When Barack Obama was elected to the American Presidency Africans were so excited as most of the world in what seemed as an impossible feat given America’s racial past but alas November 4, 2008 we all became believers. Africa as a continent was particularly proud of their ‘Favorite Son’. I have heard many Africans say well Obama should be doing more for Africa because he is Kenyan. This is of course an African way of thinking because I don’t think that Obama sees himself as Kenyan but as an American of Kenyan descent, there is a difference. Whether you agree with me on this issue or not Obama views Africa through the eyes of an American because he was born and bred in America and has been to the continent of Africa less than 10 times so his understanding is based on visits and CIA briefings and books. Like many well meaning foreigners he may want to help Africa but the implementation of an African strategy may be a little different.
When President Obama was elected to the US Senate he made a visit to the motherland and landed in South Africa. The South African government made a miscalculation at the time that Obama would always be just a US Senator and gave him a cold shoulder when it came to issues such as HIV and AIDS which was taking thousands of lives and the Mbeki regime was in denial of the extent of the devastation of the disease. So we are watching for the dynamics when Obama sets foot on South African soil this time as President.
Obama has embarked on a program known as Doing business in Africa Campaign which encourages American businesses to increase investment in Africa particular in infrastructure projects. The biggest obstacle is the perception that Americans have of the continent. Most school districts in America do not teach geography so Americans tend to think of Africa as a country rather than a continent with 53 countries. One of the ways that American companies can do well in Africa is to hire Africans who have lived abroad and in Africa and understand both cultures. When the Americans first went to China they hired Chinese Americans to help them navigate the business environment there. The same goes in India as well and should be the template used for Sub-Saharan Africa.
Oh and there is the other issue of the use of drones which are unpopular both abroad and in the United States but we must also remember that Obama is an American and his priority is America. Security is essential for development in Africa and anywhere else that sets its eyes on becoming an economic powerhouse.
American is trailing behind China in African investment and has unleashed her best salesman (Obama) to help topple Chinese dominance of the continent. China has been somewhat successful in Africa because the Chinese are pouring resources and their people are assimilating in the culture and learning the local languages. If America wants to form meaningful relationships in Sub-Saharan Africa they may need a lesson from the Chinese because investment in Africa requires a change in thinking. The days of viewing Africa like a refugee camp in need of rescue are over and if bureaucrats in Washington do not change their perception of the continent they may fail to capitalize on opportunities.
For more information on the Obama initiative in doing business in Africa seeks to
- strengthen democratic institutions
- boost broad-based economic growth, including through trade and investment
- Strong, accountable, and democratic institutions, sustained by a deep commitment to the rule of law
- generate greater prosperity and stability, and meet with greater success in mitigating conflict and ensuring security
for more information visit
By Anna Mosi-Oa-Tunya 2013