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Celebrated Ethiopian footwear brand opens first outlet in Taiwan
November 6, 2012 | 0 Comments

BY JACO MARITZ *

Bethlehem Tilahun Alemu

Bethlehem Tilahun Alemu

Bethlehem Tilahun Alemu is one of Africa’s most celebrated businesswomen. The international media seemingly can’t get enough of this founder of soleRebels, an Ethiopian-based footwear company. She has won numerous entrepreneurship awards, posing in pictures with the likes of Richard Branson, and regularly speaks at conferences across the world. For many people, Alemu has become a poster child of Africa’s changing economic fortunes and women entrepreneurship on the continent.

SoleRebels shoes are made by Ethiopian artisans at a factory in the capital Addis Ababa. The company is the world’s first fair trade certified footwear brand. “At our core we at soleRebels are creative artisans who aim to craft the coolest and most comfortable footwear,” says Alemu. “In a world of faceless production-line assembled … shoes, soleRebels proudly stands apart and offers a much desired alternative. Our business model centres on eco-sensibility and community empowerment; product design and development involve a great deal of effort to achieve fashionable and appealing quality products that use local materials.”

The company was founded in 2005. It has a flagship retail store in Addis Ababa, although the majority of sales are generated online.
During an interview with How we made it in Africa in May this year, Alemu described her strategy to open soleRebels outlets throughout the world. Over the weekend, the company achieved an important milestone with the launch of its first stand alone branded retail store in Taiwan

“We are extremely excited by this store opening. Taiwan is an incredible market and the stores we are opening here give us a fantastic platform to showcase our incredible products and our innovative brand in an equally dynamic and fantastic market. This is the perfect place for soleRebels to anchor our Asia wide roll-out of soleRebels stores – truly historic strides for soleRebels,” said Alemu in an emailed statement.

hoes

The store has a lounge area that allows customers to learn more about the brand’s heritage and the unique artisan production techniques. Customers are encouraged to upload photos of themselves wearing their soleRebels shoes to the company’s website and are rewarded for doing so with a free soleRebels T-shirt.

The store is located in Kaohsiung, Taiwan’s second largest city. A total of up to 30 soleRebels outlets are planned for Taiwan, with three locations expected to open by the end of 2012.

SoleRebels predicts its global retail roll-out to add over US$15-20 million in revenues by 2015.
Speaking to How we made it in Africa earlier in the year, Alemu said that the continent needs to “start focusing on small and medium businesses, because they are the big engines of the economy. People … just need an opportunity, so we need to give them an opportunity to grow big with their ideas.”
She added that entrepreneurs should have a passion for their businesses. “Love what you are trying to do. If you don’t like what you are doing you are not going to be successful.”

*Source http://www.howwemadeitinafrica.com/celebrated-ethiopian-footwear-brand-opens-first-outlet-in-taiwan/21878/

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China’s Investments in Africa
November 2, 2012 | 0 Comments

By Ambassador David Shinn*

There is agreement among those who follow China-Africa relations that state-owned and private Chinese companies have become major investors in Africa over the past 10 years. Even Chinese individuals are investing small amounts in enterprises ranging from restaurants to acupuncture clinics. It is possible that in the past several years, China was the single largest bilateral source of annual foreign direct investment (FDI) in Africa’s 54 countries.

There is, however, considerable confusion as to what constitutes Chinese investment in Africa. Many analyses, especially journalistic accounts, conflate investment with multi-billion dollar loans from China to African governments that often use the loans to build infrastructure by Chinese construction companies. These loans tend to go to resource rich countries such as Angola, Democratic Republic of the Congo and Ghana and are usually repaid by shipping natural resources to China. These loans are not FDI; they are commercial deals, albeit often with a concessionary loan component. It is important to keep them separate from investment.

So how much have Chinese companies and individuals invested in Africa? I have concluded that no one, including no one in China, knows the answer to this question. For that matter, it is not even clear how China defines FDI. China’s Minister of Commerce, Chen Deming, stated in mid-2012 that as of the end of 2011 China’s cumulative FDI in Africa “exceeded $14.7 billion, up 60 percent from 2009.” Also in mid-2012, China’s ambassador to South Africa, Tian Xuejun, in a wide ranging speech on China-Africa relations, said: “China’s investment in Africa of various kinds exceeds $40 billion, among which $14.7 billion is direct investment.” He did not explain the difference between investment of “various kinds” and “direct investment.”

Many scholars from China and elsewhere have looked at China’s FDI in Africa. There is no consensus on a total cumulative number except that it is considerably higher than the official figure. When I raised this conundrum early in 2012 in Beijing with a room full of Chinese officials, including one responsible for determining the official figure, he acknowledged the total is based only on FDI reported to the government. He commented that many Chinese invest without government authorization and these figures do not show up in government statistics. In addition, there is no way to ascertain how much Chinese FDI is funneled to Africa through tax shelters like Hong Kong and the Cayman Islands. Ambassador Tian’s undefined $40 billion plus total may well be close to the actual number.

More than 2,000 Chinese companies have invested in Africa. Most of the investment has gone into energy, mining, construction and manufacturing. China’s state-owned oil companies are active throughout the continent. The China National Petroleum Corporation, for example, invested up to $6 billion in Sudan’s oil sector. The China Power Investment Corporation plans to invest $6 billion in Guinea’s bauxite and alumina projects. Privately-owned Huawei and publicly-traded ZTE have become the principal telecommunications providers in a number of African countries. While most of their activity is sales, their operations are so large in some countries that they have established huge local offices. Increasingly, Chinese companies are moving into finance, aviation, agriculture and even tourism. In 2007, for example, the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China purchased 20 percent of South Africa’s Standard Bank for $5.5 billion. Ever since, China has invested increasingly in the financial sector of African countries.

The bulk of China’s FDI has been concentrated in a relatively few countries. Between 2003 and 2007, five countries—Nigeria, South Africa, Sudan, Algeria and Zambia—accounted for more than 70 percent of China’s FDI. While these countries remain important recipients, others such as Guinea, Ghana, Democratic Republic of the Congo and Ethiopia have joined the list in recent years. In 2010, Ethiopia had, for example, 580 registered Chinese companies operating with estimated investment capital of $2.2 billion. Some of this new FDI is coming thru Chinese special economic and trade cooperation zones. China is working with African counterparts to establish seven of them: two each in Zambia and Nigeria and one in Mauritius, Egypt and Ethiopia.

China began to increase significantly its investment in Africa at a time when Western companies, including those in the United States, were drawing back from Africa. China took advantage of opportunities and, to some extent, filled a void left by the West. However, because Western companies began investing in Africa much earlier, their cumulative investments far exceed China’s FDI in Africa. As of the end of 2010, for example, the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis calculated that cumulative U.S. FDI in only Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) totaled $54 billion. U.S. FDI flows to SSA in 2010 reached $3.4 billion.

