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Africa mustn’t sit back and wait for Obama

Friday July 10 2009

As President Barack Obama continues his tour of Ghana on Saturday, it may be an emotive homecoming for the first African-American President of the United States.

It may also be time for a reality check. President Obama makes his first visit to black Africa since his election not bearing gifts for the land of his ancestors, but carrying the US flag.

Of course, Africa has every right to be proud of producing a president for the most powerful country on earth. Kenya, in particular, occupies a special place as the ancestral homeland of the US president, whose father was born, bred and buried here.

That is why there was a bit of disappointment that President Obama did not make Kenya his first port of call on the continent. There were even allusions to snubbing Kenya as a sign of disapproval over the slow pace of reforms.

There never was a contract, however, that once elected he would pay special attention to Kenya. In fact, the dictates of office are that the US president eschew anything that would hint at loyalty to any other homeland.

America comes first, and even under President Obama, Africa will never rank as high on the US list of foreign, economic and security policies as will Russia, the Middle East, China, Europe and the Far East.

All the same, President Obama was elected on a very clear platform that promised a fundamental shift in US policy towards the rest of the world. On that we have the opportunity to hold him to account.

The big brother, bully-boy tactics that have been the hallmark of US administrations with regard to Africa must be abandoned to reflect more mutual respect.

Africa may not have featured very highly on his campaign platform, but there were still some very specific items that Africa must remind President Obama of. Some of them are worth recalling as the US president comes calling.

Candidate Obama promised to: one, double US annual investment in foreign assistance from $25 billion in 2008 to $50 billion by the end of his first term; two, make the Millennium Development Goals, which aim to cut extreme poverty by half by 2015; three, fully fund debt cancellation for the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries to provide sustainable debt relief, and, four, invest at least $50 billion by 2013 for the global fight against HIV/Aids, including US share of the Global Fund.

Others are, one, to expand prosperity by establishing an Add Value to Agriculture Initiative, creating a fund that will extend seed capital and technical assistance to small and medium enterprises; two, to launch Global Energy and Environment Initiative to ensure African countries have access to low-carbon energy technology and to be able to profitably take part in the new global carbon market; three, to strengthen the African Growth and Opportunity Act to ensure African producers access the US market, and, four, to encourage more American companies to invest on the continent.

Even with limitations imposed by the global economic crunch, these are the issues over which Africa can ask President Obama to make good on his word.

However, African countries must not sit back expecting the US president to come home laden with goodies for his poor relatives. It is instructive that President Obama makes his maiden visit straight from the summit of world leaders in Italy, which closed with a pledge to provide $20 billion over the next three years to increase food production in developing countries and help the poor to feed themselves.

The global leaders said they wished to focus less on sending food aid to the poor, especially helping small farmers in developing countries produce more and better crops.

This reminds us of the principle that its is far more profitable to help to teach one to fish than to give one fish. Africa will only take its rightful place on the world stage when it puts aside the begging bowl and makes proper use of its immense resources.