work was done, ac­cord­ing to Dr Don­ald Kaberuka, the highly re­garded Pres­i­dent of the African De­vel­op­ment Bank. The Sum­mit may have been billed as a po­lit­i­cal meet­ing, but Cor­po­rate Amer­ica stole the show.

Cor­po­rate gi­ants such as Coca-- Cola, IBM, Gen­eral Elec­tric and JP Mor­gan were shift­ing their at­ten­tion to Africa seek­ing in­vest­ment and trade op­por­tu­ni­ties, says Kaberuka.

In­deed, Power Africa, an ini­tia­tive launched by Obama in 2013 to bring US ex­per­tise to bol­ster elec­tric­ity gen­er­a­tion in Africa played a prom­i­nent role in the pro­ceed­ings. How soon Africa will reap the ben­e­fits of the business meet­ings and cau­cuses re­mains in con­tention, though.

The first ever U.S.-Africa sum­mit fo­cused on Is­lamic ex­trem­ism and its links to ter­ror­ism, bad gov­er­nance and cor­rup­tion. But the 50 lead­ers in attendance were spared blushes, as it moved on to the con­ti­nent’s business po­ten­tial. Cor­po­rate Amer­ica wanted its share of in­vest­ment op­por­tu­ni­ties in the con­ti­nent’s en­ergy and in­fra­struc­ture projects. Of­fers of cre­at­ing jobs and mo­bil­is­ing the badly needed funds were gen­er­ously made.

Business ty­coon and for­mer New York Mayor, Mr Michael Bloomberg, hosted dozens of business del­e­ga­tions, seek­ing to re­in­force Obama’s as­ser­tion that US ex­ports to Africa had reached

record lev­els. But an­a­lysts point at Africa’s trade with China, which is con­ser­va­tively placed at $200 bil­lion an­nu­ally com­pared to Wash­ing­ton’s $85 bil­lion. Even this might drop as US cuts oil im­ports from Africa.

For many African lead­ers whose demo­cratic and hu­man rights cre­den­tials were rep­proach­able, the visit to the US may have served the un­wit­ting pur­pose of giv­ing them a carte blanche of sorts. Ex­cept for Zim­babwe, Su­dan, Cen­tral African Repub­lic, Eritrea and Western Sa­hara, the rest of the con­ti­nent’s lead­er­ship was in­vited to Wash­ing­ton for a red car­pet re­cep­tion.

The out­break of Ebola in West Africa might have damp­ened mat­ters some­what, but for most Africans, it was a must-at­tend func­tion. The four themes for the Sum­mit, In­vest­ing in Africa’s Fu­ture, Peace, Re­gional Sta­bil­ity and Gov­ern­ing for the Next Gen­er­a­tion might have been over­shad­owed by the rash of photo-op­por­tu­ni­ties. Though the prom­ise of trade and in­vest­ment was the main at­trac­tion, po­lit­i­cal pos­tur­ing and loaded talk about strength­en­ing US-African re­la­tions cap­tured me­dia head­lines.

But for Amer­i­can business ex­ec­u­tives, the Sum­mit was a gamechanger; it some­what re­moved the po­lit­i­cal class from the cen­tre of Cor­po­rate Africa. It is no longer nec­es­sary to know bro­kers with links to State Houses to get things mov­ing.

The only ex­cep­tions to that rule are deals in­volv­ing gov­ern­ment it­self, par­tic­u­larly the lu­cra­tive, if prob­lem­atic, se­cu­rity con­tracts. Even for Obama, a sub­tle dif­fer­ence in his de­meanour was no­ticed; the ha­bit­u­ally pa­ter­nal­is­tic tone was miss­ing. If his call for a “part­ner­ship of equals that fo­cuses on African ca­pac­ity to solve prob­lems, and on Africa’s ca­pac­ity to grow,” sounded a mite sus­pi­cious, it was for good rea­son.

