Obama's foreign policy team

Gemma Ware


Although Barack Obama won support for his stance against the Iraq war, foreign policy was meant to be the strength of his Republican opponent John McCain, who backed the invasion. To counter McCain, the Obama campaign built up a team led by policy professionals Susan Rice and Anthony Lake, both of whom served in ex-President Bill Clinton’s administration and have extensive experience in Africa. Rice was assistant secretary of state for Africa and Lake was national security advisor during South Africa’s transition from apartheid to majority rule.


?Lake introduced Obama to the diplomatic circuit about four years ago, after which Obama quickly assembled a group of advisors from a wide range of backgrounds: veteran diplomat and ex-ambassador to the UN, Bill Richardson; Samantha Power, the author of the seminal analysis of genocide A Problem from Hell and a campaigner on Darfur; former navy secretary Richard Danzig; and retired Air Force major general Scott Gration, who grew up in Africa.?


Washington insiders tip Richardson for secretary of state and Rice for the national security advisor; and there is competition for the assistant secretary of state for Africa post – given the President is expected to have a special interest in it. In the running are the two co-chairs of the Obama campaign’s Africa policy group: Michelle Gavin and Witney Schneidman. Among the professional diplomats there is support for former ambassador to Nairobi, Johnnie Carson. Stephen Morrison, Africa director at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, is also in the running.


Back to Obama: enter the great communicator

From outhouse to White House

Gemma Ware


The state of Georgia may have voted for John McCain, but you would not know it in the city of Atlanta. Black Atlanta, white Atlanta and increasingly mixed Atlanta went all out to celebrate Barack Obama’s victory, with dancing in the streets and shouting in the churches. In the Ebenezer Baptist Church, spiritual home of civil rights leader Dr Martin Luther King, even though family members squabble among themselves, hundreds attended services and chanted: “We started at the outhouse, now we’re going to the White House. Yes we can!” Dr King’s daughter, Reverand Bernice King, exhorted them to change the Obama campaign mantra “Yes we can” to “Yes we have”.


?In the streets, where horns honked and lights flashed, whites held up signs to passersby with the words: “It’s A New America. Yes we have!” Once labelled “The city too busy to hate” by the so-called ‘white power structure’, who nevertheless saw to it that blacks were relegated to separate theatre entrances, the backs of buses and away from whites-only restaurants and water fountains, Atlanta today is a star among progressive US cities, where, except for one who went to jail for corruption, black mayors have run it, including Andrew Young, a one-time lieutenant of Dr King.


?Shortly after Obama’s victory, Young, who went on to become US ambassador to the UN under former President Jimmy Carter, told a crowded ballroom: “Thanks to Barack Obama, vision is replacing violence, faith is defeating fear, and grace is putting an end to greed.”?


At house parties all over town, guests wore Obama tee-shirts of varying designs and brought presents to the hosts, including chocolate squares stamped with the smiling face of the President-elect. At work the next day, women wore black-and-red dresses, imitating Michelle Obama.


Back to Obama: enter the great communicator

Editorial: The Kogelo-Washington Axis

The jubilation greeting Barack Obama’s election to the US presidency was as loud in Africa as it was at the victory rally in Grant Park, Chicago. The triumph of Obama, the grandson of Mama Sarah of Kogelo in western Kenya, is a dynamic new axis between Africa and the US. The people of Kogelo, who were connected to Kenya’s national electricity grid for the first time to watch the election results, believe they are already seeing tangible benefits from the association.


?Obama’s success may have other effects too. Voters in different countries can assess the chances of a youngish politician of modest means from a minority group becoming their head of state: nowhere in Europe leaps to mind; it’s unlikely in Asia and, sadly, all too improbable in Africa.??


Obama’s inauguration in Washington, D.C. on 20 January will nevertheless be a joyous moment for Africa and the US, a celebration of his dual heritage and also of the universal ideals of liberté, fraternité et égalité. The hard policy calculations are already being made. As Kenyan Prime Minister Raila Odinga told The Africa Report, Obama’s first duty will be to promote American interests even if he has much more knowledge and experience of Africa than his predecessors. Odinga wants Africa to receive more attention as a place for investment than as a humanitarian case. ?


Taking over a US Treasury that has just bailed out recalcitrant banks to the tune of over $700bn and financed a $1trn war in Iraq, the Obama administration will not be sprinkling largesse in Africa. But the new economic strategists could cut some of the subsidies that rich countries pay to their farmers, which suppress the world price of Africa’s agricultural exports. If the US gives a lead, the more serious subsidy violators in Europe and Japan would be under pressure to follow. ??


Foreign policy advisors around Obama have long-dismissed George Bush’s ‘war on terror’ concept and speak of a more nuanced and multilateral approach to crises. Sudan and Somalia will be near the top of the Africa priority list. Both urgently need heavyweight diplomacy, hard-headed political analysis and well-targeted development funds. Obama has already made commitments on material and diplomatic support for the peacekeepers in Darfur. The credibility of Washington’s commitment to punish war criminals would be boosted if the US finally signed up to the International Criminal Court.?


