Obama’s Legacy in Africa


Obama Picture

*By Dereje Seyoum

As Barrack Obama’s term in office is approaching an end, it is time to reflect on his legacy and contribution to Africa’s peace, security and development during his eight years stay in the White House. With his African roots, speeches, initiatives and decisions on issues related to the continent, Obama has attracted the attentions of many ordinary Africans and policy makers.

For many observers, Obama’s engagement and attention to Africa during his first term in office was disappointing. Obama’s engagement with Africa started during his second term in office when his administration issued the U.S. Strategy toward Sub-Saharan Africa on June 14, 2012. The strategy based itself on four pillars of engagement with Sub- Sahara Africa. These pillars include (1) strengthening democratic institutions; (2) spur economic growth, trade, and investment; (3) advance peace and security; and (4) promote opportunity and development. Based on the wider framework, his administration has pursued different initiatives in order to implement the grand strategy.

In the area of peace and security, the Obama administration played constructive roles in some of Africa’s recent and deadly conflicts. In this regard, the case of the Lord Resistance Army (LRA) in Uganda can be mentioned. US military advisors and marineshave helped to incapacitate the ability of the LRA army significantly, which once was a source of instability and insecurity in Northern Uganda.

Furthermore, the administration’s initiative to financially support the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) and undertake selected drone attacks against Al-Shababs bases helped push the Islamist militants from major cities in Somalia. These contributions have paved the way for Somali politicians to kick-start a political dialogue in the capital Mogadishu. The role played by the Obama administration in the newly-formed state of South Sudan cannot be underestimated as well. The US in close partnership with the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), relentlessly supported the mediation efforts to broker a peace agreement between the former Vice President Dr Riek Machar and President Salva Kiir. In the Great Lakes Region the Obama administration supported the regional peace process by participating with the UN and with the countries of the region in to neutralize the then notorious and powerful M23 rebel group in Eastern Congo.

Parallel to these, Obama’s administration introduced different initiatives to encourage trade exchanges with the US, economic development and youth entrepreneurship and leadership. In fact, in line with these initiatives, Obama launched several US sponsored programs to strengthen his engagement with the African continent amongst which Feed the Future, Power Africa, and the Young African Leaders Initiative Network (YALI). The extension of African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA)  can also be taken as a corner stone for the U.S.-Africa trade relationship. The extension also came with product coverage, allowing all marketable goods produced in countries eligible for U.S market through this particular initiative.

Yet, Obama’s legacy in Africa is considerably obstructed by at least two incidents. The first relates to his administration’s delay in responding to the Ebola crisis in West Africa. It took the administration nearly nine months to respond to the crisis after the first case had been reported. The second one is more of a historical mistake than an incident and relates to the US’s role in the global intervention in Libya for which he recently admitted his regret for failing to have a proper post-Gaddafi plan in the aftermath of the intervention, which has led to  a total breakdown of law and order in country. The Libyan case squarely casts dark shadow on his legacy as it has created favourable conditions for the already existing terrorist networks in the region to have access to space and arsenal. Above all, the intervention let the Islamic State in Libya and the Levant (ISIL) to obtain a stronghold in the country and thereby destabilize the region. But most importantly, the role of his administration was infamous for its failure to take into account the AU the possible outlet regional mechanism for the solution.

Apart from these, Obama’s administration has been criticized for failing to keep up with its first objective of strengthening viable democratic institutions and good governance in Africa. This is in spite of his first speech in the continent in the Ghanaian Parliament, where he insisted that Africa didn’t need strongmen, but strong institutions. His critics accuse him and his administration for supporting and legitimatising authoritarianism in Africa under the guise of US alliance in the endless “global war on terror.’’

In some cases, the impact of Obama’s engagement in Africa is yet to be reaped. For instance, the president’s engagement in Young African Leaders Initiatives will be seen in the decades to come than the immediate tomorrow. Although coming late, nearly half way in his presidential term, Obama has done the most in securing and advancing US-Africa relations. The different initiatives started under the Obama administration will serve as anchors for future US engagement in Africa.

*Dereje Seyoum (dereje.s@ipss-addis.org) is a Research Officer at the Africa Peace and Security Programme (APSP), a joint programme of the Institute for Peace and Security Studies (IPSS) and the African Union. All views expressed in the AfSol blog are solely the views of the authors and do not in any represent the views of the IPSS or APSP. For more information on AfSol Blog, please contact research@ipss-addis.org



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