How important is the US presidential election for Africa? | Africa | DW | 08.03.2012
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Africa

How important is the US presidential election for Africa?

As the race for the US White House hots up, many Africans are hoping that President Obama will stay in office. They feel a strong affinity with Obama because of his Kenyan heritage.

President Obama

Obama is not an advocate for Africa, Campbell says

The US presidential election is arguably the most important election in the world. The outcome of the November 6 poll will affect billions of people, including those in sub-Saharan Africa. Ambassador John Campbell is a Senior Fellow for Africa Policy Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York and a former US ambassador to Nigeria. DW has been talking to him about the significance of the US elections for Africa.

DW: Ambassador Campbell, what would change for Africa if a Republican were to win the US presidential election?

John Campbell: American policy towards Africa is remarkably consistent, whichever political party happens to hold the White House. It is often assumed that the Democratic Party is more sympathetic to Africa than the Republicans. That, in fact, is not true - American assistance to Africa reached its highest point during the second term of President George W. Bush.

A Kenyan rejoicing at Obama's first victory

Obama's first victory was greeted with euphoria in Kenya

What are the key areas of concern for the next US leader in terms of dealing with Africa?

Again, there is remarkable consistency. The first would be conflict resolution. Second would be the establishment of genuine democracy, characterized by the rule of law. And in the context of respect for fundamental human rights, a third would be economic development. A fourth would be a host of issues where the United States and Africa can and should cooperate, ranging from climate change to disease to the struggle against narcotics trafficking. These issues are of concern to an administration, whether it is Democratic or Republican. What tends to happen is that sometimes the priorities are shuffled a bit. So, for example, President Bush put great emphasis on conflict resolution. President Obama puts great emphasis on governance and human rights. But in neither case was it one rather than the other. Both were of great importance.

One of the presidential candidates, Republican Mitt Romney, has stated that he has very little to do with Africa, and most candidates have shown little interest towards Africa. How significant then are these elections for Africans?

You've made an extremely good point. I argue consistently in my blog that Africa is of greater strategic importance to the United States than Americans realize or acknowledge. And in fact, in the Republican primary up to now, Africa has hardly appeared at all. I cannot think of a single exchange between the candidates on specifically African issues. Sometimes though, African opinion can have an exaggerated view of the importance of Africa in an American context. Hence, for example, the widespread view that simply because President Obama had a Kenyan father, he would somehow be more engaged and involved in Africa than other presidents have been. In other words, what was forgotten was that President Obama was President of the United States. He was not occupying some kind of particular position as an advocate for Africa.

Republican U.S. presidential candidate Mitt Romney

Republican candidate Mitt Romney show little interest in Africa

How concerned should the next US leader be about China's growing influence in Africa?

I think there's something of a consensus that China is a growing economic presence in Africa. The challenge is to persuade China to play a positive role there that is commensurate with its growing economic presence. To that end, there is an ongoing dialogue between the American and the Chinese governments.

Last October, President Obama sent US troops to track down Joseph Kony, commander of the Ugandan guerrilla group, the Lord's Resistance Army. Should Africa expect more military interventions from the next US leader?

There's a very important point that I think has to be made here. The United States did not dispatch troops to hunt down anybody. What it did was to provide a very small number of military trainers and advisers to assist the military forces of the countries that were directly involved. We are talking about something that was very, very small. We're talking tens of people, not hundreds. This kind of highly targeted assistance in response to a request from various African governments is likely to continue in the future just as it has in the past. But that is very different from talking about a greatly expanded US military presence in Africa - and from my perspective, in the aftermath of Iraq and Afghanistan, that is simply not on the cards.

Interview: Chrispin Mwakideu
Editor: Mark Caldwell / mll

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