In DepthColumns



The Obama administration's objectives for Africa

Gemma Ware


In order to improve relations with the continent, the new US presidential team will have to tackle some difficult conflicts


The Obama administration needs to address several short-term goals for Africa, then assure a long-term focus that will leave a lasting legacy.?


In the short term, it will need to revamp US policy in the Horn of Africa, and specifically toward Somalia. It is essential that a new diplomatic strategy be devised, including for Middle EasternUS trade with Sub-Saharan Africa countries and the UN as well as Somalia’s neighbours, to manage the potential chaos following Ethiopian troop withdrawal from Somalia and to prevent the radical, anti-Western Al Shabaab movement taking full power.


?Secondly, it must address the continuing crisis in Darfur. There, it will need to assess the practicality of harsher sanctions or a no-fly zone, perhaps using the consideration of these steps as a bargaining chip with the regime in Khartoum, in order to start a new peace process. Much more support will need to be provided directly to the UN/AU peacekeeping force there.?


Preserving gains


?Finally, the crisis in the [Democratic Republic of] Congo requires stronger US support for the UN peace process, including support for a much larger and stronger UN peacekeeping operation there.


For the longer term, the Obama administration needs first to consolidate and preserve the gains of the Bush administration, e.g:


  • the bipartisan support for a vigorous HIV/AIDS programme already authorised for $48bn over the next five years;?

  • the support of well-governed regimes under the Millennium Challenge Account;?

  • special trade advantages for Africa under the African Growth and Opportunity Act; ?

  • generally higher aid levels leading to a doubling of aid by 2010.


?Secondly, it must go beyond these objectives: through broadening the HIV/AIDS programme to include more support for health infrastructure, adding substantial assistance for agriculture and further measures to contain the consequences of climate change.?


It must also help strengthen Africa’s weak trade capacity in order to be able to ultimately remove Africa’s special preferences. This requires a new strategy with Africa in the Doha round, that aims for the World Trade Organisation to treat Africa as a single trading entity – not divided between middle-income and least-developed countries. Additional aims should be building Africa’s manufacturing and other competitive processes, and discouraging the European Partnership Agreements and similar bilateral trade agreements which divide Africa and reduce the potential for sub-regional trading blocs. ?


A legacy in the making ?


Finally, the Obama administration should make its greatest single legacy the improvement of African governance, transparency and democracy. This is where President Obama has great credibility, allowing him to address these often-sensitive issues directly with African leaders and societies. These objectives will require strong public and political support, aggressive prosecution and urging similar prosecution by our Western allies of multinational firms that bribe African officials, and substantial support to building the institutions of accountability such as the judiciary, parliaments, a free press and civil society.?


The African Union, weakened in recent years by peacekeeping problems in Darfur and Somalia, and losing erstwhile strong leadership from Nigeria and South Africa, will need to be encouraged and supported to play a stronger role in support of democracy and peace, as envisioned in its charter. Subregional organisations, such as the Southern African Development Community and Economic Community of West African States, should be similarly encouraged and supported.?


With high priority crises elsewhere, the Obama administration can only accomplish these objectives, and avoid Africa falling to the back of the line, by:


  • empowering the assistant secretary of state for african affairs through high level backing by the secretary of state and the president so that it is known that he/she speaks with the full authority and backing of those high level officials.??

  • providing the Africa bureaus at the State Department and US Agency for International Development with substantially increased personnel so that they can carry out complex peace negotiations in Sudan, Somalia and Congo, and advance a broader development and trade agenda. At present staffing levels, this will be impossible.

Message to Obama from South Africa

Gemma Ware


Pokuaa Busumru-Banson, ??President of the Students Representative Council, University of the Witwatersrand, ?South Africa?


“Barack Obama strikes me as the kind of leader who represents honest, transparent, creative leadership. This is the kind of example that I, as a young African, look for: leaders who won’t just speak for us, but to us. I am not expecting him to perform miracles, not for America nor for Africa. I merely want him to be a good example.


South Africa would like to see President Obama retain PEPFAR [President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief], come to South Africa to visit orphanages and rural areas, and use the same charisma that he used to rally nations to inspire students in African universities to aspire to be good leaders.”


