Panel Discussion on Obama’s Speech
(CCP-AU)--The ‘New Moment of Promise’: A Cliché or a New Way Forward? On Saturday, 11 July 2009, the US mission to the African Union based in Addis Ababa had organised a panel discussion on the policy direction that was to be set out by President Barack Obama’s speech delivered at the same date in Accra, Ghana.
The speech was televised live from Accra at the plenary hall housed in the African Union to an audience composed of diplomats, commissioners, civil society representatives and other stakeholders; and to a panel of three comprised of the Commissioner for trade and industry of the African Union9AU), Mrs. Elizabeth Tankeu, the head of the PSC report programme of the Institute of Security Studies (ISS), Dr. Tim Murithi and the executive director of the Centre for Citizens’ Participation in the African Union (CCP-AU), Ms. Yemisrach Kebede.
The CCP-AU had the honour of being the only civil society organisation to be represented in the panel and as such a civil society viewpoint was put across regarding the President’s speech- viewpoints praising Obama for encouraging the African youth to get more involved and share responsibility on the fate of the continent; dissatisfaction on the way the President had shied away from clearly outlining the ‘new ways’ of managing conflicts that he had vaguely expressed; and last but not least the lack of emphasis on the notion that the role of civil society in the growth of democracy is very crucial and that its contributions to development of the society at large, paramount.
As one would recall, Obama had started off by commemorating Ghana’s rich history and acknowledging the country’s strong ties with the US and that US-Africa partnership was grounded in mutual response and respect. He further recognised the continent’s tragic past as well as its triumph and that considerable amount of progress had been made and is in need of yet so much more. Though he accepted colonialism attributed to the many conflicts ravaging the continent, he reiterated that the West was not at all responsible for some of the current issues plaguing Africa.
More importantly, Obama had put much emphasis on the building of democracy saying ‘Development depends upon good governance.’ He put this issue at the forefront of the other three main points that he discussed, namely development, health and peaceful resolution of conflicts as he believed that democracy could unlock Africa’s potential and that it is only through a government that respects the will of its people, that adheres to the rule of law and which is transparent in all of its functions that Africa could well affirm its position in the world and determine and shape the 21st century.
Moreover, in terms of development he had advised Africans not to limit their goals to self-sufficiency rather to produce surplus as well for exports. He also added that due to environmental and climate change, the US and the West in general have a responsibility of reducing carbon emissions and that this would present an opportunity for Africa since the continent is largely endowed with natural resources like wind, geothermal means, etc that can help Africa meet its energy needs.
In the area of public health, the President had commended Africa for progress made regarding the spread of HIV, Malaria and the like but of course he had underlined that more needs to be done. He believed that Africans needed to be responsible, conscious and hold it as a common interest to reduce the spread of diseases and to that effect, that the US government will pledge $63 billion to lessen the spread of HIV, Malaria and eradicate polio.
As for the final thematic issue, he acknowledged the fact that conflict for most in Africa was a way of life. He underscored that Africans of different faith and tribes should come together and work for a common purpose -peace. The recruitment of child soldiers, rapes and other similar atrocities are despicable and that they are unacceptable in the 21st century. Obama had appreciated efforts being made by ECOWAS and AU’s peacekeeping efforts in particular. He further added that the US would support Africa in all of its efforts though all initiatives should remain under African command.
He concluded his speech by letting the African Youth know that the future laid in their hands and that its high time African leaders make available opportunities and ways for young people to have a say and participate in politics, socio-economic issues and in the overall development so as to build on the foundations of freedom.
Following the remarkable speech, discussions had set off on what had seemed a new direction US-Africa relation was about to take. Various viewpoints, comments and questions were entertained around the table. Some had pointed out that the building of institutions in Africa should be home-grown and whether if the four pillars in the President’s speech were really in order of importance. Strong points on the eradication of poverty had also been raised in the view that it is crucial to the development of democracy and peace since without economic emancipation the poor will always be held ‘hostage’ by politicians.
Though some were sceptical of the fact why the President had chosen Ghana for this particular speech, yet others pointed out that perhaps Obama was addressing the Ghanaian Parliament since it landed itself as a great example of a country that follows the rule of law and hence, by extension, the President was sending a message to the rest of Africa and its leaders, among whom corrupt ones preside.
Others have stressed the fact that Africa will need to hold up to the proposed US-Africa partnership since the continent will need help in addressing various issues like the massive flow of arms and their circulation within Africa, technological support and ‘clean’ industrialisation, resistance towards foreign intervention in general and of former colonial powers in particular.
Furthermore, participants had applauded the fact that the President had encouraged the Youth to get involved and yet had asserted that much more emphasis should be put on the matter. Lastly, others have pointed out that Obama had failed to address the food, climate and economic crisis affecting the continent and that infrastructure building and inter-connectivity of the various regions of Africa should have also been dealt with.
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