ASG's 5 Essential Questions: The White House Looks to Africa
Insights on President Obama’s Africa-focused week ahead, including a meeting with Nigeria’s new president and a trip to Kenya and Ethiopia:
Albright Stonebridge Group (ASG) asks – and answers – 5 Essential Questions about Obama’s approaching engagement with some of the continent’s biggest players and the nature of U.S.-Africa relations. Secretary Madeleine Albright and members of ASG’s Africa Practice weigh in.
WHY IS OBAMA FOCUSED ON AFRICA RIGHT NOW?
“How the President addresses challenges and opportunities in Africa in the coming weeks will influence perceptions of the United States throughout the continent and the direction of our diplomatic, security, and business relationships in the region well into the future.” - Secretary Madeleine Albright, co-chair of the Albright Stonebridge Group
- Obama will look to solidify his legacy in Africa by building on momentum from last year’s historic U.S. – Africa Leaders Summit in Washington through direct engagement with three of the continent’s most powerful, prosperous, and populous nations.
- On July 20, President Obama will host an Oval Office meeting with newly-elected Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari. Anchor events on his subsequent trip to Africa include meetings with leaders from Kenya and Ethiopia; a stop at the July 25-26 Global Entrepreneurship Summit (GES) in Nairobi; and a speech at the African Union headquarters in Addis Ababa. For many Kenyans, though, the trip is personal, viewed as a homecoming by a man they claim as their own and who last visited as an Illinois state senator in 2006.
- Critics of Obama’s Africa policies suggest that his focus on the continent comes too late in his presidency to have the desired impact and question his decision to visit Kenya and Ethiopia, both of which struggle to uphold democratic freedoms, in lieu of a stop in regional powerhouse Nigeria in the wake of its historic election.
WILL THE PRESIDENT’S EFFORTS LEAD TO MORE BUSINESS OPPORTUNITIES IN AFRICA?
“This trip can help continue the shift in focus of the U.S. relationship with these nations from one of unilateral aid to one of concrete partnerships. President Obama’s direct engagement with the continent is a critical opportunity to elevate business and investment issues to the highest levels of government.” - Ambassador Don Gips, ASG Senior Counselor and head of ASG’s Africa Practice
- It isn’t coincidental that Obama has chosen to meet with leaders from three of Africa’s largest and fastest growing economies, where opportunities for U.S. business interests abound.
- Sub-Saharan Africa continues to enjoy steady growth estimated at 4.4%, well above the global average for 2015. A recent World Bank report confirms Africa as the next great investment destination and muses whether “made in Ethiopia” will become the next “made in China.”
- But the popular Africa Rising narrative is not ubiquitous, and strong headwinds remain. Growing the U.S. commercial footprint in Africa is vital to the region’s success. The Obama administration is increasingly championing interest from American companies who want to capitalize on the region’s growth trajectory and rapidly expanding consumer class, driven by an exploding population and swift urbanization.
WHAT’S BEHIND MONDAY’S OVAL OFFICE MEETING WITH NIGERIAN PRESIDENT BUHARI?
“Nigeria is a political and economic heavyweight in the region. This meeting with President Buhari is a great opportunity to redefine the U.S. relationship with Africa’s largest economy.” - Ambassador Johnnie Carson, former U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs and Senior Advisor at ASG
- This trip is an opportunity to capitalize on Nigeria’s momentum for change by engaging early with Buhari, who ran on a reform platform, to chart a new course for U.S.-Nigeria relations. Buhari and Obama are expected to discuss U.S. support in in countering regional terrorist threats, and economic, political, and development reforms, all of which are necessary to unlock Nigeria’s full potential as a global leader.
- Buhari is under pressure to deliver on his campaign promises to fight corruption, tackle the terrorist group Boko Haram, invest in healthcare and education, and get the Nigerian economy—stalled by the global fall in oil prices—back on track.
WHAT IS THE FOCUS OF OBAMA’S KENYA VISIT?
“The very significant regional peace and security challenges in Kenya should be a major focus in the talks between Obama and Kenyatta. I expect them to discuss the entrenched challenges with Somalia and South Sudan, where both Kenya and the United States have made significant diplomatic and military investments.” – Amb. Johnnie Carson
- As East Africa’s largest economy and the heart of tech innovation on the continent, Kenya is a natural host of the Global Entrepreneurship Summit, which will convene leading multinationals, tech start-ups, and entrepreneurs at all stages of business development.
- President Obama remains wildly popular in Kenya, the birthplace of his father, though some Kenyans have grown disgruntled waiting for their favored son’s visit as president. His absence was purposeful—bilateral relations cooled following the International Criminal Court (ICC)’s indictment of now-President Uhuru Kenyatta for alleged war crimes. The ICC dropped its charges against Kenyatta last December, opening the door for President Obama to re-engage.
- The July visit signals a full return to normalized relations, reaffirming Kenya’s role as a key, if controversial, U.S. counterterrorism ally and commercial partner. This year, a Bloomberg survey of economic analysts placed Kenya third on its list of the highest global performers over the next two years.
DOES OBAMA’S VISIT TO ETHIOPIA SIGNAL THAT THE COUNTRY IS UNDERGOING AN ECONOMIC TRANSFORMATION?
“The President’s engagement with three strategic, if imperfect, allies in this fast-growing region will advance important security, trade, and development initiatives, while pushing African leaders to embrace democracy and human rights.”- Nicole Wilett-Jensen, Vice President of ASG’s Africa Practice
- The fact that this is the first visit by a sitting U.S. president speaks volumes about Ethiopia’s growing commercial and security importance in a volatile region.
- Ethiopia is home to Africa’s second-largest population of more than 95 million and the fifth largest economy, the result of sustained high growth rates, projected to be 8.5% this year.
- The Ethiopian government has taken measures to liberalize its economy and welcomed foreign investment, although its leaders have been criticized for their increasingly autocratic approach to governance.
- Obama’s touchstone speech on the future of U.S.-Africa relations at the African Union (AU) headquarters is intended to help warm historically tense relations between the AU and the West, especially on issues related to foreign intervention in Africa’s home-grown conflicts.