, WASHINGTON, Jun 14 – President Barack Obama will release a comprehensive new US Africa strategy Thursday, seeking to boost trade, strengthen peace and security and bolster democratic institutions.
The blueprint will notably seek to encourage the “stunning” potential of economic growth to lift millions out of poverty in a continent more often associated with famine, poverty and strife, a senior US official told AFP.
The plan will be unveiled nearly three years after Obama, the son of a Kenyan father, laid out his priorities for the often crisis-scarred continent in Ghana, on the sole trip of his presidency so far to sub-Saharan Africa.
Obama directed staff to sketch a new strategy in a four-month process to focus on the multiple challenges of the continent, which include famine, drought and instability, but also to exploit emerging growth potential.
“This strategy commits the United States to be proactive in the face of the numerous challenges and opportunities that we have identified,” the senior official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
The White House will target four main areas of focus: strengthening democratic institutions, encouraging economic growth, trade and investment and prioritizing peace and security as well as promoting development.
Obama’s three and a half years in the White House have been scarred by economic crises at home and diplomatic showdowns with Iran and North Korea, along with the shifting geopolitical sands of the Arab Spring and a rising China.
He has also presided over a highly visible pivot of foreign and security policy towards Asia.
So Obama’s Africa strategy, which many observers believed would be a high priority given the president’s family heritage, has attracted less attention in the media and Washington’s foreign policy community.
But the administration argues it has forged progress, for example, helping to nurture the new nation of South Sudan, and sending special forces to train African troops chasing notorious Lord’s Resistance Army leader Joseph Kony.
Obama has also several times responded to humanitarian crises in the Horn of Africa and the Sahel, and the president invited the leaders of Benin, Ethiopia, Ghana and Tanzania to the G8 summit at Camp David.
The freshened focus on Africa comes as China increasingly funnels investment toward the continent, seeking to bolster its diplomatic footprint partly as a way of slaking its growing economy’s thirst for new energy sources.
China is bringing “incredibly needed” capital to needy African economies, and could play a role in bringing lasting peace to Sudan, the official said.
But some analysts worry that China’s billions of investment dollars, often spent on infrastructure projects, do not come with the same good governance strings attached as US and European help, and could prop up repressive regimes or frustrate a push toward democratic development.
“There is an important distinction to be drawn between some of the Chinese activities that don’t have the level of transparency that American companies bring,” the official said.
“But I think that China has a role that includes a lot of positive attributes.”
Bilateral trade between China and Africa reached over $120 billion in 2011, a jump from less than $20 billion a decade earlier.
The US strategy also highlights the administration’s initiative to reach out to young African leaders from more than 40 countries, and to provide them with professional entrepreneurship training with top US companies.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton welcomed a group of prominent young Africans to Washington on Tuesday, at the beginning of a three-week exchange visit to the United States.
“To make progress on the defining challenges of our time, like climate change and clean energy, global health and education, preventing violent extremism, defending human rights, once again, we look to Africa, because African communities have been on the frontlines of these issues for years,” Clinton said.
During his speech to Ghana’s parliament in July 2009, Obama said that while the continent needs donors and international support, “Africa’s future is up to Africans.”
His new strategy commits the administration to boosting trade and investment with emerging African economies, leveraging the power of growth to improve people’s lives.
“Economic growth is incredibly important on the continent,” the official said, noting that six of the 10 fastest-growing economies in the world over the first decade of the 21st century were in Africa.
“The potential to lift millions out of poverty is stunning, we want to make sure we are working to position ourselves to work with African governments and people,” the official said.