Through a continent, darkly

By Giovanni Vimercati
0 Comment(s)Print E-mail, July 10, 2013
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Despite his kind and brotherly words, Obama has not been a familiar sight in Africa. He has so far visited only twice, compared to his predecessors Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, who went to Africa eight and 10 times respectively. Obama's presence in the region is mainly felt in military terms: His support for France and Britain in the armed overthrow of Gadaffi and the generous bombing of thousands of innocent civilians; the air raids against extremists in Somalia; the drone base in Niger to fight Islamists in the Sahara-Sahel area and his prolonged support of the democratically dubious governments of Ethiopia and Uganda are the most tangible signs of Obama's "disinterested love" for Africa.

Yet his main concern while visiting the land of his father was, (un)surprisingly enough, China, whose economic and territorial penetration into the African continent has witnessed a profitable increase in the past few years. Despite being the subject of sceptical critiques, China's tightening business relationships with African countries have contributed to the region's economic prosperity. This is something which "civilizing" Western democracies should be careful not to claim as their own legacy, as the nature of their past presence in Africa qualifies as socio-cultural gang-rape.

In 2000, China's business with Africa amounted to only one-third of America's $30 billion worth. Today it is four times higher than America's figure, standing in excess of $160 billion. Obama is also looking at tackling this gap because the use or misuse of Africa's resources will be a crucial factor in the global geopolitical balance in years to come. No wonder then that Obama presided over a meeting of 150 entrepreneurs organized by the Corporate Council on Africa and then personally met 25 CEOs from the most representative and powerful African and American companies in the region. Will Brother Barack Obama win over the hearts and minds of his fellow African brothers? Back home he doesn't seem to enjoy the full support of his compatriots, especially after a scoop by the Washington Post which unveiled the exorbitant costs of his trip to Africa (around $100 million).

This figure, though, is low in comparison to the potential fruits of increased business activity between the U.S. and the growing African market. It remains to be seen whether the African goldmine and its people will remember what the founding fathers of the nation Obama presides over meant by "business" and act accordingly. Or perhaps profit, as in the bleak old days of slavery, will once again erase all differences. But this time it's unlikely that the Americans will be the ones helming the merchant ships.

The author is a columnist with For more information please visit:

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