Clearer Outlines in Obama’s Africa Policy

US Special Envoy to Sudan, Scott Gration, testifies today before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Attention to the Obama administration’s policy on Sudan is intensifying on Capitol Hill and elsewhere, but it’s also worth considering Washington’s approach to the continent as a whole.

With Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s visit to Africa approaching and other members of the administration keeping a high profile in African affairs, the outlines of Obama’s Africa policy are taking shape:

  • Africa is important. Clinton’s trip to Nairobi will be “the earliest in any administration that both the president and secretary of state have traveled to Africa.” That may mean both that the Obama administration recognizes Africa’s unique importance in areas like energy, democratization, international law, and trade, and that outreach to Africa forms part of a broader project of outreach to the whole world. But if nothing else, it conveys respect.
  • Washington will indicate concern or approval toward domestic conflict but not place strong  public pressure on rulers. Democratization faces obstacles in Mauritania, Niger, and elsewhere, but the US has weighed in with relatively bland statements, condemning Mamadou Tandja’s bid for extended power in Niger and expressing approval for Mauritania’s pre-election agreement formalizing a transfer of power, but not taking strong actions to influence events.
  • The US will take a stern but respectful tone toward Sudan. Susan Rice, “making her first appearance as Washington’s ambassador to the United Nations,” called on Sudan to cooperate more with the UN and allow more aid workers into Darfur. The policy on Sudan is still emerging, which some have criticized harshly, but key elements so far include an emphasis on engagement with Khartoum and a concern with smooth political transitions in 2010 and 2011.
  • The US will take a hard line with the few countries it considers “rogue.” Ambassador Rice also condemned Eritrea’s actions in Somalia and threatened Eritrea with sanctions and other punitive measures. Thus while Washington prefers to maintain outreach toward countries like Sudan, administration officials do consider at least one country outside the zone of reasonable dialogue. US support for Ethiopia and hostility toward Eritrea could be perceived as taking sides in the region, but I suppose Washington is prepared for that risk.
  • The US is wary of terrorism in the Sahara and the Horn, but will not use military force for the time being.

What do you think of Obama’s Africa policies? Have I missed anything?

3 thoughts on “Clearer Outlines in Obama’s Africa Policy

  1. Pingback: Scott Gration Wants Broader Engagement with Sudan « Sahel Blog

  2. Pingback: Read! « Maghreb Politics Review

  3. Pingback: Secretary Clinton Visits Africa « Sahel Blog

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