We may be witnessing a return to growing U.S. investment in Africa. Early in 2012, for example, Walmart finalized a deal worth more than $2 billion to acquire 51 percent of South Africa’s leading retailer, MassMart. The economic situation in Europe probably precludes in the short-term an increase in FDI flows to Africa. On the other hand, countries such as India, Brazil, Russia and Turkey are stepping up their FDI in Africa and, together with Western companies, will compete with China for the African FDI market.

The economic slowdown in China coupled with the arrival of new players in Africa may bring to an end China’s outsized FDI flows to Africa. In addition, China was willing, at least until recently, to take greater investment risks in Africa than most Western companies. Following attacks on Chinese operations in Ethiopia’s Ogaden region, Sudan’s Southern Kordofan region and the need to evacuate 35,000 Chinese workers from Libya, there are signs that China is reassessing the degree of risk it is willing to take in Africa. Nevertheless, China will remain an important source of FDI in Africa for many years to come.

*Source http://www.chinausfocus.com/finance-economy/chinas-investments-in-africa/. David Shinn is an adjunct professor in the Elliott School of International Affairs at George Washington University, co-author of “China and Africa: A Century of Engagement”, and former US ambassador to Burkina Faso and Ethiopia.

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Africa mulls Obama’s presidency
November 2, 2012 | 0 Comments

Johannesburg – Four years ago Africa greeted Barack Obama’s election with rapture, predicting America’s first black president would smother the continent with attention. But instead of warm hand-holding, Africa got hard-headed, security-first policies.

Africa’s response to Obama’s election in November 2008 was nothing short of ecstatic. A Nigerian foreign minister wept, Nelson Mandela hailed it as proof that people should “dare to dream”, and Kenya declared a national holiday.

The fawning was quickly reciprocated, with Obama visiting Ghana just five months after his inauguration.

“I have the blood of Africa within me,” he emotively told the Ghanaian parliament and rapt television viewers across the continent. Africa, the new president declared, was now “a fundamental part of our interconnected world”.

Back-burner

But as America’s Great Recession deepened, wars in Iraq and Afghanistan trundled on and the Arab Spring exploded, sub-Saharan Africa found itself in a familiar spot; on the back-burner.

“There was an expectation that he was going to be the US President for Africa,” said long-time South African diplomat Thomas Wheeler, now of the South African Institute of International Affairs. “It was just an unrealistic expectation.”

“The fact that he had an African father did not mean that he was going to devote a lot more time to Africa.”

Symbolically, Obama’s visit to Ghana was to be his only trip to the region. Equally symbolically, it took until June this year for his White House to come up with a nine-page “US strategy toward sub-Saharan Africa”.

Yet the continent was far from ignored.

Quiet attention

Air Force One has been conspicuous in its absence, but the US Air Force and other branches of the US security services have not.

Quietly, US policy toward Africa has started to look a lot more hard-headed and a lot more like policy toward the rest of the world.

“Obama to my mind is more engaged in Africa, but the nature of how the United States is engaging has changed. It is mostly security related,” said Jason Warner, a Harvard-based expert on African security.

According to Warner, Obama has helped “normalise” Africa policy. “There is no other region in the world that the US engages on simply humanitarian grounds.”

Since Obama took office it has been widely reported that the administration has expanded a network of air bases across Africa, training its might on al-Qaeda affiliated militants and other groups.

More covert

Clandestine bases in Burkina Faso, Mauritania and Uganda are said to have been used variously to spy on al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb and track elements of the Lord’s Resistance Army, led by Joseph Kony.

Unconfirmed US drone strikes are reported with some frequency in Somalia.

According to the London-based Bureau of Investigative Journalism, between 58 and 170 people have been killed in 10 to 23 strikes on Somalia, although some took place during George W Bush’s administration.

“The nature of what he is doing is definitely more covert. But you do get these glimpses every few months that the US is really deeply embedded in Africa,” said Warner.

A year ago Obama deployed 100 US special forces to help Ugandan troops scour thick African jungles of the Central African Republic for Kony – an indicted war criminal – backed up by surveillance planes.

Africom

The linchpin for this newly securitised policy toward Africa is the United States Africa Command, or Africom, which operates as a nerve centre for US military operations and military-to-military contacts in the region.

The command became operational barely one month before Obama was elected and now boasts 2 000 designated staff. By one count that is more Africa staff than the foreign aid department USAid.

But much like Obama’s security policy in Africa, Africom has remained largely low-key. It is based in Stuttgart, Germany, rather than in the region, in part to allay accusations of neo-colonial ambitions.

Officials are keen to talk up military training programmes and not so willing to discuss covert operations.

Balance

That lack of bombast has been welcomed by many on the continent.

According to Chidi Odinkalu, head of Nigeria’s National Human Rights Commission and a respected activist, Obama’s policy toward one crisis – Nigeria’s Boko Haram Islamist insurgency – has struck a balance.

“It would’ve been easy to overreach… and take Nigeria into the realm of the global war on terror. But I think the US has recognised the particularities of the situation.”

Still, there is little doubt that Obama has missed an opportunity to create goodwill through more high-profile appearances in African capitals, but according to John Campbell, a former US ambassador to Nigeria, the impact of the loss is limited.

“I don’t doubt that for many people on the street it is somehow or other disappointing,” he said. “But you keep looking for concrete examples of where it has damaged relations, and I don’t really see any.”

Regardless of the perceived neglect, Obama’s power to grasp the African imagination remains undimmed, according to Nigerian rights activist Odinkalu.

“I think the success of the Obama presidency goes beyond whatever he’s done for Africa.”

*Source http://www.news24.com/Africa/News/Africa-mulls-Obamas-presidency-20121101
– AFP

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Africa: Calls for Obama, Romney to Debate Africa
October 18, 2012 | 0 Comments

Cape Town — American lobby groups advocating stronger United States government action to bring peace to Central and East Africa are calling on candidates in the U.S. presidential elections to give their views on the issue in their debates.

The Enough Project says in a blog post that Africa advocates want President Barack Obama and Governor Mitt Romney to discuss what it calls “the growing crisis in Sudan,” as well as the regulation of conflict minerals in the Democratic Republic of Congo and the hunt for Lord’s Resistance Army leader Joseph Kony in central Africa.

During the debate Tuesday night, the only Africa-related issue the candidates dealt with concerned the recent killing of the American ambassador to Libya.

Enough said on Tuesday that so far there had been only one mention of humanitarian intervention, in the vice presidential debate, when Romney running mate Paul Ryan had been asked for his party’s criteria for humanitarian intervention.

The next and last debate before the November election, which will take place on Monday, October 22, focuses on foreign policy.