Inevitably, the Obama era will nurture the ties of the more than 30m African-Americans with the mother continent: this offers a great opportunity for African businesses to bring in the investment, technology transfer and research capability that is so badly needed.


??Such possibilities could light up the continent as Charlayne Hunter-Gault reports with a detailed analysis from Atlanta of the Obama win. Our correspondent in Johannesburg, William Gumede, tells the cautionary tale of the ructions in the African National Congress; as the political landscape changes, an exciting election looms in early 2009.?


Elections in Ethiopia have been more troubled still but Premier Meles Zenawi insists in an exclusive interview with The Africa Report that there will be no repeat in the next elections of the violence that left about 200 dead after the 2005 polls. From Harare, Charles Rukuni and Christopher Thompson report on prospects for resolving the political stalemate and economic meltdown. Oladipo Salimonu reads the political tea-leaves in Nigeria. ?


Attacking a broader canvas, Managing Editor Nicholas Norbrook and Editorial Assistant Gemma Ware go in search of the effects of the West’s financial crisis and reach unexpected conclusions, with the help of senior experts and economists. Finally, our pièce de résistance is the 53 country-by-country analysis of Africa’s prospects in 2009.

African roots and Africa policy

Gemma Ware


Kenya’s prime minister Raila Odinga has already tried to inject some realism into Africa’s hope for an Obama presidency: “He is first and foremost answerable to US voters, maybe under him Africa will receive more attention in US foreign policy.” Odinga hopes he will be able to persuade Obama to offer fairer trade agreements to Africa, and also nudge the recalcitrant Europeans and Japanese in that direction.


?The clearest ideas on Obama’s foreign policy come from a security strategy edited by former assistant secretary of state for Africa, Susan Rice. It lists counter-terrorism, nuclear proliferation, climate change and oil dependence as top policy priorities, of which three are of key concern to Africa.


?There is also likely to be a sweeping reorganisation of foreign aid agencies in Washington, perhaps with the creation of an international development post at cabinet level. Given budgetary pressures, few believe an Obama administration will spend more on aid but it will try to spend it more effectively.?


With campaigners on Darfur such as Rice and Samantha Power on board, an Obama administration is likely to proceed more determinedly on Sudan: the campaign pledged to provide the UN/AU mission with helicopters and more surveillance capacity as well as to give backing to a ‘no-fly zone’ over western Sudan.


Back to Obama: enter the great communicator

Luring them (or their money) back

Gemma Ware


Unlike India, China has made it easy for people who had left or fled the country to invest on the mainland, using foreign knowledge and capital to build up the manufacturing base

China is once again the Middle Kingdom. Both feared and fawned over, it has posted decades of unprecedented economic growth.?But 30 years ago, China was poor and dysfunctional, envying the success of Hong Kong, a British colony carved from Chinese territory and a vibrant manufacturing and financial centre. Further offshore, the authoritarian Kuomintang government, arch-enemy of China, had transformed the island of Taiwan into an economic powerhouse.?


Change began in 1978. Deng Xiaoping became chairman of China’s Communist Party, a post vacant since Mao Zedong’s death two years earlier. Deng intended to salvage his country with ‘market socialism’ – to do that, he reached out to China’s estranged family.?Hong Kong’s large population of mainland migrants fled China during the 1940s civil war, and many had since thrived in business. They were well-placed to capitalise on their ancestral links.


Hong Kong’s labour-intensive industries rushed to the Pearl River Delta. By the late 1980s, Hong Kong was the largest direct investor in China, accounting for more than half of inbound investment. The ardour has not abated.


?It was a richer, more confident China that regained Hong Kong in 1997. Taiwan, on the other hand, has proved a trickier catch. Beijing hopes that economic integration will lead to political submission of the island it has claimed since 1949 but has never ruled.?


In the 1990s, China lured enormous sums of Taiwanese capital to low- or no-tariff investment zones. From 1991 through 2007, it snared more than 55% of Taiwan’s outward investment. ?


There are believed to be about a million Taiwan citizens on the mainland. Aside from the rare political defection and (rather more common) gangster-on-the-lam, most are Taishang (Taiwan businesspeople). They are the executives, engineers and entrepreneurs who have delivered the expertise and international perspective that China needed for its transition from planned to market economy, from low-tech producer to high-tech manufacturer of iPods and semiconductors. Sixty percent of China’s high-technology exports are produced by Taiwanese-operated factories.?


But far from integrating into Chinese society, the Taishang formed enclaves. Typical of them is Kunshan or ‘Little Taipei’, a city 55 km from Shanghai. A dense concentration of Taiwanese companies brought white-collar workers with them. Their families followed, then restaurants and schools that cater to them.


