29 September 2008
Witney W. Schneidman
Witney W. Schneidman, an adviser on Africa to the campaign to elect Senator Barack Obama as President of the United States, sets out Obama’s fundamental policy objectives for Africa.
Barack Obama understands Africa, and understands its importance to the United States. Today, in this new century, he understands that to strengthen our common security, we must invest in our common humanity and, in this way, restore American leadership in the world.
As a member of the senate Foreign Relations Committee, he has engaged on many African issues. He has worked to end genocide in Darfur, to pass legislation to promote stability and the holding of elections in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, to bring a war criminal to justice in Liberia and to develop a coherent strategy for stabilizing Somalia.
In 2006, Senator Obama visited Kenya where he spoke truth to power to the leadership about the corrosive impact of corruption, in South Africa he demanded honesty from the government about HIV/Aids, and he met with American military commanders in Djibouti at the Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa to discuss the threat of terrorism to U.S. interests and to the interests of our partners in the region.
Obama also visited refugee camps in Chad, where he heard first-hand about the experiences of Sudanese women who had been forced from their homes and had their families torn apart, and worse, by Khartoum’s genocidal policies.
Over the last 18 months, Barack Obama has worked with the Kenyan leadership to help resolve the post-election crisis in that country, and he has called for an increase on pressure on Robert Mugabe for stealing elections and sponsoring violence against his own people.
Barack Obama continues to speak out against Khartoum’s ongoing war of genocide in Darfur, and has called on Ethiopia and Eritrea to walk back from the brink of war.
There is another very important quality about Barack Obama that informs his perspective on Africa, and that is the fact that he is a product of the African diaspora, the son of a Kenyan father, whose grandmother still lives in Kenya.
In fact, this campaign is making a strong effort to reach out to African Americans across the United States country and to those first, second and third generation Africans who have become American citizens to encourage them to be part of the effort that will elect Barack Obama president of the United States.
It is a powerful reality that more Africans have come to the United States since 1970 than came during the middle passage. The more than two million African immigrants in the U.S. can be an important source of support in strengthening relations with Africa.
Through a more active dialogue with the various African diaspora communities and organizations, the U.S. will find itself in a better position to develop its agenda and accomplish its objectives on Africa.
For those who may ask why, there are several reasons for this interest in the African diaspora community.
- Africans are the most educated immigrant group in the country.
- African-born men and women have higher median earnings than all foreign-born men and women in the U.S.
- Remittances from Africans in the diaspora are on the rise, estimated to be in excess of $4 to 6 billion per year. Nigerians, as one example, remit more than $3 billion per year.
The Obama campaign is witnessing an unprecedented surge of support and excitement from African Americans as well as diaspora communities, and this support will be critical to Barack Obama’s success in November.
Most immediately, the diaspora community has started to organize itself into groups such as Ethiopians for Obama, Eritreans for Obama, the African Immigrant Movement for Obama and the African Diaspora for Obama. In fact, one thing that Ethiopians and Eritreans clearly agree on is that they want Barack Obama to be the next president of the United States.
Most immediately, we want those 10,000 Ethiopian-Americans in Virginia to help turn that state blue on November 4th, we want all Nigerian-Americans living in Cleveland, Akron and elsewhere in Ohio to turn out the vote in their communities, we want the Somali-American community in Minneapolis to help win Minnesota, and we want African diaspora communities all across the country to come forward and exercise their rights as Americans. Even if individuals are not eligible to vote, they can still hand out leaflets, make phone calls and canvass their neighborhoods.
In the short-term, all those of African descent have the potential to be a key game changer in this election.
Moreover, the experience of Barack Obama underscores the values that many Africans and Americans share and the ties that bind us together.
The experience of Barack Obama has also raised extraordinary expectations in Africa. We need to be realistic about these expectations, especially given the financial pressures in the U.S., and remember that whatever the U.S. might try to do in Africa will be in support of the actions taken by our partners in Africa and the goals that they set for themselves and goals that we set together.
Obama’s Africa Agenda
Barack Obama will pursue three fundamental objectives on the continent.
- One is to accelerate Africa’s integration into the global economy.
- A second is to enhance the peace and security of African states.
- And a third is to strengthen relationships with those governments, institutions and civil society organizations committed to deepening democracy, accountability and reducing poverty in Africa.