What Africa Should Expect From Obama From piracy to genocide to oil fields, the new administration will have major decisions to make about U.S. policy toward Africa. Princeton Lyman, of the Council on Foreign Relations, discusses what would make for good Africa policy.
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What Africa Should Expect From Obama

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What Africa Should Expect From Obama

What Africa Should Expect From Obama

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This is Day to Day. I'm Madeleine Brand.


And I'm Alex Cohen. When he takes office next month, President-elect Barack Obama will have to contend with an economy in recession here in the U.S., the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, conflicts in the Middle East and South Asia and Africa. This week, Day to Day will be taking a look at some of the most pressing issues in the world's second-largest continent.

We begin today by talking with Princeton Lyman, former ambassador to South Africa and Nigeria. He's an adjunct senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. Welcome to the program, Mr. Lyman.

Mr. PRINCETON LYMAN (Senior Fellow, Council on Foreign Relations): Thank you very much. Good to be here.

COHEN: Let's begin with the current administration. How is President Bush perceived in Africa, and what has he been able to accomplish there over the past eight years?

Mr. LYMAN: Well, candidly, this is one of his best legacies. He has tripled aid to Africa and launched this major initiative on HIV/AIDS, the President's Emergency Program, which has galvanized money from around the world, and it's raised the number of people being treated for AIDS from 300,000 to over 2 million.

So he's very well-regarded for that and for other initiatives on malaria and tuberculosis and the millennium challenge account, which is also increased aid to Africa. So, on that score, he has a very good legacy. On issues like security in the Middle East policy, etcetera, obviously, he's been criticized there, as in other parts of the world.

COHEN: Of course, President-elect Obama's father was from Kenya. How do you think that will affect his image there?

Mr. LYMAN: Well, I think it raises enormous expectations that President Obama will give special attention to Africa and will do even more, and I think it puts quite a burden on the administration because, as you've noted, there's a major financial crisis. There are many other crises in the world.

And aid having gone up substantially to Africa, building further on that is going to be a challenge. But I do think the administration will give a special attention to Africa in the sense of elevating its importance in our overall foreign policy.

COHEN: As you mentioned, he has promised to increase aid to Africa to the tune of raising it from $25 billion to $50 billion, a promise he said he hoped to achieve in his first term. Do you think that it will be possible for him to do that? And if so, where should that money go?

Mr. LYMAN: Well, I think it will be a challenge. Of course, the Congress has authorized the tripling of the HIV/AIDS program that President Bush initiated. So some of the increase is obviously going to be in the HIV/AIDS program.

Then there's a question of what other assistance. There are a couples of sectors that have been neglected in Africa, and everybody agrees that they've been neglected. One is agriculture, in which there is a pressing need for research and agricultural programs to avoid food crises in Africa. And the secondary is infrastructure, which Africa badly needs to compete in the global marketplace.

COHEN: What can the president-elect do to try to stabilize some of the political conflicts that are currently occurring in Africa?

Mr. LYMAN: There are three major conflicts in Africa. One is in Somalia, one is in Sudan, the Darfur crisis and the threat to the north-south peace process, and the Congo, the eastern Congo, which has taken more lives in that civil war than any other.

And a lot needs to be done. Right now, the United States is really not playing a leading role on any of the three, and it's going to take an investment of people, of diplomatic support, of some types of new solutions to those crises. And I think that will be a high priority for this administration in Africa and a reinvigoration of our conflict-resolution diplomacy.

COHEN: And if you were, let's say, the president's adviser, what would you tell him to do? How should he deal with these top-three issues?

Mr. LYMAN: Well, I think you have to do it by concentrating real attention at people. The Africa bureau of the State Department is the smallest in the department. It covers 48 countries. It doesn't have the strength and depth to handle three major conflicts. Second, you have to cross the bridge between the bureaucratics of Africa and the bureaucratics of the Middle East because Middle Eastern countries are heavily involved in two of those crises, Sudan and Somalia.

So we need a new peace structure to deal with it, and we need to work very much with these African countries and the surrounding countries to deal with those. So you need a high level, intensive, well-staffed, well-directed peace process, and we haven't put that together in any of these three crises so far.

COHEN: Let's talk for a moment about the economics of Africa. Some critics have said that there is fear that, given what President-elect Obama has said in the past about trade, that his approach might hinder economic growth in Africa. What are your thoughts?

Mr. LYMAN: Well, I'm glad you asked that question. I think another area, very important initiative, is in trade. The United States, on a bipartisan basis, instituted about 10 years ago the African Growth and Opportunity Act, which opened up American markets to African products, and it's been relatively successful.

But we need a new strategy with Africa and the World Trade Organization because we've lost those votes. Those votes have drifted over in support of India and China and Brazil. And we need to help structure Africa's position in the WTO, to be able to take advantage of a new trade agreement and to support the sub-regional common markets that they are trying to evolve on the continent.

And we haven't structured our trade policy to do that. So this could be a very important initiative by the Obama administration. Trade is important to Africa. It only occupies less than two percent of world trade, and Africa has to move more into the global economy.

COHEN: Mr. Lyman, when we hear about Africa in the news recently, the stories that tend to come up are piracy in Somalia, cholera, and perilous inflation in Zimbabwe, the political-religious conflict in Nigeria. But I'm wondering if there are some stories out there about Africa that we're missing that we should be paying attention to.

Mr. LYMAN: Well, I think that's exactly right. I'm so glad you raised it. There are a number of African countries that had been doing very well and making great progress in recent years, Mozambique, Ghana, Botswana, Benin, Mali, Madagascar, a whole range of countries and supported also by this new initiative in the United States and Millennium Challenge Account.

They're Democratic. They've improved governance. They've got strong growing economies. They've got an entrepreneurial class which has been given room. We don't hear much about that. And those economies are setting a record, if you will, in the pace.

The second thing is that the African countries are increasingly trying to create these sub-regional common markets and trade agreements which will increase their own internal trade and strengthen their role. So those are two very positive developments, and they deserve more publicity and more attention.

COHEN: Princeton Lyman is the former ambassador to South Africa and Nigeria. He's an adjunct senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. Thank you for speaking with us.

Mr. LYMAN: You're welcome.

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