[...] Obama sent a signal to Africa that American foreign aid policy is moving toward a new focus on agriculture and food security. [...] there needs to be a major change in the attitude of most African governments toward the private investor, many of whom find the atmosphere cold and uninviting.
columnists | obama in africa Amb. Herman Cohen (Ret.) Obama in Africa America’s President Sends Africa a Message of “Tough Love” 37 Change Africa can believe in. Photo: White House B ARACK Obama rightly chose decline, not a single European or moving toward a new focus on agriculture journal of international peace operations | volume 5 | number 2 | september-october 2009 Ghana as the one country to visit American government spoke frankly to and food security. This policy shift has on his first trip to Africa as them. Nobody said: “Your excellencies, been long overdue. Skyrocketing food President. Among the majority of African you are making terrible errors in your prices in 2007 and 2008 shocked African countries that do not enjoy the dubious economic management.” The reason was governments out of their complacency benefit of oil and gas wealth, Ghana obvious. So soon after independence, the about food security. They had forgotten stands out as a role model for both its European and American leaders did not that 40 years earlier, Africa was one of the sincere transition to democracy, and its want to be accused of neocolonialism. world’s major food growers and export- positive approach to market-based ers. Bad farm policies caused production economic reform. After 1980, the World Bank and Interna- to go down and imports to go up. The tional Monetary Fund started to play the situation will not improve as the food In a major address to the Ghanaian role of ‘bad cop’ by insisting on macro- consumption of over two billion Chinese Parliament, Obama laid out his admini- economic reforms in return for debt and Indians expands to reflect rising living stration’s Africa policy. He spoke in rescheduling and concession lending. standards. subtle terms, but he was clearly indicating These programs helped stop the eco- two major adjustments in U.S. policy. nomic free-fall for most African coun- Obama’s determination to shift focus in tries, but did not alter the existing political Africa to food development instead of First, Obama is the first American and economic barriers to substantial and food aid will not be easily realized. There President to speak the truth to African sustainable growth. is no political constituency in the United power. After the euphoria marking the States for agricultural development end of colonialism in the early 1960s, the In effect, Obama told the Africans that abroad. On the contrary, the American newly independent African governments the time has come to stop blaming their farmer does not want to promote adopted economic and political policies problems on the external world – competition. But Obama is the first that guaranteed failure in their quest for colonialism, capitalism, great power American President to give agriculture a sustainable economic development. The rivalries. The Africans have to look to head of steam, and he deserves support nationalization and politicization of major themselves for both the reasons and the for his initiative. enterprises, accompanied by the adoption solutions. The United States cannot want of the African ‘one party’ state, guaran- economic development more than the There is a third subject that Obama did teed negative economic growth for the Africans; Africa has to start pulling up its not enunciate directly, but is there if one first 20 years after independence. own socks. reads between the lines: the subject of Africa’s chronic dependency on foreign As the first wave of African leadership Second, Obama sent a signal to Africa aid, an issue that clouds the future of plunged their countries into economic that America’s foreign aid policy is 38 The author is a former Assistant Secretary of State for Africa and is President of Cohen & Woods International. agriculture. But until the agricultural columnists | obama in africa sector regains the
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