Enough called on supporters to back efforts by Act for Sudan and the anti-genocide campaign, STAND, to press debate moderators to ask candidates how they would prevent atrocities around the world and “how they propose to change U.S. policy to better prevent human rights abuses in Sudan.”

*Source http://allafrica.com/stories

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Angola launches $5 bln sovereign wealth fund
October 18, 2012 | 0 Comments

By Shrikesh Laxmidas*

LISBON (Reuters) – Angola on Wednesday launched a $5 billion sovereign wealth fund to invest in domestic and overseas assets by funnelling its vast oil wealth into infrastructure, hotels and other high-growth projects.

Africa’s second-largest crude oil producer is looking to diversify its oil-dependent economy by developing infrastructure outside the energy industry. The country was devastated by a 27-year civil war that ended a decade ago.

Nigeria, the continent’s top oil producer, has already set up a similar $1 billion fund, although its progress has been hampered by political wrangling.

“The Nigerian fund is mainly for liquid, low-yield assets, while the Angolan fund’s mandate is broader, with investment in the real economy domestically,” said Richard Segal, head of emerging markets strategy at Jefferies in London.

The Angolan Sovereign Fund (FSA), which will also invest in financial securities, will be headed by President Jose Eduardo Dos Santos’ economic affairs secretary, the fund’s board said in a statement.

Jose Filomeno dos Santos, one of the president’s sons, will also sit on the three-person board, an appointment likely to raise further questions about government transparency. President Dos Santos has led the country for 33 years and was sworn in for a new five-year term last month.

The fund said its first investments will be in projects to develop agriculture, water, power generation and transport, with an early focus on the hotel industry in sub-Saharan Africa.

OIL REVENUES

Until now the southwest African country was one of the few OPEC member states without a sovereign wealth fund.

Oil revenues represent over 95 percent of Angola’s export income and around 45 percent of gross domestic product. After years of double-digit growth, Angola’s economy suffered a rapid slow down after oil prices tumbled in 2008.

GDP, which the World Bank estimated at $101 billion last year, is set to grow between 8 and 10 percent this year thanks to higher oil prices and output.

Filomeno dos Santos told Reuters in a telephone interview the fund was not a stabilisation tool in the event of an oil price shock, but was aimed at diversifying the economy and creating wealth.

It will grow from further oil revenues transferred by the government and from returns on its investment projects, he added, although he declined to estimate the fund’s growth.

“There may be a lot of good intentions, but in a country where there is no transparency, corruption is high and key places go those close to the leader, we see little chance of this plan working to help Angolans,” Alcides Sakala, spokesman for main opposition party UNITA told Reuters.

The FSA board said it will be assisted by a council composed of senior ministers and the central bank governor, and will publish accounts annually and have them audited by an international audit firm.

“The transparency of the fund will be guaranteed by our strict reporting and auditing rules and an investment policy to be announced soon,” Filomeno dos Santos said.

It was not immediately clear when the investment policy would be announced, or if it would be enough to assuage concerns about governance.

“It seems there will be more transparency on this than is typical in Angola, but it will still be less than in other countries’ funds,” Jefferies’ Segal said.

*Source http://af.reuters.com/article

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Goldman Sachs Appoints Nigerian Banker To Its Board
October 18, 2012 | 0 Comments

By Mfonobong Nsehe*

Goldman Sachs has appointed Adebayo Ogunlesi, a Nigerian investment banker and private equity tycoon, to its board of directors, the company said in a press release on Monday.

Ogunlesi, 59, is the chairman of Global Infrastructure Partners (GIP), an infrastructure investment firm he co-founded.

Ogunlesi is popularly referred to as The Man Who Bought Gatwick Airport in African business circles- a reference to a 2010 deal in which he led GIP’s $2.4 billion acquisition of London’s Gatwick Airport. Ogunlesi also led the company’s acquisition of London City Airport and Edinburgh Airport in 2006 and 2012, respectively.

In a press statement, Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein said that Goldman Sachs’ shareholders will benefit from Adebayo’s “wealth of knowledge and rigorous thinking”. “He has advised companies and institutions around the world and invested in many of the most important sectors in the global economy,” Blankfein said.

According to a brief biographical sketch from Ventures Africa, Adebayo (known as Bayo) Ogunlesi is the son of Nigeria’s first professor of medicine. He attended the prestigious King’s College Lagos, received a B.A with first class honors in Philosophy, Politics and Economics from Oxford University, a law degree and MBA from Harvard University. He practiced law for two years at Cravath, Swaine & Moore after clerking for U.S. Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall. He then pursued a career on Wall Street. From 1983 to 2006 he held various positions at Credit Suisse Investment Bank and its predecessor firms. Ogunlesi is also the Chairman of Africa Finance Corporation, a Pan-African infrastructure investment firm.

* Source http://blogs.forbes.com/mfonobongnsehe .Follow author on Twitter @EmperorDIV

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Africa and the US presidential campaign
October 11, 2012 | 0 Comments

By Simon Reich*

The-administration-of-Barack-Obama-–-seated-here-with-South-African-President-Jacob-Zuma-–-has-been-criticised-for-not-focusing-more-foreign-policy-attention-on-Africa.-EPA-Olivier-DoulieryThis year’s US presidential election has been notable for the lack of focus on foreign policy issues by either candidate.

Certainly Mitt Romney, the Republican candidate, has attempted to gain traction by criticising President Barack Obama over his reaction to developments in the Middle East and North Africa, his relationship with Russia, his economic policy towards China and his refusal to be drawn into specifics over US policy towards Iran.

Yet these have failed to generate much interest among the American public, and the President’s response, confined to his recent address to the United Nations, amounted to little more than rhetorical flourishes about these issues.

Although the presidential debates provide the opportunity for the candidates to discuss foreign policy, they will probably confine themselves to restating their position on these four issues. With the exception of limited exchanges regarding the assassination of Christopher Stevens inLibya,Africa will therefore receive little attention in these debates. Sub-SaharanAfrica will largely be ignored. Why is this so? Why should they focus their attention onAfrica and what will be the consequence of their negligence?

There is, of course, a simple two-part answer to the neglect of African issues. The first is that the relatively dire economic situation at home coupled with a diminished national security threat from global terrorism has engendered a parochial focus on domestic issues.Americahas historically led the global economy out of recessions. Yet this time, according to all the major indicators – unemployment, GDP, and public and private debt – it is lagging most of Asia and even parts of beleagueredEurope.

“All politics is local”, the adage goes, and in that context Americans – like their European counterparts – are much more focused on relieving domestic poverty than addressing global hunger. This is an election in which grand visions remain at a premium. Thus although every speech invokes the importance of American leadership and its significance as a model for development, such platitudes are little more than observed rituals in a taut political season.

The second predictable answer is that Africa remains a low strategic priority for the US. Certainly, there are notable exceptions. The UShas led the successful campaign in addressing the piracy stemming from Somalia, and it has deployed personnel to assist in the battle against Joseph Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army. Most notably, perhaps, the US remains the largest OECD aid donor toAfrica.

