The United States (US) presidential election will be held on November 6, 2012, and as the campaign enters the home stretch, it's clear that the outcome of the race is likely to have big and lasting implications for the future orientation of the country's foreign policy. The stakes are also substantial for the United States’ diplomatic interlocutors, including those on the African continent with some critical actions to undertake on the current Mali crisis and many other issues.
As a result, African bloggers are carefully examining both the US presidential candidates’ approaches to African diplomacy and their projected plans of action if elected.
Although their disagreement on the Arab Spring demonstrated that Barack Obama and the challenger Mitt Romney are willing to take opposing positions on international relations strategy when politically expedient, overall, their differences are in fact much more nuanced.
One area that they have tended to agree on has been over the importance of trade. Reporting on a Romney speech at the Clinton Global Initiative, Twitter users wrote:
@AnnieFeighery: trade relations is the foundation of his planned agenda for aid #Romney #CGI2012
@MahaRafiAtal: Romney proposes integrating aid & trade: $ will go to nations who strike investment deals w U.S./implement market reforms. #cgi2012
President Obama has expressed similar views on the trade versus aid debate. Tom Murphy highlights their similarities:
The shift from aid to trade is one that the Obama administration has stressed through policy and remarks. The June strategy for sub-Saharan Africa included the four pillars for the region: Strengthen democratic institutions; Spur economic growth, trade, and investment; Advance peace and security; and Promote opportunity and development. Romney seemingly echoed the pillars of the Obama administration’s policy by saying that foreign aid should address humanitarian need, foster the strategic interests of the US and use aid to elevate people and provide lasting change.
Point of view of African bloggers
Meanwhile, African bloggers have been speculating on how the election will unfold and what can be expected from each candidate.
Francois-Xavier Ada from Cameroon agrees that there is very little that separates Obama and Romney. He argues in a post entitled ‘The Obama vs Romney Fallacy‘:
I just couldn’t get past the idea that there is a difference between Obama and Romney’s foreign policies [..] They are not if you ask me. American military presence in the Middle East has not reduced a little; it is the same argument that has been made to justify the USA’s aggressive behavior.
Let’s start with Africa and Africom. A simple question: where is the logic behind training and equipping militaries in a continent that has been and still is ravaged by war? The United States provides intelligence and training to fight militants across the continent, from Mauritania in the west to Somalia.
George Bamu is the founder of the Africa Agenda blog and also a Cameroonian. In an article for Africa Agenda he laments the lack of attention given to Africa as a foreign policy issue by both candidates. He writes:
While the Obama administration is making efforts to deal with African issues; terrorism in the horn of Africa, food security in Africa, efforts to deal with HIV and AIDS, it is being criticized for not paying much attention to the continent. [..] The administration may, or may not get the opportunity to fully implement its Africa policy, if the election turns out otherwise. As for Mitt Romney, it is not clear what he is up to, on Africa. Right now there is not enough data about possible Africa policy plans that a Romney administration might pursue. While this may not reflect everything in the candidates’ thinking on Africa, they seem concerned about Chinese efforts there, extremism and piracy in Somalia, terrorists in Nigeria and “inept regimes” in Sudan, Zimbabwe and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Writing about Africans’ views on Mitt Romney, George Bamu adds the following:
But what do Africans know about Mitt Romney, the candidate? In “A South African Take on the U.S Race”, Moeletsi Mbeki, Deputy Chairman, South African Institute of International Affairs, told the U.S Council of Foreign Relations that Africans knew nothing about Mitt Romney until he started running against Obama.
Farouk Kayondo, TV news editor and anchor at the Uganda Broadcasting Corporation, gives his views on the US race for presidency in a video from TV2Africa:
Meanwhile, in Mahajanga, Madagascar, Vero Andrianarisoa points out that like the US Madagascar is also getting ready for its own presidential elections [fr]:
Madagascar est à la veille d'élections. Pour mieux se préparer et pour pouvoir maîtriser les différents procédés dans le domaine, le pays a grandement besoin d'apprendre des autres nations démocratiques afin de pouvoir mieux les organiser.
Madagascar is also on the cusp of its presidential elections. To get ready and better monitor the different procedures during the elections, the country could learn from the other democracies how to organize the elections better.
In short, not everyone is convinced that the US is a positive influence for Africa. Sébastien Perimony has described some of the disillusionment felt [fr] over Obama's record with Africa in his first term:
L’espoir qu’avait suscité l’élection de Barack Obama en Afrique a fait pschitt ! Les fantasmes ont disparu et laissent place aujourd’hui à une colère grandissante des populations africaines, qui attendaient un changement de politique. Au lieu de quoi elles se retrouvent envahies par les forces spéciales de l’armée américaine, pour lesquelles le gouvernement dépense des millions de dollars qui auraient dû servir, par exemple, dans la corne de l’Afrique, à une aide alimentaire
How quickly the hope raised by Barack Obama's elections in Africa faded away! The dream is gone and it has made way for a growing resentment from Africans who looked forward to a change of policy. Instead they are invaded by the US Army special forces on whom the government has spent millions of dollars. Those same millions could have been used to reduce food shortages in the Horn of Africa.