For decades the US has con­fronted is­sues of bad gov­er­nance, cor­rup­tion, civil strife, famine and dis­ease as if it was Africa’s lot. If the Sum­mit needed any re­minder of that, the civil wars in South Su­dan, the Cen­tral African Repub­lic, Libya, So­ma­lia and parts of the Demo­cratic Repub­lic of Congo, pro­vided am­ple ev­i­dence.

The Ebola cri­sis hit­ting West Africa was another stark re­minder of the con­ti­nent’s di­min­ished health ca­pa­bil­i­ties. As did the pro­jected famine in South Su­dan largely due to the civil war in Africa’s new­est state.

But Wash­ing­ton’s con­cerns have, over the years, fo­cused on in­se­cu­rity in Africa, es­pe­cially the fear of the much-loathed Al-Qaeda ter­ror group gain­ing a strong foothold in the con­ti­nent.

In this re­spect, North Africa, So­ma­lia, Mali, the Cen­tral Africa Repub­lic and Nige­ria have re­ceived con­sid­er­able at­ten­tion as has the flare up in South Su­dan, due to its oil re­serves.

The de­sire to lock en­ergy-hun­gry China out of Juba’s oil fields could be one of the rea­sons for Wash­ing­ton’s im­pa­tience with the slow pace in get­ting a truce. But even this in­ter­est in Africa was never re­ally driven by the US gov­ern­ment; its main en­gine were Non-Gov­ern­men­tal Or­gan­i­sa­tions and re­li­gious in­sti­tu­tions.

In­deed, claims that the Arab regime in Khartoum was en­slav­ing black Chris­tians in the South Su­dan forced Wash­ing­ton to pay cru­cial at­ten­tion to Su­dan’s civil war in the 1980s.

In a sense, there­fore, the Sum­mit played an im­por­tant role in re­fo­cus­ing Wash­ing­ton’s at­ten­tion to the business op­por­tu­ni­ties re­plete in the con­ti­nent and its emerg­ing economies. Cor­po­rate Amer­ica got the op­por­tu­nity to turn its huge ap­petite to Africa’s ex­pand­ing class of con­sumers.

This a les­son China grasped ear­lier as it hogged gi­ant in­fra­struc­ture projects in Africa as the US watched in envy and, con­trary to what Kaberuka and oth­ers might think, the Sum­mit was about Wash­ing­ton play­ing catchup with Beijing.

But just as an­a­lysts had spec­u­lated, the Sum­mit would not be com­plete with­out Wash­ing­ton of­fer­ing Africa mil­i­tary aid, and it came to pass. The US pledged a $550 mil­lion mil­i­tary train­ing pack­age over five years for an African rapid re­sponse force, up­stag­ing China on that score. ALL WIN­NERS

For East Africa, the in­vite by Wash­ing­ton was a mo­ment to rel­ish. In Uganda's Pres­i­dent Yow­eri Mu­sev­eni case, it was seen as a sub­tle sign that Un­cle Sam was no longer both­ered with his ter­ri­ble

hu­man rights record and re­cent noisy fight with gays.

For Pres­i­dent Paul Kagame of Rwanda, his al­leged support for Tutsi rebels in the trou­bled min­eral-rich east­ern Demo­cratic Repub­lic of Congo was off the radar for now. In Bu­rundi, Pres­i­dent Pierre Nku­run­z­iza re­ceived the all-im­por­tant fawn­ing nod he needs to clam­p­down on the op­po­si­tion and to change the law to al­low a third term.

Pres­i­dent Jakaya Kik­wete of Tan­za­nia is on his way out as his sec­ond term in of­fice ends this year and was a dar­ling of Wash­ing­ton, any­way. Tan­za­nia was the only East African coun­try that Obama vis­ited dur­ing his June 2013 visit to Africa.

The big­gest ben­e­fi­ciary of the visit to Wash­ing­ton, though, was Pres­i­dent Uhuru Keny­atta. It was the for­mer US As­sis­tant Sec­re­tary of State for African Af­fairs, Mr John­nie Car­son, who dis­mis­sively spoke against Keny­atta’s elec­tion bid in 2012. His as­ser­tion that ‘choices have con­se­quences’ was in relation to the crimes against hu­man­ity cases fac­ing the Kenyan head of state and Deputy Pres­i­dent Mr Wil­liam Ruto.