Back to other messages for Obama

Message to Obama from Somalia

Gemma Ware


Abdirahman Abdishakur Warsame, Deputy head of the Alliance for the ?Re- liberation of Somalia?, Somalia


“The US needs to get more engaged in Somalia, rather than just getting involved in isolated cases, like hunting those three men who were accused of being behind the embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania. The Obama administration has to come with a holistic approach. Even when it comes to the US pursuing its war on terror, it should not just be about pursuing three people. It is about using soft power, it is about helping the people, it is about engaging the communities, presenting yourself as helper not hunter. Building institutions and facilitating a peace process is what works. The old approach has failed. ?


There can be no peace while Washington supports Addis Ababa. Instead of supporting the regime in Ethiopia, it would be better for the United States to hold Addis accountable, in terms of democracy, in terms of human-rights abuse, transparency and so on, not just supporting them and giving them whatever they want. If there were a change of stance from the US government towards Addis, this would change the dynamic in Somalia."


Back to other messages for Obama

Message to Obama from Morocco

Gemma Ware


Mustapha Khalfi, editor of daily newspaper Attajdid, Morocco


“ Obama might be the right man to get beyond the sterile debate over clashes of civilisation between the East and West. He has the credibility that could open the door of the Arab world. The Bush administration has lost theirs. He also has a clear vision for the region. In Iraq he has said he will withdraw. In Iran he says he is willing to open dialogue. He is also free from ideological pressure like the evangelical or neo-conservative groups. They destabilised the region and sent bad signals of neocolonial projects. Obama will hopefully present a pragmatic policy based on mutual interest, focusing on economic reforms and a fair society.?


The Maghreb is seen as a success story for the Bush administration, so it is an opportunity for Obama to build on this success, unlike the Middle East. There is real strength to the US-Morocco relationship – we have a free trade agreement and cooperate on the war on terror.


?If I had a message to send to the White House, it would be to listen to the region. Not just what you hear in Washington. ”


Back to other messages for Obama

"White House please, operator"

Gemma Ware


The voices of the continent unite in their welcome for the new president of the United States, tinged with realism


Power came to Nyangoma-Kogelo, Barack Obama’s grandmother’s village, within hours of her grandson’s victory speech. The Kenya Power and Lighting truck, with its men and their cables and electricity posts, were busy connecting the little village to the national grid as the crowds gathered and exulted at Mama Sarah’s front door – a prospect that, if at all it had been envisaged, had never been realistically expected during Mama Sarah’s lifetime.


?Other strange things happened during that historic week in November: a battalion of Caterpillar earthmovers and tipper trucks graded the nine kilometer road leading to the house in four days, a record. There was talk that piped water would soon be installed and that the airport in Kisumu was going to be upgraded to international status. In those heady days of November 2008, in completely unprecedented fashion, the government was actually delivering ‘development’ to a people marginalized since independence. So hurriedly that it barely had time to examine the political implications. It seemed that a new era was dawning in which the new stature of Kogelo would accelerate progress. ?


Certainly there will be parts of the African continent where Obama’s election will herald fast, concrete and visible changes, like Kogelo. More subtle and substantial changes could also be on the way for Africa – particularly in areas affected by the political spillover from a Middle East brought to boiling point by the previous administration. A more engaged US State Department, until now overshadowed by the Department of Defense, will also help unwind some of the more tangled US deployments in Mali and Algeria.

Messages for the new
President Obama

Mustapha Khalfi
Moroccan journalist

Abdirahman Abdishakur Warsame
Somalian politician
Pokuaa Busumru-Banson
South African student

Donu Kogbara
Nigerian consultant


Losing its shine?


But a sense of realism has gradually set in. For many people in his ancestral Nyanza Province and beyond, the disenchantment with the performance of the Kenyan coalition government has dampened Obama-mania. Almost a year into the coalition government, all that the Kenyan public has experienced is a rise in the cost of living and an increasingly draconian state. There is now less a feeling that the world will change as a result of Obama’s victory than there is one of pride that ‘one of their own’ sits on top of the world.


?“I don’t think people are expecting much to change,” says Steve Sande, a Kisumu resident and a youth activist. “People here are very proud that one of our own is in the White House, but nobody is thinking that doors are suddenly going to open as a result. Obama will have a lot on his plate, including sorting out the mess in Gaza. He will have very little time to turn his attention to us.”?


Poverty and possibilities


?Nyanza Province in western Kenya, from where Obama’s father hailed, remains one of the most neglected parts of the country, with one of the highest levels of poverty in the country. Having produced a disproportionate share of Kenya’s dissidents during the eras of Jomo Kenyatta, Daniel arap Moi and Mwai Kibaki, it was ‘denied’ development by successive Kenyan governments. ?


