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Behind the Times: Washington's Slow Changing Attitude to Africa (This Is Africa)

January 18, 2013

Senior Fellow and Vice President for Programs Todd Moss is quoted in an article on presidential involvement in Africa.

From the article:

Africa’s international relationships are increasingly hinged on trade and investment rather than strategic security and aid, but attitudes in Washington are slow to change.

While Europe and the US continue to account for the majority of foreign direct investment to Africa, the gap is narrowing. The likes of Huawei and ZTE of China, Brazil’s Vale and India’s Bharti Airtel and Tata are planting roots across the continent. Washington’s response has been sluggish.

The problem is that, when it comes to Africa, presidential weight is needed to get any initiative off the ground. “There’s a lot of competing interests for the president’s time and if they think something is a political loser they won’t go with it,” says Todd Moss, a senior fellow at the Center for Global Development, and a former deputy assistant secretary in the Bureau of African Affairs at the State Department.

“The President’s [Bush Junior] Emergency Plan for Aids Relief (Pepfar) and the President’s Malaria Initiative (Pmi) both had the president’s imprimatur because it’s the only way to get all the agencies to cooperate,” says Mr Moss. “If you don’t have the president putting his personal name on it then it won’t happen.”

That looks unlikely. Mr Obama is busy at home dealing with the dreaded ‘fiscal cliff’ negotiations. Abroad, there is the ‘pivot’ towards Asia, a central theme of Mr Obama’s foreign policy, reinforced by his decision to visit Thailand, Cambodia and Myanmar soon after his re-election. The shift has already been met with scepticism by the foreign policy community in Washington, and spending valuable political capital in Africa may simply carry too high a cost for the president.

But Mr Moss is cautiously optimistic about the second term. “If Africans expect more of the same, well, it would be hard to do less,” he argues. “If they believe that we’ll start to see more personal White House engagement in Africa then it’s possible we’ll see some modest increases.” Mr Hayes, of the Corporate Council on Africa, also hopes there will be “new US initiatives to Africa in 2013”.

The goodwill enjoyed by President Obama across the continent represents a unique opportunity for the US to position itself as a leading commercial partner. Doing so may prove to be in its long-term interest as Africa continues to move into the mainstream of global trade and investment.

Read it here.

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