Yet this relative neglect of Africa generates a second question: why should theUSrise above focusing on the immediate and pay more attention toAfrica? The most obvious response is that it has a moral responsibility to address the dire needs ofAfrica’s vast population. Bluntly stated, however, this claim is unlikely to draw much support domestically. Neither advocating donor aid nor foreign investment is compatible with an electoral agenda that focuses on budget cutting and job creation. Foreigners are always surprised to learn that public opinion polls repeatedly suggest Americans heavily favour global engagement, multilateralism and philanthropic activity abroad. But in the current environment, the justification for any debate aboutAfricahas to appeal to American interests.

Yet there are two policy areas that should nevertheless be of strategic interest to the United States. The first concerns its national security, notably its lack of friends and allies in the region. The US has spent much of the last decade focusing on the threats posed by terrorism, nuclear proliferation, human trafficking and piracy. USintelligence has focused much of its attention on failed states as the source of these problems. Africa remains home to ten of the 15 highest-ranked failed states according to the 2012 Foreign Policy/Fund for Peace Index and therefore should be a priority for US security. Yet Africom, the Department of Defense agency that focuses on Africa, could not even find an African country willing to house its regional headquarters, as a result, is located in Germany.

From the American perspective, the death of Osama bin Laden and the decline in the number of piracy attacks has reduced the military importance of failed states. But the

Chinese economic influence in Africa is growing quickly: President Hu Jintao with his Equatorial Guinean counterpart Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo at a summit. EPA/How Hwee Young

Chinese economic influence in Africa is growing quickly: President Hu Jintao with his Equatorial Guinean counterpart Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo at a summit. EPA/How Hwee Young

unpredictable nature of these problems, as demonstrated by the recent surge in jihadism inMali andNigeria, suggests that Africa may again become the source of theUS’ national security threats, if not against its mainland then against its personnel and property abroad

The second policy area that should concern the USis, of course, economic. As Deborah Brautigam notes in her 2009 book, Dragon’s Gift: The Real Story of China in Africa, the People’s Republic of China has made enormous inroads as both donors and investors across Africa since the turn of the century. Although no official records are available, Chinese aid to the region is now estimated to exceed that of the World Bank, and is far more popular amongAfrica’s political leaders because the Chinese ignore concerns about human rights, labour standards and environmental protection that are key components of World Bank deals.

The Chinese commitment is significant: Africa reportedly received 14% of Chinese investment in 2010. Having already injected a comparable sum in the last decade, China recently pledged a further $20 billion in tied aid across Africa to complement its $166 billion in annual trade at a meeting of the Forum on Chinese-African Cooperation. The effect has been a huge growth in African-Chinese trade and in Chinese foreign direct investment, and China is now Africa’s largest trading partner. Indeed, some estimates suggest that trade could rise to as much as US$400 billion in the next few years, with natural resources flowing toChina and finished products back toAfrica.

And where are the Americans in all of this? What are the implications? WhileUSpolicymakers focus on national security in Asia and the influx of cheap Chinese imports at home, they are clearly losing the battle for the hearts, minds, markets and resources ofAfrica.

The failure of US policymakers to recognise that Africa is a vibrant emergent market, not just a security concern or a target for philanthropy, may cost them dearly in the years ahead, both economically and in terms of America’s already waning political influence in the region.

*The author is Professor in Division of Global Affairs inRutgersUniversity.Source http://theconversation.edu.au/africa-and-the-us-presidential-campaign-9816

 

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Frosty relations with Hollande see Gabon break the French connection
October 11, 2012 | 0 Comments

President swaps colonial language for English after being inspired byRwanda’s example

By Alex Duval Smith

With all the timing of a coup de théâtre,Gabonhas turned its back on French, the language of its former colonial rulers, in favour of English.

Francois Hollande and Ali Bongo the French Empire may be crumbling in Africa

Francois Hollande and Ali Bongo the French Empire may be crumbling in Africa

The move by the tiny, oil-rich country will put a damper on the 14th summit of the Francophonie, the gathering of 56 French-speaking countries due to begin in the Democratic Republic of Congo on Friday. “I am shocked by the timing of the announcement,” Francophonie secretary-general, Abdou Diouf, told France 24 Television.

The West African country is the latest African country to turn away from its colonial language. In 2009, in a strongly political move,Rwandadropped French in favour of English and joined the Commonwealth.

Gabon’s President, Ali Bongo Ondimba, spent last weekend inRwanda”to look closely atRwanda’s experience with the introduction of bilingualism,” said his spokesman, Alain-Claude Bilie-By-Nze. “The president ofGabonplans to introduce English into our country,” he added. “If the Rwandan experience is conclusive why should we not draw inspiration from such an experience…?”

Gabon, which has a population of 1.5 million, has only had three presidents since independence in 1960, and was a key player in “la Françafrique”, the name given to the network of French corporate influence over African nations.

Ali Bongo’s father, President Omar Bongo Ondimba, held power for 41 years and allegedly spent huge sums of money supporting the election campaigns of successive French presidents. But he died in office in 2009, around the same time as investigations by the French judiciary turned up suspicions of ill-gotten gains spent on sports cars and Parisian real estate. Among the Bongo Ondimba family’s acquisitions inParisis the Hotel Soyecourt in the 7th arrondissement, bought by the family in 2010 for €98m (£79m).

The then president, Nicholas Sarkozy, tried to smoothe over judicial hiccups by giving Ali Bongo Ondimba, 53, the Légion d’Honneur in 2010. But the damage was done and Ali Bongo set out to “diversify” the economy, bringing in new business partners from theUnited States,AustraliaandChina. He has also launched an ambitious rebranding exercise, masterminded not by a French PR agency but by the British lobby firm Bell Pottinger. When Gabon co-hosted the African Cup of Nations with Equatorial Guinea earlier this year, riot control vehicles were bought from a fellow Bell Pottinger client, the South African military hardware firm Paramount.

Meanwhile, the current President, François Hollande, has come under greater pressure than his predecessors to question the human rights records and democracy credentials of countriesFrancedoes business with. According to Paul-Simon Handy, deputy executive director of the Institute for Security Studies inPretoria,Gabon’s decision to move towards using English as a working language marks a clear break with the past.

“Gabonwould not have abandoned French under Sarkozy,” he said. “In many ways it is a pragmatic move that reflects the decline in influence of French. But what will be more interesting will be which African countries now feel free to followGabon’s lead. There could be quite a few.”

*Source http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/africa

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Shalom Africa Israel’s second coming
October 11, 2012 | 0 Comments

Brand new embassies, booming trade in agriculture, precious stones and information technology together with shadowy security deals:Israelis back inAfrica. But this time tycoons and generals are leading the charge.

