The presidential campaign of Barack Obama reached out to the more than two million African immigrants in the United States and was rewarded with the emergence of such groups as the African Immigrant Movement for Obama and the African Diaspora for Obama.
Campaign officials saw the strategic value of this suddenly organized 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; and Africans in the diaspora remit an estimated $4 billion to $6 billion a year to their home countries.
No doubt Obama’s credentials as the son of a Kenyan helped him secure their overwhelming vote. But Obama’s interest in the U.S. African diaspora did not end with his election.
“A more active dialogue with them will better position the U.S. to develop its agenda and accomplish its objectives on Africa,” said Witney W. Schneidman, the campaign’s Africa adviser, who served as deputy assistant secretary of state for African affairs in the Clinton administration.
In remarks prepared for the Constituency for Africa’s 2008 Ronald H. Brown African Affairs Series forum in Washington, D.C., in September, Schneidman spelled out the fundamental objectives of Obama’s policy for Africa: accelerate Africa’s integration into the global economy and expand prosperity; enhance the peace and security of African states; and strengthen relationships with those governments, institutions and civil society organizations committed to deepening democracy, accountability and reducing poverty in Africa. The economic agenda provides for an Add Value to Agriculture Initiative to spur research and innovation aimed at partnering with land grant institutions, private philanthropies and businesses to promote higher yield seeds, better irrigation methods and affordable and safe fertilizers. The initiative will also address food security issues in order to alleviate high food costs.
Schneidman said Obama will also strengthen the African Growth and Opportunity Act so that African producers can truly access the U.S. market; encourage more U.S. companies to invest in Africa; and work with the Overseas Private Investment Corporation to develop lending facilities for small and medium-size enterprises with revenues under $5 million “so that they can grow into $10 million and $20 million companies, creating new jobs, sustainable incomes and partners for American companies.”
He will help to enhance the prosperity that is beginning to reach Africa, Schneidman said, citing World Bank estimates that Africa’s middle class will grow fourfold in the next 20 years, from its current levels of 12 million people.
And rather than bellyache about China’s rapidly expanding influence on the continent through its massive infrastructure and mining ventures, Obama will engage the Chinese “to establish the rules of the road and to ensure that we are working at common purpose to enhance economic development on the continent.”
Obama will work with African governments, Schneidman said, adding that “the days of external powers on their own deciding what is best for Africa needs to come to an end, once and for all.”
Patrick Bond, director of the Center for Civil Society in Durban, South Africa, worries about the potential influence of a key Obama economic adviser, Paul Volcker, the man whose inflation-fighting, dollar-strengthening policies are blamed for triggering the debt crisis of the 1980s that crippled much of Africa for some 20 years. Bond also worries about former Clinton Treasury Secretary Lawrence Summers as head of Obama’s National Economic Council.
In 1991, as senior vice president and chief economist of the World Bank, Bond wrote in a stinging review of Obama’s economic advisers, Summers gained infamy as an advocate of African genocide and environmental racism with a confidential memo he signed.
“I think the economic logic behind dumping a load of toxic waste in the lowest-wage country is impeccable and we should face up to that... I’ve always thought that underpopulated countries in Africa are vastly underpolluted,” the memo read. Summers argued that inhabitants of low-income countries typically die before the age at which they would begin suffering prostate cancer associated with toxic dumping.
“Volcker, Summers and a whole crew of similar capitalist economists are whispering in Obama’s ear for a resurgent U.S. based on brutal national self-interest… Obama apparently needs to hear more of their sins against his father’s people,” Bond wrote.