Opinion: 12 Things Obama Should Do In Africa Before He Leaves Office

Written by Staff

From AllAfrica. Guest column by Johnnie Carson, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs from 2009 to 2012 in the first Obama administration. Carson is currently a senior advisor at the U.S. Institute of Peace.

After seven years in office, President Barack Obama has already engaged more broadly on Africa than any previous American president, but with one year remaining in the White House, there are still a few things he should do before he leaves.

Obama has significantly elevated and transformed America’s engagement with Africa, traveling widely across the continent, championing the renewal of several old programs and launching a series of highly focused new initiatives that could help speed up Africa’s economic development.

He has been particularly active in promoting economic and development issues.

He fought successfully for the renewal and extension of the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA), America’s most important trade legislation with Africa. He hosted the first U.S.-Africa Leadership Summit, attended by 37 heads of state; and he has established several important new economic programs, including “Power Africa” – to expand significantly electrical access across the continent; “Feed the Future” – to increase household food production and to generate a green revolution throughout Africa, and “Trade Africa” – to expand substantially trade between Africa and the U.S.

Recognizing the growing role of the continent’s next generation of young leaders, President Obama established YALI – the Young African Leaders Initiative, a program that will bring 500 young African entrepreneurs, professionals and community organizers to the U.S. each year for the next several years for five weeks of leadership, organization and management training.

But what next?

Despite his rather impressive list of accomplishments, here are 12 things Obama should do in Africa before he leaves office in January 2017:

Support Nigeria’s permanent membership in the G20

Nigeria is already more important than several of the current G20 members, notably Argentina and South Africa, and over the next two decades it will become one of the world’s mega states, eclipsing several other G20 members in the size of its economy, population and regional influence. It would also be one of the G20’s largest democracies. The administration should make the inclusion of Nigeria a priority over the next 12 months.

Provide status report on results of U.S.-Africa Leadership Summit

The U.S. Africa Leadership Summit has been one of the high points in the Obama administration’s engagements in Africa.

Leaders from 50 different countries participated in this first-of-a-kind gathering in Washington. A number of new programs were announced and a major business conference associated with the summit brought dozens of senior American business leaders into direct contact – many for the very first time – with African heads of state and prominent business leaders from the continent.

The administration has never released a comprehensive report on the summit or a one-year progress report on the implementation of summit agreements. Some type of status report would be a useful vehicle for identifying summit objectives and initiatives as well as tracking the progress of the administration’s efforts. The administration should do everything it can to sustain the goodwill and policy initiatives that emerged from the summit to help ensure that it does not become a one-off event.

The administration should be applauded for its continuing efforts to promote greater American trade and commerce with Africa. The president has already announced that he plans to host another U.S.-Africa Business Summit similar to the day-long event his administration hosted during the 2014 Leadership Summit. The Business Summit is important, but it should not be the only thing on President Obama’s Africa agenda for 2016. He has time to do more, and he should. Twelve months is a long time in the life of an administration and his foreign policy team should be building a more robust African agenda for his last year in office.

Visit Nigeria

Obama has traveled to Africa five times during his presidency, but he has not visited Nigeria, the continent’s economic, political, communications and petroleum giant, and its most important state. It is the continent’s largest economy – almost twice the size of South Africa’s and a third larger than that of Egypt.

It is also the continent’s most populous state, with 180 million people, its largest Muslim country, and its largest democracy.

The president has visited every major country on the continent except Nigeria, and it would be a mistake for him to leave the White House without a stop in Lagos or Abuja.

If the president can travel safely to Nairobi, he should be able to travel safely to Abuja or Lagos.

Co-host a regional summit on democracy in West Africa

Strengthening democracy institutions, promoting good governance and supporting free and fair elections has been a major priority for the Obama administration in Africa.

During his first official visit to the continent as president in July 2009, President Obama spoke eloquently before the Ghanaian Parliament about the importance of democracy and good governance and the need to create “more strong institutions, not more strong men.” With a growing number of African leaders attempting to extend their terms of office, democracy remains fragile across the continent. The president could give democracy in Africa a boost and reaffirm America’s strong commitment to Africa’s political progress by hosting a conference in West Africa with the democratically-elected leaders of Benin, Burkina Faso, Cape Verde, Liberia, Niger, Nigeria, Mali, Mauritania, Senegal, Sierra Leone and Togo.

Invite Tanzania’s new President John Magufuli to the White House

Tanzania is the most populous state and the largest democracy in East Africa. It is also one of the largest recipients of U.S. development assistance and a participant in all of Washington’s major economic initiatives.

In late October, Tanzania held presidential and parliamentary elections.The elections on the mainland went well, but those on the island of Zanzibar were disputed. President John Pombe Magufuli, a reform-minded academic-turned-politician, was elected without dispute, making him Tanzania’s fifth democratically-elected president in a row. Although the Zanzibar election remains unresolved, it is important to reach out to Tanzania’s new president early in his tenure to continue to foster the strong relationship between Dar es Salaam and Washington.

This is particularly important since Magufuli does not have any major ties with the U.S. Tanzania also has a critical role to play in East African peace-building issues, particularly in Burundi and the Eastern Congo. Early political consultations with President Magufuli and his new foreign minister, Dr. Augustine Mahiga, could prove valuable in promoting stability in the Great Lakes region.

Open a U.S. consulate in Northern Nigeria

The establishment of a consulate in Northern Nigeria is long overdue. More than half of Nigeria’s 180 million people live in the northern part of the country, an area of serious political and security concern. It is also the largest Muslim region in Africa and the largest Muslim region in the world where there is no full-time U.S. diplomatic presence.

A U.S. diplomatic mission would advance long-term political, economic and security interests in the region and help Nigeria to deal with the economic, social and security challenges it faces there. A consulate in Kaduna, which once had one, or Kano would convey a strong signal to the Muslim community that Washington genuinely cares about the people in the region.

Once the global poster child of a failed state, Somalia has made significant progress over the past seven years. In recognition of the progress, the U.S. re-established formal diplomatic relations with the Somali government in Mogadishu in January 2013.

Open a U.S. Embassy in Somalia

He should recognize the country’s continuing progress by appointing a Senate-approved ambassador and opening a small, secure diplomatic embassy compound in downtown Mogadishu.

Elevate U.S. diplomatic relations with Sudan

Relations between Washington and Khartoum have been prickly and frequently difficult for over two decades and the U.S. has not had a fully accredited, Senate-approved ambassador in Sudan since 1997.

The Khartoum government has carried out mass atrocities in Darfur, prevented U.N. organizations from delivering food aid and humanitarian assistance to those in need and meddled in the affairs of several of its neighbors.

But U.S.-imposed comprehensive sanctions on Khartoum have not isolated the country nor weakened its government. The U.S. should review its current policies toward Khartoum, and consider elevating its diplomatic relationship to full ambassadorial status in order to expand America’s dialogue and probe for new openings to resolve some of the country’s domestic and regional issues. The U.S. can do this while maintaining its sanctions regime on the government and its demands that President Omar al-Bashir address the serious human rights charges against him.

Read more at AllAfrica.