From the besieged migrant workers in shanty-towns around the central bus station in Tel Aviv to the chauffeur-driven African diplomats threading through the traffic ofYitzhak Rabin   Boulevardto the ministry of foreign affairs inJerusalem, the message is clear. The Africa-Israel axis is back in business.

More than 40 African countries have full diplomatic relations withIsrael, and that is more than before the rupture in response to the Six-Day War in 1967. Trade is growing rapidly – much faster than official data records – and new security arrangements are being set up in the shadows. Senior officials in the foreign affairs ministry such as Emmanuel Seri and Marc Attali talk of a new buzz in theAfricadepartment.

They see the accreditation of seasoned diplomat Haim Koren toSouth Sudanas a land-mark.Israelnow has five embassies inEast Africa, which it sees as its security backyard. Less discussed are the growing numbers of African politicians – in power and opposition – journeying toJerusalemto meet with their counter- parts, aid officials or securocrats.

Israelhas also sent a young Africa specialist, Sharon Barli to headIsrael’s mission inAccra, the first timeIsraelhas had an ambassador inGhanafor 30 years. More groundbreaking still isIsrael’s appointment of Beylanesh Zevadia, a Beta Israeli woman of Ethiopian origin, as its ambassador toAddis Ababa

africa -israel-stats

africa -israel-stats

Beylanesh’s appointment could also helpIsrael’s application to the African Union to reinstate its rights as an observer member.Libya’s Colonel Muammar Gaddafi had made a ban onIsrael’s attendance a condition of his financial contributions to the organisation.

Foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman’s trip toEthiopia,Kenya,Nigeria,GhanaandUgandain September 2009 was the highest-level Israeli delegation toAfricafor 30 years. There are plans for another Lieberman trip this year, followed soon afterwards by one by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu.

Although there was much fine talk on Lieberman’s trip about combating desertification, developing biotechnology and boosting farm yields, it had an overwhelming security imperative. Also on the plane with the minister was an official from the defence ministry’s foreign assistance department and a phalanx of executives from arms companies such as Soltam Systems, Israel Military Industries, Israel Aerospace Industries and Elbit Systems.

Murky Waters

Some arms deals have proved questionable, such as a $275m contract withNigeriain 2006 for three Aerostar drones secured byIsrael’s Aeronautics Defense Systems and a little-known British-registered company called Hudson Marine Management for use against militants in the Niger Delta.

Executives from a rival Israeli drone manufacturer said the contract was appallingly overpriced and was secured mainly by the efforts of the ex-director of the Shin Bet intelligence service, Avigdor Ben-Gal, who is on the board of Aeronautics.

Similar criticisms about transparency and accountability were raised about a $100m contract between Israeli companies and President Teodoro Obiang Nguema’s regime inEquatorial   Guineafor patrol craft and drones, initially due for delivery last year.Israel’s largest reputed arms deal with Africa in recent years was a $1bn set of contracts withAngola, supplied by Israel Aerospace Industries and Tadiran, and including more than $200m in artillery, mortars and ammunition from Soltam.

Yet, in the aftermath of Lieberman’s Africa trip, the deputy director of the foreign ministry, Haim Divon, told journalists that “the most important need ofAfricais countering hunger and the shortage of water, not arms.” He was pointing to the old tensions between diplomats and securocrats.

According to veteran Africanist and a former liberal member of the Knesset, Naomi Chazan, these tensions reflect the absence of a clear Israeli state strategy. Instead, private firms broker contacts with African governments and finance the visits of their leaders toIsrael. She writes: “If in the past there was an overt struggle between the diplomats and African aficionados on the one hand and the defence establishment and private interests on the other, in this latest phase of Israeli-Africa relations, this battle has been won by the latter.”

africa israel stats

africa israel stats

Certainly Lieberman, regarded as the most hawkish foreign minister sinceIsrael’s foundation, appears far more concerned with domestic politics than grand international strategy. He says he wants to revoke the citizenship of Israeli Arabs who will not swear an oath of loyalty to the state, and he tried to bar two Arab political parties that opposedIsrael’s 2008-2009 Gaza war from naming parliamentary candidates.

One academic compared Lieberman to a “bull in a china shop” whom Netanyahu has to keep away from the more delicately balanced politics of the Middle East and the fractious relations betweenIsrael’s ruling coalition and President Barack Obama’s government inWashington.

Police are currently investigating claims that diamond magnate Dan Gertler made substantial payments to companies controlled by Lieberman. Both men fervently deny wrongdoing and look untouchable politically, even ifIsrael’s independent courts can often surprise politicians.

However much Lieberman’s views grate with liberal Israelis, some express muted respect for the way he has been able to push Africa back onto the government’s political agenda, even if it is mainly for a combination of geopolitical, security and narrow business interests.

Chazan argues thatIsrael’s relations withAfricaare linked to “the shifting concerns of its decision-makers rather than any consistent policy design.” Israeli academics worry about the privatisation and personalisation of policy. That trend emerged in the 1970s when Mossad agents, military experts and tycoons – who would report to the Israeli government but also profit personally from their operations – replaced diplomats asIsrael’s intermediaries with African leaders and oppositionists.

Kibbutz to Kalashnikov

Abraham Avi Sivan, a former head of the Israeli defence delegation to Cameroon who died in a helicopter crash in 2010, became a security adviser to Cameroon’s President Paul Biya and founded the country’s Bataillon d’Intervention Rapide.

These sorts of ties are far fromIsrael’sAfricapolicy in the 1950s and 1960s, which was based on its own nation-building experience such as the socialist-oriented kibbutz and moshav agricultural cooperatives. That spirit reached its apogee under Golda Meir. She led missions to Africa, establishing close ties with leaders such asTanzania’s Julius Nyerere andKenya’s Jomo Kenyatta.

Part of it survives in Mashav, the agency for international development cooperation. But Mashav director Daniel Carmon emphasises that its resources and reach have been much reduced since the 1960s: “We don’t try to compete with USAID orBritain’s DFID, but we can often work well with them on a trilateral basis.”

The most successful projects, he says, are those where there is a large transfer of …

Read the original article on Theafricareport.com : Shalom Africa Israel’s second coming | The Africa Report.com
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South Sudan: First Paved Highway in South Sudan Constructed By USAID, Officially Opened
October 5, 2012 | 0 Comments

Washington, DC — On September 12, U.S. Ambassador to South Sudan Susan D. Page and President of the Republic of South Sudan Salva Kiir Mayardit inaugurated South Sudan’s 192-kilometer-long Juba-Nimule Road, the largest infrastructure project ever built in South Sudan, and the young nation’s first paved highway.

The inauguration comes one day after the two governments signed a new bilateral assistance agreement, which provides the legal framework for the U.S. Government’s provision of development assistance to South Sudan.

