More than a year into the job, Barack Obama – Africa’s president – is finally focussing some of his attention on the continent. He has displayed a surprising lack of interest in Africa until now, to the palpable disappointment of many in the aid and development community, who saw him as a some kind of saviour. What he could do, no one was quite sure, but everyone thought he would do something.
And he had quite an act to follow. For all his faults, George Bush’s Africa policy was generally effective. Staying away from politics and overt policy interventions, his administration – under the direction of African secretary Jendayi Frazer – quietly got on with the business of fixing things, particularly in the HIV/Aids arena. Obama has not continued where Bush left off. He’s cut funding for Bush’s HIV/Aids program, and shown little sign that Africa is high on his admittedly large list of priorities. not much African in the African-American, some say derisively.
Today, however, he made his first move by signing a strange bill into law. Basically, the law targets Joseph Kony and his followers of the Lords Resistance Army (LRA), the particularly vicious rebel-without-a-cause group whose modus operandi is to wander freely between Uganda, Sudan and the DRC, raping and pillaging at will. The law calls for a “comprehensive strategy with regional governments for dealing with the rebels, including steps to protect the civilian population, provide humanitarian assistance, apprehend the LRA leaders and disarm its followers within six months.”
This is a very wishy-washy piece of legislation. For a start, the USA is already involved in the fight against the LRA, with their Africom command center helping with intelligence. Realistically, they’re not going to do much more – I don’t foresee any American troops being deployed in Northern Uganda. So how exactly do they intend to finish the group off in six short months? That’s by the end of November. And given the fact that the LRA hop borders at will, and thrive in countries where the USA is not exactly powerful or popular (I’m thinking particularly of Sudan), they can escape to a fairly secure hideaway anytime they want.
This is just a meaningless piece of public relations. There are plenty of ways that the USA can be extremely effective in Africa. Merely continuing Bush Junior’s legacy would have been an achievement; by rolling back those policies, and replacing it with public relations nonsense, Obama is swiftly losing his African credentials.
On a side note: the Lord’s Resistance Army has always fascinated me. Joseph Kony sounds like a messianic figure, a devil incarnate; he seems to exert a mystical hold over his followers. And never forget that everything they do is in the name of Jesus; just as Islam has its extremists, so does Christianity, and I don’t think it would be difficult to argue that the LRA out-extremes anything Al-Qaeda or the Taliban have done.