Monday, July 13, 2009

Obama to Africa: Drop Dead

I have a certain respect for what I see as President Obama’s clear-eyed exercises in foreign affairs triage.

Obviously, his plate is full with Iraq/Iran/Pakistan/Afghanistan and keeping Europe on board for the whole global-recession-fighting deal, and the Obama administration has shown little interest in looking for solutions (or trouble) in strategic backwaters of the world like Burma and North Korea...and, apparently, Africa.

I was rather surprised at the favorable response not only by the middle-finger humanitarians who populate the Wall Street Journal's editorial page but also by some reform-oriented Africa aid activists to President Obama’s July 11th speech in Ghana and its signature statement: “We must start from the simple premise that the future of Africa is up to Africans”, followed by the condescending get your house in order/good governance/democracy tropes that have been a mainstay of Western rhetoric toward Africa for the last few years.

That line might have had more credibility in the pre-recession boom years, when there was a rising tide to lift all boats and the prospect of economic growth and increased trade and investment justified calls for Africa to do its fair share of bootstrapping (clamping down on corruption and capital flight, getting governments’ fiscal houses in order, liberalizing economic policies, bringing the informal economy into the banking system, etc.) to generate more internal capital for investment.

But now that the geniuses of Western finance have sent the global economy off a cliff, the three vital engines for market-based economic growth in Africa—international trade, foreign direct investment, and inward remittances—are all taking 20%-plus hits as a result, and the United States and Europe are putting billions on the line to stimulate demand and prop up their financial institutions while at the same time honoring the commitments of the Gleneagles G8 summit for increases in aid to less developed countries “in the breach” as it were, it takes a certain amount of crust to tell the Africans to suck it up.

China doesn’t see it that way. I have an article up at Asia Times under the pen name “Peter Lee”, entitled “China Doubles Down in Africa”, describing some major post-crash initiatives Beijing is undertaking in Africa.

I also look at signs that China’s position in Africa is evolving into a more sophisticated engagement in response to the stresses of the global recession and China’s own shortcomings in Africa policy, and conclude:

It appears that China hopes to emerge from the global recession not only with its economic standing intact; it intends to enhance its position and present itself in Africa as the responsible, perhaps indispensable stakeholder that the West has claimed to yearn for but is perhaps not anxious to see materialize.

Hey, read the whole thing!

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