The Juba-Nimule Road was the top infrastructure priority of the Government of South Sudan following the signing of the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement that ended Sudan’s civil war. The road has reduced travel time between Nimule and Juba from eight hours to less than three hours, linking Juba with Uganda and providing the shortest, most efficient route to the Port of Mombasa in Kenya.

“This road literally paves the way to South Sudan’s future,” said U.S. Ambassador Page. “The road has integrated South Sudan into East African transportation and trade corridors, bringing to the people of South Sudan ordinary goods they need day to day, humanitarian assistance for those in need, as well as equipment and materials for those who are investing and building in South Sudan.”

President Kiir lauded the continuing friendship of the American and South Sudanese people, as exhibited in the building of this important road. “These are our friends, and they will be our friends for good,” he said. “This is an achievement that should not be forgotten,” he added.

The U.S. Government, through USAID, also helped the Government prepare policy and implementation guidelines for establishing and enforcing axle load controls to prevent overloading of trucks, which can be dangerous and make the road deteriorate more quickly. USAID is also working with the Ministry of Roads and Bridges on allocation of space for construction of weigh stations. The Draft Traffic Act, which is being reviewed by the South Sudan National Legislative Assembly, will provide the legal basis for regulating and enforcing axle load control and other operations and use of the road networks.

The road has generated economic activities along the route, and created employment and training opportunities for South Sudanese communities, thereby enhancing stability. It has also facilitated the return of refugees and internally displaced persons and the delivery of humanitarian assistance, and provides security and improved access to services such as health care.

The project, which began in 2007, included demining; grading and tarmacking the road; construction of eight new bridges built to modern standards to handle truck traffic, replacing dangerous, decades-old bridges; and a road safety education program that won the 2011 International Road Federation global achievement award on road safety.

When the project began, the route between Juba and Nimule was unpaved and difficult to travel. The improved road has not only reduced travel time and enhanced trade, but has brought other benefits to local communities and the government, including boreholes that were drilled in locations so that communities could benefit from them following the road construction, and training of South Sudanese companies in road maintenance, so that local private sector companies will have the skills needed to maintain the Juba-Nimule road and other roads throughout South Sudan.

Three construction camps that were used for road building activities have been handed over to the Ministry of Roads and Bridges for use in road maintenance and highway patrol.

The U.S. State Department’s Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement, in partnership with the Department of Justice, trained the first-ever Highway Patrol Unit in South Sudan to provide a police presence and enhance road safety on the vital Juba-Nimule Highway. In the fall of 2011, the program provided training to the officers of the Highway Patrol Unit, and in summer 2012, 10 motorcycles and safety equipment were turned over to the officers who use them to patrol the highway.

*Source http://afrikanpost.com/

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Is Brazil the inheritor of the Portuguese empire in Africa?
October 5, 2012 | 0 Comments
China has been under scrutiny as it invests in Africa, but another player has been largely ignored: BrazilBy Nikolas Kozloff*

Though much ink has been spilt on Beijing’s rising economic presence in Africa, few have written about the continent’s most recent up and coming player: Brazil. It’s not clearwhy commentators have ignored such important geopolitical developments. Under Luiz Inácio “Lula” da Silva as well as his protégé Dilma Rousseff, Brazil has been conducting a big push into Africa which could have far reaching consequences.

Brazil’s rise on the international stage has not escaped notice by the American right. Recently, a columnist at Henry Kissinger’s National Interest wrote that one cannot overlook “Brazil’s inheritance of the Portuguese Empire’s mantle in Africa”.

To an extent, Brazil’s push into Africa is only natural. With the financial downturn taking its toll in most nations of the world, Brazil sees the Sub-Saharan region as one of the few bright spots for economic growth. Concerned that the eurozone crisis may pose a financial threat to her country, Rousseff has placed great importance on Brazil’s African expansion. Indeed, Brazil’s trade with Africa has snowballed, from just $4bn in 2000 to more than $27bn in 2011. In a sign of the times, Rousseff recently travelled personally to South Africa, Mozambique and Angola in an effort to shore up economic co-operation.

Though certainly dramatic, Rousseff’s Africa pivot is nothing new: Under predecessor Lula, Brazil opened an impressive 17 new embassies in the continent. The South American juggernaut’s giant corporations, which now operate in 21 African countries, have plunged into such diverse sectors as mining, oil exploration and tropical agriculture. Traditionally present in the Lusophone, or Portuguese-speaking African countries, Brazilian firms are now pushing into Francophone and even Anglophone nations such as Nigeria.

With such an impressive and growing presence, Brazil could one day challenge China in the scramble for Africa’s vast mineral deposits and consumer markets.

New Portuguese Empire?

As it reaches across the Atlantic, Brasilia has pursued largely economic goals by propping up its own corporate agenda, though in time the South American juggernaut could develop political interests in the region as well. Will Brazil be perceived as an interloper or a benevolent presence in Africa? As the South American nation expands its African footprint, Brazil will have to tread lightly. 

Indeed, Brasilia’s political and economic elites are aware of the need for shrewd public relations. Former President Lula has remarked, “Africa cannot be looked at like it used to be seen, as a simple supplier of minerals and gas… We have to find African partners. We don’t want hegemony; we want strategic alliances.” The corporate sector, meanwhile, stresses the need for environmentally and socially sustainable policies. “We need to increase dialogue with local society, because we don’t want to come across as imperialists,” the CEO of Brazilian mining firm Vale has remarked.

In an effort to ingratiate themselves in host countries, Brazilian companies tend to hire and train local Africans and offer social projects to foster domestic development. In Angola, Brazilian construction firm Odebrecht is the largest private employer of local people in the country. During a recent trip to the African nation, Rousseff reinforced the need to hire such labour and to observe and respect domestic laws. Perhaps, it is no coincidence that Rousseff issued such statements in Angola, where Chinese companies have been criticised for not employing African workers.

Unlike China, which is enmeshed in a struggle to secure major resources, Brazil is already a resource-rich country and a major oil exporter in its own right. Brazil then sees Africa as a means of diversifying its export markets in such sectors as food, seeds and agricultural machinery while internationalising production of its major companies such as oil and biofuels giant Petrobras and mining colossus Vale. As it ventures into Africa, Brazil has also stressed its commitment to human rights, an issue which China tends to gloss over.

Corporate-banking nexus

For the time being, such PR moves may go down well but Brazil must be careful lest it be perceived as imperialist. Brazil’s national development bank – or BNDES – is thinking about accelerating its financing for projects in Africa, including possible hydropower projects in Mozambique.

Given the bank’s tawdry environmental record, that could spell bad news for people living in the crosshairs of Brazilian investment. The BNDES corporate colossus, which seeks to create strong Brazilian multi-nationals via below-market loans, is fast outstripping even the World Bank and has rapidly become the bane of South America’s indigenous peoples. 

