What’s the Catch?
Johannesburg – United States President Barack Obama is set to visit Africa sometime this year as Washington seeks to make economic inroads and countermand Chinese presence on the continent.
Obama has previously visited Egypt and Ghana.
Recent reports from Washington quoted Secretary of State Kerry John indicating the possibility of such a visit but giving no specifics.
“Africa we need to be deeply engaged in and intend to be. And the president will travel there. We have a lot to do,” Kerry said in response to questions from Democrat lawmaker Karen Bass.
He added: “Six of the 10 or 12 fastest growing countries in the world are in Africa,” just before floating the idea of an Obama trip. “We all are concerned about our economic future. China is investing more in Africa than we are and it doesn’t have to be a zero-sum game. We have to recognize where our future economic interests and capacity may lie.”
US media also quoted a State Department official telling foreign journalists last year 0that the White House was planning a presidential trip to Africa in 2013.
In June last year, the Obama administration launched the “US strategy toward Sub-saharan Africa” in which the US leader said, “it is clear that Africa is more important than ever to the security and prosperity of the international community, and to the United States in particular”.
Obama stated that Africa’s economies were among the fastest growing in the world, with technological change sweeping across the continent and offering tremendous opportunities in banking, medicine, politics, and business.
At the same time, he noted, the burgeoning youth population in Africa was changing economies and political systems in profound ways.
“Addressing the opportunities and challenges in Africa requires a comprehensive U.S. policy that is proactive, forward-looking, and that balances our long-term interests with near-term imperatives,” he said.
Obama’s relationship with Africa has been interpreted differently by watchers.
Some have decried his lack of attention to the continent, where his father came from, while others have seen him losing economic and geo-strategic opportunities in Africa in light of Chinese investments and influence over the past decade or so.
Still others are worried by US military contacts with Africa, under the aegis of US Africa Command and the so-called military cooperation agreements.
It is feared the US is to use the continent for proxy wars, especially the so-called anti-terrorism fight.
The US has already made clear its intention to target African youths so as it increase its own influence on the continent.
Last year, Washington released its blueprint “US strategy Toward Sub-Saharan Africa” in which the approach to influence the youth and civic organisations is extensively discussed.
The strategy is likely to dilute attempts to mould a truly Pan-African youth as spearheaded by such leaders as South Africa’s Former President Thabo Mbeki and Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe.
In the various spheres of American “partnership” with Africa such as trade, peace and security and democracy, Obama cites the youth as key players.
“America’s partnership with this new generation of Africans will extend beyond our government to the broad and deepening relationships between our peoples, businesses, and institutions.
“These roots will drive our path to a future of democracy, peace, and prosperity for generations to come,” Obama said.
The US will employ a four-pronged approach to achieve its youth-targeted aims in Africa.
“The United States will partner with Sub-Saharan African countries to pursue the following interdependent and mutually reinforcing objectives: (1) strengthen democratic institutions; (2) spur economic growth, trade, and investment; (3) advance peace and security; and (4) promote opportunity and development.”
The US has been sponsoring opposition parties, a plethora of civic bodies and the media, in a well-worn template for its global neo-imperial machinations.
It seeks to influence regional and international bodies to enforce the consistent application of democratic practices, particularly the African Union’s African Charter on Democracy, Elections, and Governance and other multilateral standards.
Analysts say Africa is highly compromised and its youth open to infiltration due to the poor economic state on the continent and the inability of many leaders to incorporate young citizens in mainstream economic and political affairs.
According to an African Development Bank (AfDB) report, the continent’s economic growth is forecast to average 4.5 percent in 2012 and 4.8 percent in 2013.
However, this will in no way improve
youth unemployment and prospects.
Young people represent 60 percent of Africa’s unemployed, or 40 million youths. Of these, 22 million have given up on hopes of ever finding a job.
Between 2000 and 2007, the working age population grew by 96 million but the number of jobs only grew by 63 million across Africa.
This means there is much scope for these young people to be “adopted” by donors such as the US through its youth strategy and thus serve interests other than those of their own continent.
AfDB analysts have advised governments to boost the informal sector through appropriate skills training.
This could create a cadre of young entrepreneurs whose interests are wholly at home and thus benefit Africa more than having these young people taken under the wing of the US government.
“Most general secondary education in Africa has long-followed the ideal of providing the prerequisites for an academic education or a white collar (office) job in the formal (and urban) sector.
“Yet, only a small minority of young people has access to these options,” AfDB has said.
Both technical and vocational skills development afford young people better opportunities on the labour market and governments should embrace the importance of the informal sector as a means of employment creation, it was noted.
Instead of excluding informal sector training, governments should introduce skills certification systems that attest to competencies and thereby facilitate recognition and comparison in the labour market.
“Informality and vulnerable employment are the norm for many young Africans and provide an alternative to unemployment and inactivity. Given quantity constraints on formal sector employment, the informal sector will continue to play an important role in absorbing young entrants to the job market and has to be part of any policy that addresses youth employment.”
Further, other analysts have advised governments to act on vices like corruption – both in the economy and in national politics – so that young citizens do not become disenchanted and alienated.
The AfDB has highlighted the dire political consequences of the youth, who constitute the majority, remaining jobless for long.
“Grievances among the young are most likely to be expressed violently, if non-violent political channels are not adequate or responsive, and these grievances revolve around unemployment, involving considerations of both income and social cohesion.
“Given Africa’s strong population growth and the necessary downsizing of the public sector in many countries, a vigorous private sector is the most important source of jobs for the young.
“Yet this analysis of 53 countries in Africa reveals that a lack of sufficient job creation is by far the biggest hurdle young Africans face today.”