Will a US economy in trouble have the political capital available to extend programmes like the African Growth and Opportunity Act? Can it deepen its trade links with the continent beyond oil imports, potentially at the expense of American jobs? Will the new president have much time to spare for the rest of the world, given the huge clear-up job he has been handed at home??


Ultimately the most important news may be a change of tone from the US and the importance of the president as a symbol. Children growing up today in Asia, the US, Europe and Africa will see a black man running the most powerful country in the world. Old prejudice will melt, self-confidence will be released – two powerful gifts to take forward. ?


As one text message doing the rounds across Nigeria had it: “Rosa Parks sat so that Martin Luther King could march, Martin Luther King marched so that Obama could run and Obama ran so that our children could fly.”

Niger Delta: A dangerous masquerade

Gemma Ware


The declining price of oil changes the balance of power in the Niger Delta, while central government casts around for a way of managing the situation


With oil accounting for 95% of its economy, the shrinking price of crude oil has begun to spell trouble for Nigeria, the fifth largest producer in OPEC. The drop in price of more than $100 per barrel since July has already reduced the flows of foreign exchange into the government’s coffers by billions of dollars. The fall in foreign currency reserves and the weakening of the naira have begun to put harsh pressure on President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, who came to office in 2007 with ambitious plans to diversify the economy away from oil.?


Seen from the Niger Delta, the source of most of Nigeria’s oil and gas, the idea of breaking the country’s long-running dependence on oil appears unimaginable, and yet some experts believe that the decline in oil prices could present an opportunity for a break with oil dependence and the combustible politics that go with it. But others are not so confident, largely because the sheer complexity of Delta militancy carries the risk of getting out of hand. With its recent history of protests, kidnappings, bombings and attacks on infrastructure, the insecurity in the Delta has begun to pose a threat to the stability of the whole of Nigeria.?

Interview: Don 'Smokey' Gold
Former Niger Delta militant


The Delta’s unrest grew out of a background of disputes between oil companies and communities – which in many areas like Ogoniland have dragged on for decades – but it is now led not only by militants with clear political motivations, but also by criminal gangs. The militant movements have their roots in fraternal orders, cults and youth groups, from which militant leaders and criminal gangsters find it easy to recruit new members.?


When oil fetched more than $100 a barrel, the instability and losses were accepted by the industry as part of the price of doing business. Although, for now, there is the appearance of calm – or at least a fairly predictable level of disruption, mayhem and occasional murder – industry analysts are already predicting that if the global oil price drops below $30, then the oil business in Nigeria could become untenable for most operators. This could have unforeseen consequences.?


Over the past four years, the main onshore producer, Shell Petroleum Development Company, has been repeatedly forced to suspend production from various onshore facilities, reducing output at times by as much as 250,000 barrels a day. Shell and the other major companies, including Chevron and Exxon, have frequently called on the federal government for additional troops to protect their facilities, and it is no secret that Shell has even begun to consider the possibility of a complete withdrawal from its onshore operations in the Delta.


?Behind the current appearance of relative calm lies a complex mix of deals between the Delta’s politicians and militants. Delta State governor Emmanuel Uduaghan champions a policy of accommodating armed groups rather than carrying out military operations to disarm and disrupt them. In January 2008, a key militant leader, Tom ‘Government’ Pollo, was awarded a N6.7bn (approximately $50m) oil pipeline contract.?


Typifying the confusion in policy is the record of bodies like the Delta Waterways Security Committee (DWSC). Created to mediate disputes between communities and oil companies, and to keep the creeks safe for shipping, the DWSC is now suspected of involvement in both violence and oil theft in order to justify its own budget, which runs into millions of naira every month. Even the military Joint Task Force (JTF), charged with tackling the militants in the region, has expressed concerns about the DWSC.


A situation ‘under control’


?In one recent incident on 2 January this year, the JTF commander, Brigadier General Wuyep Rimtip, blamed local youths rather than militants for blowing up a pipeline operated by Italy’s Agip near Burutu, Delta State. For its part, the DWSC sent a delegation that it said would “investigate and bring the situation under control”.?