?From 1994, Taiwan investors enjoyed preferential treatment. They could remit profits and wages, purchase Chinese real estate, and send their children to local schools. Taiwan students pay home fees in mainland universities and have access to special scholarships. Bureaucratic tangles persist, though: border crossings require a permit, though the application is now less cumbersome, and driving licences cannot be freely exchanged.?


Sometimes business is just business?


And sometimes there is unwelcome attention. In December 2003, in the run-up to Taiwan’s presidential election, China rounded up 24 Taishang on charges of espionage; the following day Chinese President Hu Jintao gave unprecedented face-time to a group of Taiwan’s business leaders. The two events were seen as a carrot-and-stick attempt to turn them against Chen Shui-bian’s re-election. (The strategy either backfired or more likely overestimated the influence of the Taishang in Taiwan’s politics: Chen won.)?


Taishang can be relied upon to lobby against investment restrictions and little else. They face pressure on the mainland, then return home to accusations of disloyalty. Most would rather avoid politics entirely.?


Manufacturing brought most Taishang to China, and manufacturing could take them away, should China’s comparative advantage of low-cost labour disappear—as may already be happening. l?Charles Moré

'Polokwane spring' gives the left a lift


Almost two decades after the fall of the Berlin wall, the Communist Party are back in business. Forget Volga sedans and vodka rations – that’s for the historical materialists. Marxist-Leninism South African style is a little hipper than that. It also should be said that South Africa’s communists are a tad more idealistic than were the fading Stalinists of the Soviet order.?


This time the Communists have pinned their colours to the mast of the ANC’s Jacob Zuma, a man not known for left-wing or trade union sympathies. In fact, Zuma earned his spurs in the ANC as a ruthless intelligence chief rooting out dissidents and ultra-leftists.?


The ANC’s leftist allies now refer to the period after Jacob Zuma’s election as ANC president as the ‘Polokwane Spring’ which they say will usher in the ‘national democratic revolution’. “We are at the crossroads in the history of our revolution” said SACP secretary general Blade Ndzimande. There is “the potential for the movement to make a significant leftward shift”, he added. Cosatu chief Zwelinzima Vavi agreed: “The change of direction in policy is now urgent.” Whether Zuma can deliver that change is another matter. As Nzimande and Vavi roar into Zuma’s left ear, corporate South Africa is whispering into his right. Bobby Godsell, executive chairman of Eskom and former CEO of AngloGold, said the financial crisis is an opportunity for emerging markets, with their growing middle classes and development potential.?


Godsell said the post-Mbeki ANC is showing a new openness about engaging in dialogue with business and civil society groups on how best to address South Africa’s development challenges of crime, health, education and job creation.


For now, it will be President Kgalema Motlanthe running South Africa’s ‘national democratic revolution’, and his steadiness and political acumen have impressed so much that some have demanded that he stay as national president while Zuma keeps the party presidency. But both men face the same charge of ‘talking left and acting right’.?


Motlanthe’s choice of cabinet ministers matched skills to the relevant portfolios. The minerals and energy portfolios may be separated and there may be some radical changes as the ANC seeks to assert control over the country’s resources. SACP spokesman Malesela Maleka is said to be keen on overseeing the creation of a state mining company – that at least will be music to the ears of the comrades.


Back to South Africa, The death of unity

Niger Delta crisis comes full circle


Resource-rich but mismanaged, the Niger Delta encapsulates Nigeria’s national political and economic problems. The occasional well-meaning initiative is quickly sunk by corrupt local barons. The crisis has been costing 500,000 barrels of oil per day – that is about $20bn a year at average oil prices in 2008.?


On taking office in May 2007, President Umaru Yar’Adua said his government would give the Delta special attention. Vice-President Goodluck Jonathan, who hails from the oil-bearing Bayelsa State, initially persuaded the militant gangs in the region to call a ceasefire, and to suspend their attacks on oil installations and kidnappings of oil workers. Two of the region’s new governors, Timipre Sylva of Bayelsa and Rotimi Amaechi of Rivers, made extravagant promises about new jobs.


?The initiatives turned out to make little difference as sporadic militant attacks resumed in 2008. Then, grand plans for a landmark conference were grounded when people objected to its chairman, Ibrahim Gambari – who had been Nigeria’s ambassador to the UN when Ogoni activist Ken Saro-Wiwa was hanged by General Sani Abacha’s junta in 1995. Delta citizens also harbour scepticism about the government’s commitment to the rule of law when they see no action taken against former governors James Ibori (Delta State) and Peter Odili (Rivers State), previously under investigation for corruption and money laundering, but who now claim immunity.?


Promises of military assistance in the Niger Delta from French President Nicolas Sarkozy and British Prime Minister Gordon Brown in support of Yar’Adua’s campaign against stolen or ‘blood’ oil provoked the militants to call off any further pretence of a ceasefire. Within 18 months of Yar’Adua taking power, events in the Delta had come full circl. 


Back to Nigeria, A change in need of belief

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