Obama's "New Alliance" initiative to eradicate hunger purports to be a
golden egg for Africa. But will it come to anything, asks Gamal Nkrumah
24 - 30 May 2012
As the gloves come off in the battle to save the Euro, the West is caught by
a mood of incertitude. The 38th G8 summit convened 18-19 May in Camp David,
Maryland, was dominated by the European sovereign debt crisis.
Africa, though, featured prominently on the agenda. US President Barack
Obama announced an implausible initiative to ensure food security in Africa.
He pledged to lift 50 million out of abject poverty within a decade. He also
disclosed that giant transnational corporations have pledged $3 billion to
help turn his dream into reality.
Africans have form on this routine. During the past five or six G8 summits,
promises to eradicate poverty failed to materialise. With these G8 gambits
failing, a hastily constructed effort by mistrusted transnational
corporations aroused the suspicion of many Africans.
Obama invited four African leaders to attend the G8 summit. The Ghanaian
president, one of the invitees, underlined the critical importance of food
security in buttressing social welfare and democracy and depreciating the
vagaries of social unrest and political instability. "When you talk about
food security and nutritional security you are at the same time talking
about health security, economic stability and political stability. And
without these elements you will struggle with democracy," President Mills
With Western nations themselves facing crippling austerity programmes, it is
unclear how Obama's food security initiative for Africa can succeed under
the current circumstances. Many dismissed Obama's "New Alliance" as a
"The New Alliance is neither new nor a true alliance," admonished Lamine
Ndiaye, Oxfam's pan-Africa head of economic justice. "The rhetoric invokes
small-scale producers, particularly women, but the plan must do more to
bring them to the table," Ndiaye said.
Frustration with unfulfilled promises by G8 leaders in the past is rife.
Three years ago at the G8 Summit in L'Aquila, Italy, Obama urged the world's
wealthiest nations to pledge $22 billion to poor countries. His call fell on
deaf ears. "The role of the private sector can only be to supplement the
small farmers. There are the pressing issues of the lack of, or poor rural
roads, water supply systems, irrigation infrastructure -- all of these
require public investment," Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zennawi, another
of the African invitees, told G8 leaders at Camp David.
Obama, however, stood his ground. "Because of smart investments in nutrition
and agriculture and safety nets, millions of people in Kenya and Ethiopia
did not need emergency aid in the recent drought," Obama expounded.
Yet the question remains, can the G8 properly harness the pool of African
talent, mass of underutilised fertile land and fabulous mineral and
hydrocarbon deposits? Economic transformation is still a much-anticipated,
long- awaited dream. Corruption and economic mismanagement threatens to
erode the gains of democratic reforms and social turmoil threatens several
African nations. A profound mismatch exists between the aspirations of
Africa's teaming millions and the precarious world of African multi-party
Obama's "New Alliance" overlooks the obstacles that hold back investment in
Africa. The plan he devised is both too sweeping and too feeble to achieve
what it intends to do.
New French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius is likewise grappling with a
credibility conundrum in Africa. "With Africa we should have a partnership
of equal to equal," Fabius told reporters recently. But Fabius's statement
is based on a misreading of the nature of the relationship between France
and its former colonies in Africa.
First, semantics aside, the French political establishment does not appear
to have grasped the contemporary political mettle in Africa yet.
Second, with the failure of France's neo- colonial Françafrique policy in
Africa, few Africans expect a radical transformation of France's Africa
policy overnight. It will be hard for the French to step back from their
traditional approach. But that is what Paris should do.
However, the new Socialist French President François Hollande's status as a
progressive nonconformist was enhanced immeasurably by his appointment of an
equal number of men and women in his cabinet, a first for France. Moreover,
he assigned Moroccan-born Najat Belkacem to the prestigious post of France's
first women's rights minister. Hollande also designated French-Algerian film
director Yamina Benguigui as minister for French nationals overseas.
The turnover of top French officials is set to change the face of
Françafrique. France, as Fabius extrapolated, is in dire need of redefining
its African policy. In an unprecedented development, Hélène Le Gal, the
first woman to be in charge of France's African diplomatic portfolio, has
raised eyebrows across the continent. Le Gal was nominated French ambassador
to Rwanda in February earlier in the year, but Rwandan President Paul Kagame
declined to accept her nomination, sparking a diplomatic row between Paris
It all makes for sensationalist drama. Kagame rejected Le Gal on the pretext
that she had close links with former French foreign minister Alain Juppé who
was French foreign minister during the Rwandan genocide of 1994. Amorality
has for long been viewed as a characteristic of France's African diplomacy.
And as the former colonial power struggles to affirm its position on the
African continent, and jostles for advancement of its interests, the choice
of Le Gal has left many African leaders -- and in particular the
Francophones -- rather rudderless.
Ideologically, Le Gal is a pragmatist, but her style is somewhat abrasive.
Significantly, Le Gal served as a diplomat in Israel before being promoted
to head the central and eastern Africa desk in the French Foreign Ministry.
So is it more of the same, or a new effort by the French under Hollande to
radically change Françafrique?
Staffing counts. Le Gal is by no means a newcomer on the African scene. Her
record as a distinguished diplomat is impressive, though dubious.
The G8 Summit was originally scheduled to take place in Chicago, but the
venue was changed due of fears that protest groups and anti-globalisation
activists would sabotage security arrangements at the summit, which also
coincided with a NATO summit in the same city.
NATO leaders deliberating in Chicago came to the conclusion that they
endorse a timetable for withdrawal from Afghanistan. NATO leaders having
ratified a preposterous plan to hand over combat command against the Taliban
to Afghan forces by mid-2013, NATO leaders hurried to O'Hare International
Airport to head home to their respective countries. The security situation
in Syria, Sudan and the rest of Africa was not seriously appraised at the
The Abdusters Media Foundation, a Canada- based anti-consumerist
organisation that helped launch the Occupy Wall Street movement, threatened
to stage mass protests to "Occupy Chicago". Silver-tongued Obama was as
loquacious as ever, meanwhile. "As Afghans stand up, they will not stand
alone," he assured NATO leaders. In the same breath, he berated the
nonchalance and irresponsibility of Afghan troops. "The Afghan forces will
never be prepared if they don't start taking responsibility," Obama
cautioned. He alluded to a "messy process" of withdrawal in Afghanistan.
Russian President Vladimir Putin was conspicuously absent from Camp David.
His prime minister, ex-president Dmitri Medvedev, represented Russia
instead. Putin's pretext was that he was "busy" preparing for his first
visit abroad since his (re)election as Russian president -- to China to
attend the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation.
By Russian standards that is no insignificant conceptual leap in foreign
policy priorities. It indicates that Russia now views China, with an
economic growth rate of 10 per cent, as far more important a trading partner
for resource rich Russia than the ailing European economies, Japan and the
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Received on Wed May 30 2012 - 18:14:04 EDT