Second Obama Term Will Bring More Dynamic Policy Towards Africa

President Barack Obama's next four years will bring a more dynamic and diversified approach towards Africa.

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In this photo of Saturday June 11, 2011 the Merkato marketplace in Addis Ababa can be seen. Ethiopia, like many African nations, has seen spiraling food prices this year. Nearby Uganda has seen violent protests over rising costs. Buyers and sellers in Ethiopia's capital say the government's attempt to bring down prices by imposing price caps on basics like oil and sugar for five months this year has caused even more turmoil. When they were in place, the price caps bankrupted businesses that could not afford to sell at cheaper prices.

Stephen Hayes is president and CEO of the Corporate Council on Africa.

As the election ended and the results were in, the next day in Washington two games began. The first has garnered the publicity: Who really lost the election? Self-proclaimed pundits will make their various assessments with their usual certainty and pomposity, and for the next week much of the media will debate the reasons Barack Obama was re-elected and Mitt Romney wasn't. In the end, however, the people voted and made the decision of which candidate they wanted to lead the nation.

Just below the surface the second game has begun, the jockeying for positions in the next administration. It is a game more carefully and quietly played, but for the combatants as serious as any election. Within the next few weeks, various prognostications, some to be proven right and others dead wrong, will be made on who will hold each cabinet position, and once that is settled, the game of musical chairs for the next tiers down is played in earnest. It will not be played by simply the aspiring job seekers, but by those who want their man in the job. Lobbyists will work on strategies to put in the person or persons most compatible with their interests.

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For Africa it is not an inconsequential game. The appointee for the assistant secretary of state for Africa is one of the most important positions in the U.S. government for the American relationship with Africa. Our appointed ambassadors to Africa will report to him or her, and that person will have considerable latitude to create programs with Africa. The secretary will also be able to define our relationship with Africa for the next four years and beyond, since precedent is a difficult thing to reverse. Names are already being bantered about, but right now it is nothing more than a game, for the next secretary of state will have a major say on who will be the assistant secretaries of state. The president and his staff will also weigh in. Current Assistant Secretary of State for Africa Johnnie Carson is retiring at the end of this term, and his replacement will likely not be determined until we know who the next secretary of state will be. In the meantime, Carson's deputy, Ambassador Don Yamamoto, will serve as acting assistant secretary of state. The primary power that Yamamoto will have will be to recommend the next slate of ambassadors to Africa, subject to approval or change by the secretary of state, and so that process also may be slowed until the next secretary of state is firmly at his or her seat.

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Another important position will be the National Security Council director for Africa, a position now being filled by Grant Harris. Harris has played a major coordinating role among an often fractious interagency team on Africa. His position will also be subject to who becomes the next director for the National Security Council. Normally this position and the assistant secretary of state have been the two most important positions in the executive branch in framing our policy towards the African nations. However, it seems likely that the White House will play a more active role in leading our policy towards Africa. Michael Froman, an economic adviser to Obama, has already begun to develop a consensus on policy, and President Obama is expected to make a trip to Africa early in the next administration, as the 50th anniversary of the African Union (formerly the Organization for African Unity) will take place in May around the same time as all the heads of state of African nations will meet in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. If President Obama does go to Africa at that time, look for him to unveil a new policy towards Africa, based largely on that being formed under the leadership of Froman and others.

Overall, I expect that our policy towards Africa will be far more dynamic and diversified in its approach than it has ever been. Because of current budget constraints as well, I expect that we will see far more public and private cooperation in our African policy. Our future relationships with African nations will be increasingly defined by the investments we make in their respective economies, and for that much more public-private cooperation needs to take place. 

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