As the world preoccupies itself with the lost Malaysian Airlines Flight 370 and Russia’s annexation of Crimea in the Ukraine, President Obama is helping another part of the world—Africa.
And the president’s assistance, like the continent and its many crises, is not getting much attention.
Obama is sending troops and military aircraft to Uganda, adding to the 100 U.S. troops already in the African nation in the effort to find Joseph Kony, rebel leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army, or LRA.
According to the United Nations and human rights groups, the LRA has killed and maimed thousands of people, and has kidnapped children and forced them to become sex slaves and child soldiers. Kony—who reportedly wants to overthrow the Ugandan government and rule the country under the Ten Commandments—is using his army to commit atrocities in the Central African Republic, Congo and South Sudan.
Ugandan President Yoweri-Museveni signed a draconian homophobic law which criminalizes homosexuality, imposing a 14-year sentence for first-time offenders and life imprisonment for repeat offenders convicted of “aggravated homosexuality.” Enactment of the law came weeks after Nigeria imposed a similar, though less harsh law. Obama warned that the anti-gay law “will be a step backward for all Ugandans” and “will complicate our valued relationship with Uganda.”
But Obama’s semi-covert operation in Uganda and the surrounding countries is but one part of a larger African strategy. The American president, whose father was a son of Africa, will host an unprecedented U.S.-Africa summit in August. The summit will focus on investment, trade, democracy and security ties in Africa. African leaders from 47 countries are invited to the meeting, but leaders of nations banned by the African Union or on bad terms with the U.S., such as Egypt, Sudan, Madagascar, Guinea-Bissau and Zimbabwe, are not invited.
This landmark summit comes on the heels of Obama’s trip to the continent last year, and at a time when China, Brazil, Malaysia, India and Europe are setting up shop in Africa.
China has a massive presence in Africa, a typical example of “soft power” with $75 billion on aid and development projects in 50 countries, according to The Guardian. The Chinese government is offering 18,000 government scholarships and training 30,000 Africans by next year, building roads in Ethiopia and promising a $20 billion credit line in three years, part of a long-term strategy by China to win over hearts and minds. The Asian nation even paid for the $200 million African Union headquarters in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
In the past decade, one million Chinese moved to Africa.
“China’s Africa policy is consistent; it will not change due to changes in international or domestic situations in both Africa and China. Our policy is as follows: we attach importance to our friendly and cooperative relationship with African countries and we will step up cooperation in all fields,” said Lu Shaye, director-general of the Department of African Affairs in the Chinese Foreign Ministry.
In 2013, trade between the Chinese economic giant and the world’s poorest continent—though rich in natural resources—reached a record $200 billion, a 44 percent increase in Chinese direct investment in Africa. U.S. trade with Africa was $85 billion in goods and $11 billion in services. And last year, European trade with Africa totaled $137 billion. The White House is watching.
“This is not a zero-sum game. This is not the Cold War. You’ve got one global market, and if countries that are now entering into middle-income status see Africa as a big opportunity for them, that can potentially help Africa,” President Obama said.
Obama has been criticized by Africans and African-Americans alike for ignoring Africa. When he became the leader of the free world, there was much hope on the African continent that he would turn focus attention towards them. But Obama never made Africa a priority until now, in his second term.
For the president, it appears things are changing.
David A. Love