do the presidential candidates know anything about africa?

Since my last visit to the White House webpage on the current “Africa Policy” not much has changed. Our current administration still lumps all African countries together and creates one broad policy to deal with all African governments. On the site there is a list of President Bush’s “Africa Accomplishments and Initiatives.” They include meeting with 25 African Heads of State, visiting Africa in his first term, providing the greatest level of monetary assistance, and promoting health, development, and peace & stability. Possibly a great list, but it all has to put into context. We need to look at what was discussed with African Heads of State, where he visited in Africa, what restrictions there are on his ‘development’ funding, and what constitutes peace and stability promotion?

As can be imagined, the administration has special agreements with certain strategic African governments. For example on my State Department search for the US policy on Africa, I came across a report titled: Foreign Military Training: Joint Report to Congress, Fiscal Years 2006 and 2007. This report, released by the Bureau of Political-Military Affairs, highlights the amount of training and funds spent on the “State Foreign Policy Objectives – African Region.” Angola, Benin, Botswana, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cameroon, Cape Verde, Central African Republic, Chad, Comoros, Côte d’Ivoire, DRC, Dijbouti, Equatorial Guniea, Ethiopia, Gabon, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Kenya, Lesotho, Liberia, Madagascar, Malawi, Mali, Mauritania, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia, Niger, Nigeria, Congo, Rwanda, Sao Tome Principe, Senegal, Seychells, Sierra Leone, South Africa, Swaziland, Tanzania, Togo, Uganda, and Zambia all have recieved military training from the US government and all have a short brief on their strategic importance to US interests in the report. This is all not to mention the increase in US military presence in Djibouti during the Somali-Ethiopian conflict and the increase of ‘trainings’ in the oil-rich Sahel countries.

What will a future president bring to the table when working with African countries? Will he/she have a policy that deals with Africa as a whole, or will there be separate policies for separate countries? Do the current presidential candidates have what it takes to keep Africa at the forefront? The Council on Foreign Relations has just come out with a compilation of where the current candidates stand on issues in Africa. The issues that top the list are: the genocide in Darfur, the HIV/AIDS crisis, and focusing development aid. I have to say that these candidates probably have the best stances on African issues and are more aware of the issues, but that could be more that they need to be, rather than the fact that they are concerned about Africa and the US’s role on the continent. As CFR notes, Africa is seen now as more of a humanitarian issue, but I would argue that African countries are more than just humanitarian issues. They hold economic potential, diplomatic alliances, and deposits of natural resources for which the entire world is searching.

The responses to policy questions on African issues have no party divide and there is no clear party position on Africa. This is a positive I feel as people are taking stances on what they truly believe as opposed to what they are supposed to think because of party affiliation. Most of the candidates can only say that they have signed or supported a piece of paper, called a bill, to do something in or for Africa. Not many can say they have actually experienced or taken real steps to assist African countries or governments. A few highlights of candidates’ views. Joe Biden supports a 2,500 US force to end the genocide in Darfur – somehow 2,500 troops is going to solve everything. Hillary Clinton is all about education and has a bill before the Senate, she also wants a peacekeeping force for Darfur, supported by either the US or NATO. John Edwards is following Clinton’s lead. Barak Obama has traveled to Africa with Senator Brownback. He supports a no-fly zone in Darfur and is all about divestment from companies operating in Sudan. Bill Richardson has, in my opinion, the best appraoch to African issues. He has personally met with the Sudanese President to push for a peacekeeping force, he calls for a multi-lateral ‘Marshall Plan’ for Africa including health, education, and economic assistance. Sam Brownback follows Obama’s lead and also supports US aid going to health initiatives. Rudy Giuliani – don’t even count him as having an approach to Africa – he wants to continue Bush’s skewed programs and has a significant amount invested in companies operating in Sudan. McCain only has broad statements to make and no real ideas. Ron Paul ‘attributes widespread African poverty to “corruption that actually is fostered by Western aid.”’ He’s a keeper (sarcasm). Mitt Romney has praised Bono’s work in Africa, but holds investments in an oil company operating in Sudan. Tom Tancredo co-sponsored a bill on Darfur and sits on the House Sudan Caucus.

If I were a one-issue voter, which I am not, and this were the issue I would be voting (in order): Richardson, Obama, Clinton. Each of these candidates hasn’t said too much in the way of ‘African policy,’ but at least some of them have an idea of what is happening on the continent and plans that have potential to work well. There is so much going on, so much potential, and the US seems to be taking steps backward each day. We need a candidate that recognizes the importance of the world stage beyond the stereotypes and myths of the past. Africa is not a continent without importance, it is not a single entity to deal with, it is not just a humanitarian issue that we can all look away from when it becomes too complicated. We need a candidate that is willing to stare conflict, democracy, disease, corruption, success, and failure directly in the eyes. African countries, governments, peoples we have not forgotten you – let us now elect a leader who will also not forget.