Indeed, throughout vast areas of South America the left and indigenous peoples are just as prone to attack Brazilian imperialism as Washington’s foreign policy. From Paraguay to Guyana to Peru to Ecuador, local residents have protested Brazil’s large boondoggle projects.

In Bolivia, when BNDES announced it would support road construction through remote indigenous territory, the effort sparked protest from local Indians who characterised President Evo Morales as a foreign lackey. In Peru meanwhile, BNDES has been linked to the infamous Inter-Oceanic Highway, designed to connect Brazil to Pacific ports via Amazonian road networks.

Underside of energy colossus

In yet another sign which hardly bodes well, Brazilian state energy giant Petrobras is also making a big push into Africa.

A corporate colossus, Petrobras is the eighth-largest publicly traded firm in the world, and enjoys privileged political access at the top. Indeed, Rousseff herself formerly worked as chairwoman of the board at Petrobras, and the firm receives credit from BNDES. Currently, the corporation has operations in a whopping 28 African countries. On Africa’s west coast, Petrobras’ main goal is to find light oil in tandem with the company’s strategy to seek opportunities in ultra-deep waters. 

Though Petrobras is known as a world leader in deep water drilling technology, the corporation has seen its share of environmental disasters. In 2001, for instance, Petrobras lost the world’s largest floating oil platform off the Brazilian coast following a series of explosions which killed nine workers. Moreover, environmental groups like Greenpeace charge that Petrobras’ plans to develop deep water “pre-salt” oil reserves 200 miles off the Brazilian coast will add 35bn tonnes of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere over the next four years.

In another ominous development, Brazilian company Eletrobras is considering building a $6bn hydroelectric power plant in Mozambique, possibly with the assistance of BNDES. Eletrobras has been a partner in developing the controversial Belo Monte dam along the Xingu River in the Amazon. Indigenous peoples are concerned that the project will dry up the river and drive them from their ancestral lands. Moreover, if Brazil assists Africa in constructing dams then this could exacerbate climate change. As I’ve noted before, hydroelectric plants lead to emissions of methane that are formed when vegetation decomposes at the bottom of reservoirs devoid of oxygen. That is troubling, since methane is 20 times more powerful a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide.

Biofuel trap

Could biofuels help Africa out of the energy trap? To be sure, some African countries could use help as they are obliged to import energy. It is doubtful, however, whether Brazil can provide the continent with clean and sustainable alternatives, and in fact biofuels may exacerbate social tensions.

While sugarcane ethanol is certainly less ecologically destructive than some other biofuels, the industry’s boosters have overlooked one key fact: You’ve got to plant sugarcane somewhere. In Brazil, sugarcane crops have led to deforestation of the rainforest and, paradoxically, more carbon emissions.  

In Mozambique and Kenya, the aforementioned Petrobras has been pushing biofuels projects as well as ethanol and sugar enterprises. Meanwhile, in Angola, Brazilian firm Odebrecht and BNDES are investing in a project aimed at using sugarcane to produce sugar, ethanol and power.

By turning arable land over to biofuel production, however, Brazil may wind up taking food from the hungry. According to Friends of the Earth, biofuel demand in Africa is already driving a new land grab and protests in Tanzania, Madagascar and Ghana have targeted foreign companies which acquired rural property. 

Agribusiness juggernaut

Africa, a continent which has suffered from recurring food shortages and needs to feed its growing population, looks enviously at Brazil. Indeed, over the last 30 years Brazil has reversed its status as a food importer to become an important agribusiness producer of soybeans, amongst other products. As part of its big overseas push, Brazil set up a credit line to Africa to promote farmers’ purchases of agricultural equipment, and meanwhile, the Rousseff government is providing technical assistance in rural areas.  

There have already been some bright spots in this Brazilian-African agricultural exchange. In 2010, for example, farmers from Mozambique, Namibia and South Africa visited Brazil to learn about the planting and harvesting of Creole or native seeds. The farmers, who were interested in developing community seed banks and strengthening family farming, met with the Brazilian Landless Peasant Movement (known by its Portuguese acronym MST). During their visit, the Africans learned about biodiversity conservation and organic farming techniques.

Such advances, however, stand to be overshadowed by Brazilian agribusiness which has created a social and environmental disaster in the Amazon and adjacent areas (for more on the soybean industry and its activities, see my book No Rain in the Amazon: How South America’s Climate Change Affects the Entire Planet). Currently, the Brazilian soybean industry is already up and running in the Sudan and is poised to leap into Mozambique as well.

Blunting corporate message

If it wants to be perceived as something other than a mere corporate juggernaut, Brazil should find other, more progressive means of interacting with the African continent. To her credit, Rousseff has already pushed a social agenda which could wind up benefiting millions.

Take, for example, Brazil’s provision of cheap and generic anti-retroviral drugs to Mozambique which will help those infected with HIV. Brazil has longtime expertise in tropical medicine too, and Rousseff has helped to finance hemophilia and sickle-cell anaemia centres for Africa.

Furthermore, the Rousseff government has awarded scholarships to Mozambican students to study in Brazilian universities. Meanwhile, from Cape Verde to Guinea-Bissau, Brasilia has been building vocational training centres

In the social arena, too, Brazil has much to offer. Under former President Lula, Brazil carried out the so-called Bolsa Familia programme which disbursed cash payments to the neediest. In less than ten years, Brazil lifted 20 million people out of poverty, and today countries such as Angola are seeking to replicate the success of such programmes. Finally, Rousseff has also provided grants to Africa to help ameliorate local food shortages.

It’s up to civil society

Up until now, Brazil’s foreign policy role in Africa has been a decidedly mixed bag. While Rousseff has championed a variety of social programmes for the Continent, such overtures could be overshadowed by Brasilia’s corporate agenda. In the short-term, there’s little danger that Africans will associate Brazil with other imperialist powers which historically played a nefarious role in the region’s affairs, much less China which is voraciously eating up resources in the present day. Yet, as Brazil deepens its presence in Africa, the South American nation may find that it needs to articulate a more over-arching vision. Brazilian civil society, which traditionally hasn’t played much of a role in foreign affairs, should try to steer the agenda in a more progressive direction.

Specifically, it will be interesting to see whether the Afro-Brazilian community seeks to shape the larger contours of Rousseff’s foreign policy. Presently, African cultural influence is extremely pronounced in Brazil. Indeed, it’s almost redundant to speak of Afro-Brazilian culture since almost 90 million Brazilians share African roots. During the colonial period, African slaves from Angola, Congo and Mozambique were imported into the port of Rio de Janeiro, and the new arrivals brought with them their religion, music, dance and cuisine. 

