US President Barack Obama released a sweeping new Africa strategy on Thursday, declaring that a continent torn by poverty, corruption and discord could be the world’s next economic success story.
The new US blueprint seeks to boost trade, strengthen peace, security and good governance and bolster democratic institutions, and is designed to help Africa’s increasingly youthful population lead its development.
“As we look toward the future, 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,” said Obama, a US-born son of a Kenyan father.
It comes as Washington, tooling a regional policy for trade and development, also views conflicts in the resource-rich region with concern, including areas vulnerable to extremists.
The Washington Post reported on Thursday that the US military was expanding spying across Africa, using small private planes operating from isolated bush airstrips, as part of a “shadow war” against al-Qaeda and its affiliates.
While Obama faced multiple crises during his presidency, from Iran to North Korea and Libya to Syria, his Africa policy has garnered less coverage: His Ghana trip was his only one to sub-Saharan Africa since taking office.
However, US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said Obama believed “passionately” in Africa’s future and said the continent hosted six of the world’s 10 fastest-growing economies over the past decade.
“I want all of my fellow American citizens, particularly our business community, to hear this: Africa offers the highest rate of return on foreign direct investment of any developing region in the world,” she said.
“We in the United States like to talk about ourselves as the country that is the land of opportunity. It’s a point of national pride. In the 21st century, Africa is the continent that is the land of opportunity,” she said.
The administration on Thursday touted “successes” from helping restore democracy in Ivory Coast, nurturing the new state of South Sudan, backing stability efforts in Somalia and engaging young African leaders.
The president also sent 100 US special forces troops to train African forces chasing Joseph Kony, the leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army, which is known for gross human rights abuses, including rape and the use of child soldiers.
Obama has responded to humanitarian crises in the Horn of Africa and the Sahel, and the president invited the leaders of Benin, Ethiopia, Ghana and Tanzania to the G8 summit at Camp David.
In a prelude to the new strategy, Obama said: “The United States will not stand idly by when actors threaten legitimately elected governments or manipulate the fairness and integrity of democratic processes.”
Obama has also highlighted food security challenges, and last month unveiled a scheme designed to lift 50 million people, including in Africa, out of poverty by linking up governments and civil society groups with the private sector.
He maintained former US president George W. Bush’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, which has improved life expectancy on the continent and will support lifesaving treatment for 6 million people by the end of next year.
The plan commits Washington to encourage legal and regulatory reforms that could spur investment and trade and improve economic governance, and to promote regional economic integration.