Thursday, September 23, 2010

Out Of Africa

Altho the policy pronounced by President Obama is not specifically designed solely for Africa, it is essentially a development plan for the continent:

"Put simply, the United States is changing the way we do business," Obama said at the summit of the U.N. Millennium Development Goals, an ambitious agenda world leaders set 10 years ago to tackle global poverty, which has grown amid the world economic recession.

The program has four approaches. One is changing the definition of development. [...]

Second, the administration is changing how "the ultimate goal of development" is viewed. [...]

The third pillar is putting an emphasis on "broad-based economic growth," Obama said.[...]

[T]he fourth pillar is insisting "on more responsibility -- from ourselves and from others."

Let's take him at his word that this policy is genuine, and take a closer look at it. In this instance, "development" will supplant foreign aid, in many cases. Right now, much done in the name of development is to give food and humanitarian aid to a region, with a little actual development on the side. According to Obama's policy, that will change slightly. There will be a transition from aid to economic development, so that a region can become self-sufficient and competitive on the global market.

Aid is fine. It's a short term boost to a people. It doesn't solve the underlying problem, which is how to get those people on their feet and able to fend for themselves. This meme has been particularly true in Africa, where for any number of reasons, economic development has been slow to non-existent. This is particularly ironic for a continent that has perhaps the best climate on the planet. It should be a world leader.

There are any number of benefits for America in this policy. For one thing, poverty tends to breed terrorism. Somalia, as we have seen over the past twenty years, is a hotbed of terror activities, and provides a harbor for international terror groups to incubate plots.

For another, poverty breeds disease. It's not a coincidence that Africa and Asia, the two poorest continents on the planet, are home to some of the nastiest illnesses in human history. Eradicating malaria, for example, is a top priority of American health officials, and Africa is Ground Zero for the disease. In this day and age of near-instantaneous international travel, a bug in Africa is a bug in New York City inside of a week.

For a third, in the wake of really the first global economic catastrophe that occured simultaneously across the world, we need more trading partners. A safe, secure and viable Africa provides this.

But looming over all of this is China. China has made huge strides in Africa, securing contracts with Nigerian oil companies, for example. America simply cannot, for its own economic health, afford to let China have the run of the table. We have to be competitive there. We have to maintain a stake in the economy of the continent. 

The final pillar of this plan, responsibility, is a key. For too long, America has looked the other way as regimes and tyrants have raped and pillaged nations all around the planet. We let Saddam Hussein have his lead, we've let the Saudis practically dictate our foreign policy, we've given free rein to the Mugabes and Taylors of the world. and we've given all of them, all of them aid over the years. Hell, we just signed a $60 billion dollar defense contract with the Saudis! 

We drop a bagful of money or food off, pat the leader on the head, and then turn and walk away. That's no way to do business, nor is it a way to be humanitarian. We have to make sure that not only does a nation receive help, but that the people in that nation who most need the help get it.