To this day, many Brazilians eat dishes based on palm oil, beans and okra; dance to samba; practice an African-based martial art called capoeira, and follow candomblé, an African religion. In recent years, the Brazilian “black movement” has come into its own, helping to push new policies such as the compulsory teaching of Afro-Brazilian and African history in public and private schools. What is more, several Brazilian universities have picked up on the shifting cultural mood within the country and have begun to target admissions toward Afro-Brazilians.

Having both suffered through centuries of colonisation, slavery, poverty and oppression, Brazil and Africa share a common historical legacy. “It’s time for Brazil to pay off its enormous debt with Africa, African blood was spilled in the plantations and the ‘quilombos‘ [escaped slave communities],” Lula remarked recently. Yes, but the South American giant has yet to decide how to pay off such a debt, and so it will probably fall to civil society to steer foreign policy toward a more just and fair social agenda as opposed to narrowly defined corporate interests.

*Source Al Jazeera.Nikolas Kozloff is the author of No Rain in the Amazon: How South America’s Climate Change Affects the Entire Planet.Follow him on Twitter: @NikolasKozloff

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America’s Mr Africa
October 5, 2012 | 0 Comments

J Brooks Spector *

The chief American diplomat for Africa participated in an Internet press conference with reporters across the continent earlier this week. J. BROOKS SPECTOR joined in – virtually of course

American Assistant Secretary of State Johnnie Carson has had one of those special careers for a diplomat. He has glided between promotion-enhancing, interesting, challenging jobs on Capitol Hill to get an insight into the ways of Congress, at the National Intelligence Council, in increasingly senior positions within the State Department and with stints as US ambassador to Kenya, Zimbabwe and Uganda once he came into his full stride. Now he’s got the big desk for all of Africa (except for the Maghreb, fortunately for him, that’s somebody else’s problem).

Carson’s discussion was clearly meant as a follow-up to Hillary Clinton’s recent visit to eight African nations. The attention is timely. There are issues across the Sahel and into East Africa that continue to worry many. If there is good news that Somalia actually has a president for the first time in years (although people keep setting off bombs in the capital), there are also the depredations of Islamist militias in Mali that control a third of that country and those continuing Boko Haram bomb attacks in northern Nigeria.

For some observers at least, the promise of Barack Obama’s new partnership with Africa was announced in his speech in Accra, when he declared the era of the authoritarian African big man to be over – kaput! Thereafter, African nations would work hand-in-hand with the US on a continental agenda of economic growth and democratic advancement answering the promise that was trumpeted in a recent issue of the Economist. But for Americans at least, this seems to have shrunk down to more modest goals. Partly this is a function of the American government’s budgetary difficulties, especially as they may afflict foreign aid expenditures next year. Partly, too, this comes from the challenge of China’s full court press into the continent in a very big way.

Finally, Americans may simply be suffering from simple issue overload. There are just too many other problems crying out for attention in the foreign policy arena. There is the Middle East in all its manifold difficulties in Syria, Iraq, Egypt and Libya, along with Iran, Israel and a would-be nuclear moment; there is Afghanistan and Pakistan; there are continuing problems with the euro zone; and there is also the an increasingly tense relationship with China, in spite of the massive volume of trade between the two nations. By those standards, Africa is simply not at the front of the line. Instead, maybe it’s back there just ahead of the Kazakhstans and Bolivias of the world.

When asked by Daily Maverick about a seemingly shrunken agenda that consists mostly of efforts to suppress low-level, non-state, Islamist insurgencies in West Africa and the Sahel and efforts to outflank Chinese investment and trade in Africa, Carson ticked off the key bullet points of the June strategic plan towards Africa released by the White House. He argued US interests in the continent fundamentally stem from its interest in strengthening trade to help African states grow their economies and meet development needs, even as it works with countries to help solve all those long-running conflicts.

With an obvious nod towards China, but without mentioning the Middle Kingdom by name or noting any specific consequences of China’s economic and trade movements, Carson responded that the US recognizes the right of any nation to pursue commercial, trade and political relationships with any country. The strategy paper Carson worked from states that the US wants to work with African nations to strengthen democratic institutions, good governance and efforts to stamp out corruption; to spur economic growth through market-driven, free trade principles; to assist the continent’s nations in dealing with ongoing security crises such as Somalia, the squabble between Sudan and South Sudan, in and around the Great Lakes region; and to address development needs like health and to build support for stronger local agribusiness industries.

In a bit of throwaway line, Carson also slid in a reference to a long-time US relationship with Africa by virtue of the African heritage of 12% of the country’s population (most of whom were involuntary migrants of course) and the president’s Kenyan heritage as a way of asserting the importance of Africa to the US these days. Hmm.

As the conversation continued between Carson and some 40 others on the line, virtually every question revolved around one or another local security issue. One questioner after another wanted to address successive military-style challenges. What are the prospects for a successful, violence-free election in Kenya? How can we achieve a stable election and transfer of power in Madagascar? What are the prospects for the success of further military actions by the multi-national African force in Somalia? And what are the prospects for a peaceful Ghanaian election a month after Americans vote?

Further questions dealt with Mali and Nigeria. The first was in response to what was needed to reach a successful resolution to the Malian crisis, where a mainly Tuareg, Islamic militia has gained control over an area the size of France (although this mostly desert space is part of the “very light land” a British colonial secretary had dismissed when describing French colonial lands in Africa a century ago).

The second, and maybe more troubling one, was the seeming contradiction between this anti-terrorism, anti-Islamic militia push by the US in places such as Mali and Somalia, and a reluctance by the US to declare Nigeria’s Boko Haram movement a terrorist group. Carson’s answer was that Boko Haram was not a homogenous, monolithic organization. Rather, he added, it was comprised of several different groups.

He noted that the US has now designated three people in that movement as individuals involved in terrorism, saying, “We believe those three have established contacts with foreign terrorist organizations and relationships with them.” But, he added, the bulk of Boko Haram seems focused on trying to discredit the Nigerian government inside the country. The question of Boko Haram’s organizational circumstances was still under review, but, he added, “Those three have a broader agenda.”

Curiously for a continent-wide conversation that was billed as being about the broad US – Africa relationship, there was barely any discussion of how to encourage more American investment in Africa; how to encourage more sales of US goods to the continent; how to wind down the kinds of trade restrictions that hobble intra-Africa trade. And left unanswered was a question that should have been absolutely front burner: What happens if, when the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) runs out in the near future, Congress refuses to vote favourably on it again, or even allow it to come to a vote.

In that sense, this was a lost opportunity in a conversation that could have been potent in helping point out the need for African nations to begin to express how AGOA has helped them, how it can help more and how trade and economic issues remain central for the development of the continent. Raise that AGOA question, have it reported widely in the African press, and a real discussion on trade between Africa and the US might yet happen.  But not, for most countries apparently, until the security questions get shoved off the front page, above the fold. DM

*Source http://dailymaverick.co.za

 

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