But the rul­ing Ju­bilee Al­liance of Keny­atta and Ruto saw it as a not-so-sub­tle en­dorse­ment of their po­lit­i­cal neme­sis, Mr Raila Odinga. In­deed, con­ven­tional wis­dom prior to the 2012 Gen­eral Elec­tion was that it was Odinga’s elec­tion to lose ( see Go­ing for Broke in the Fe­bru­ary 2013, is­sue of Diplo­mat East Africa).

The fact was al­luded to in the invitation to Keny­atta, when Wash­ing­ton some­how felt com­pelled to clar­ify that he was in-

Pres­i­dent Jakaya Kik­wete of Tan­za­nia is on his way out as his sec­ond term in of­fice ends and this year was a dar­ling of Wash­ing­ton, any­way

vited for his abil­ity in mo­bil­is­ing the con­ti­nent to stand by him in de­nounc­ing the In­ter­na­tional Crim­i­nal Court.

Keny­atta spent a con­sid­er­able part of his first year in of­fice and re­sources ral­ly­ing the African Union and the con­ti­nent against the court in The Hague. It is not lost on the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity that de­spite Africa’s re­pu­di­a­tion of the ICC, not a sin­gle coun­try has quit the Rome Statute that binds the con­ti­nent to The Hague,

Be­sides, his diplo­matic shut­tle, the Kenya head of state turned east to China for in­vest­ment and co­op­er­a­tion, in what was por­trayed by Nairobi as a pointed snub of Wash­ing­ton. It did not help mat­ters when Obama made a four-na­tion Africa visit last year that brought him next door to Tan­za­nia and not Kenya, the na-

tive home of his fa­ther, Barack Obama Snr.

Travel ad­vi­sories against Kenya by the US and its close al­lies-Bri­tain, France and Aus­tralia-have not helped mat­ters. They have re­in­forced the belief that Wash­ing­ton was pun­ish­ing Nairobi over the elec­tion re­sults.

Obama’s per­ceived support for the Kenyan op­po­si­tion, though muted, was re­in­forced by the two-month so­journ in the US by Odinga in March and April this year. The fact that he re­turned in­vig­o­rated and had the gov­ern­ment fu­ri­ously backpedalling over his de­mands for ‘di­a­logue’ over the myr­iad prob­lems fac­ing the coun­try, was not lost on the gov­ern­ment.

So in some way, Keny­atta’s visit to the US and the hugely circu- lated photo with Obama and First Lady Michelle at the White House, was per­haps his most trea­sured trophy from Wash­ing­ton. It sym­bol­ised two highly por­tent points; first, it fi­nally gives his reign in­ter­na­tional le­git­i­macy in view of the ICC cases, and sec­ond, it has blunted Odinga’s brag­ging rights about his US con­nec­tion. Keny­atta craved both.

The col­lapse of the case fac­ing him at The Hague looks highly likely and would be an ob­vi­ous ic­ing on his cake if only he could re­solve the crises be­dev­il­ing his gov­ern­ment with the same de­ter­mi­na­tion that he has pur­sued the ter­mi­na­tion of his cases at the ICC.

For Africa, in­vest­ing in its youth was one of the strong­est mes­sages from the Sum­mit. This will re­quire heavy in­vest­ment in ed­u­ca­tion, in­fra­struc­ture, se­cu­rity and a po­lit­i­cal sys­tem that is tol­er­ant of di­ver­gent views. With­out such in­vest­ment, the risk of youth join­ing ter­ror and crim­i­nal gangs that will go beyond Africa’s bor­der is too fright­en­ing to con­tem­plate. And it should be

KENYAN CON­NEC­TION: Pres­i­dent Obama and Michelle host Keny­atta at the White House

MY POINT: Obama ad­dresses African del­e­ga­tions in Wash­ing­ton

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