The theft and ‘bunkering’ (loading) of oil involves both militants and government officials. For his part, one former militant, Don ‘Smokey’ Gold, says: “Government and company officials are the biggest bunkerers of oil... Government and company vehicles and other equipment are involved, not only in bunkering but also in other crimes.”?


Militancy in the Delta involves two distinct interest groups. The hard core is made up of well-trained and well-armed forces with an ideological mission. Militant leaders like ‘Government’ Pollo can call on several thousand heavily armed irregular fighters, billeted in at least six permanent training camps and capable of carrying out rapid attacks on oil infrastructure, then disappearing into the creeks.?


The other interest group is the criminal gangs – such as those led by Ateke Tom and Soboma George – who like to claim affinity to the militant ideology of the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND), but whose most profitable activity has been the bunkering of stolen oil in the innumerable creeks of the Delta.?


Symbols of resistance?


Through press statements and emails, MEND has become a rallying point for armed resistance to the status quo, but it recruits its members from criminal gangs, youth groups, cults and even some NGOs. Figures identified with MEND such as Dokubo Asari and Henry Okah remain important to the movement as symbols of resistance more than as day-to-day leaders and ideologues, but the leadership remains deliberately obscure, even to its own rank-and-file adherents.


?Community rights campaigners on the ground say there are tens of thousands of potential recruits, attracted by the promise of ready money, who would join in any renewed crime wave that may accompany any further meltdown in the Delta.?


As world oil prices soared, the combination of armed insurrection and criminal violence was highly profitable for those with links in both camps but, with oil prices sliding, this may no longer be sustainable. The days when a single militant’s phone call to a news agency led to an oil price spike are over.?Damka Pueba, a community rights activist from the Delta-based Stakeholder Democracy Network, describes the atmosphere in early 2009 thus: “It’s not peace, it’s just quiet. At the end of the day, things are going to spill over.”?


The recent ‘business as usual’ that keeps the crisis in the Delta on hold fails to address the urgent need for roads, schools, jobs and the diversification that could break the dependence on oil, community advocates like Pueba say. ?


Nigerian journalist and Delta native Ibiba Don Pedro believes that while there is a new set of political players in Delta politics, they are busy creating new business opportunities for themselves. “On the surface it looks like we are moving away from the [former President Olusegun] Obasanjo years of corruption. But in Rivers State, civil servants are still not being paid. The looting is still going on. Officials are still using banks for money laundering.” She adds: “Public/private partnerships have been announced but there is nothing yet on ground.” ?


The Niger Delta has waited for decades for investment in public services and infrastructure like electricity and transport that could help bring about the region’s renaissance, and it is still waiting. There was a major setback for development projects when Nigeria’s best-known construction firm, Julius Berger, pulled out of the Delta in mid-2008 after concerted attacks on its personnel. The current decline in federal and state oil income means that even less new investment is likely to happen in 2009.?


As formal and illicit revenue streams start to dry up, affecting the security in the Delta and the stability of the oil sector, life in the region could become even more risky. If the corrupt revenue flowing into the militant networks starts to run out at the same time as their hundreds of thousands of potential new recruits see their firebrand leaders growing rich, this could feed a very dangerous cycle.?Ibiba Don Pedro says the military JTF has been chasing the smaller militant groups but leaving the bigger oil thieves alone, and she notes: “People are not speaking out. People are not asking questions.”?


The JTF has to appear to be doing something in order to justify its existence, as, like many of the other political actors in the Delta, it is accused of having a vested interest in maintaining a stalemate. But its leaders know that if they attack the main MEND leadership, the latter could shut down all production within days and spark a conflict that could last for years.?


Unlike kidnapping and other criminal rackets, militant violence in the Delta is for the most part a form of non-lethal political theatre. None of the players seriously wants a war. Yet if the cycle of poverty, desperation and envy fills the militant training camps, the final act could yet end in a tragedy without a script.?


The familiar village-level masquerade – the role-play of the social and cosmic order – is in many ways being replicated on a larger scale in the political games being enacted across the Delta. The risk is that the masks that key actors wore when oil was at record highs may not suit a hastily-revised script. It is this sense of uncertainty and danger – as the symbols of power in Nigeria change once again and the actors are forced to improvise – that may spark a shooting war by accident rather than by design.


Niger Delta militant attacks 2008

Page 65 of 66




Subscriptions Digital EditionSubscriptions PrintEdition










Music & Film



Keep up to date with the latest from our network :


Connect with us