A light where currently there is darkness: a clearer look at Obama’s intentions with the Power Africa movement


Obama was quoted saying this about the United States’ new initiative Power Africa, which seeks to bring electricity to Africa: “…a light where currently there is darkness; the energy to lift people out of poverty–that’s what opportunity looks like” (“Obama Promises…”). Obama has often been said to charismatic, and also has been criticized for using his skill to manipulate people into thinking what he intends is good. I believe that this holds true to the Power Africa initiative. Essentially the US plans to give 7 billion dollars to give electricity to the people of Africa, which from a distance, sounds all well and good. But if we really think about the situation, does Africa actually need electricity? Cities and businesses already thrive there. Obama claims that it will get rid of poverty and create jobs, but how exactly?

“Access to electricity is fundamental to opportunity in this age. It’s the light that children study by…” (“Obama Promises…”). According to well-known history, thousands of people studied by candle-light before the invention of electricity. Although I understand that electricity may be centered around in Western society, it is not right to assimilate African culture when they are content without the extensive use of electricity. As far as I am aware, no one asked what the African people wanted before throwing money at an unknown affliction. In the Eyes of Others focuses on what locals present in humanitarian aid areas wanted and saw and I think this idea of discovering what locals want is essential in any movement that claims to be humanitarian-based.

The African American descent president once excited global citizens into thinking that his interests would lie in Africa, but many were disappointed in his lack of attention until now. Some say he was sidetracked by focusing on the recession during his first term, but I argue that this new focus on Africa is not because of his personal background, but because of America seeking out new places to import oil from (Samatar).

The War on Terror has often been argued to have been initiated because of the United States’ interest in oil in that area. Because the area is becoming increasingly dangerous for the United States, others have moved into the area: “The withdrawal of US and Western oil companies from regions of unrest and conflict in Middle Eastern countries such as Sudan, Iraq and Libya pave the way for the entry of Chinese oil companies in these countries” (Shih). This is only the first evidence of oil competition between China and the United States, and this is not only occurring in the Middle East. US Senator James Talent says: “China is expanding its economic, diplomatic, political, and security presence in the Middle East…That engagement is of particular importance to the US, given our country’s interests and investments in that part of the world” (Shih). The same now is occurring in Africa.

“…China aggressively engages the continent, pouring billions of dollars into it and replacing the United States as Africa’s largest trading partner. Obama applauded China’s investment in Africa, saying he is ‘not threatened by it.'” (Karimi and Bernardini). Why would Obama even find it necessary to say he is not threatened by China’s investments in Africa? Clearly the situation is more like a competition between China and the United States for oil, because if the basis for Power Africa was humanitarian, the countries would seek to work together or applaud efforts. Another article shows the increase of China’s presence in Africa: “Although the US still gets a significant amount of its oil imports from Africa, China has gained a substantial foothold with new oil producers such as Ghana, Uganda and Sudan, and has made some headway with older ones” (Samatar).

The War on Terror has affected Africa more than the United States’ drive to seek more oil, but also through misplaced agenda. According to Samatar: “The Somali case is the clearest manifestation of such a misplaced agenda. Indigent people who were terrorised by warlords for nearly two decades decided to fight back and regain their dignity using their faith, Islam, as the principal mobilising tool. Once this became known, Western media and the terror bosses, and their regional allies, like Ethiopia, interpreted this movement as a terrorist menace” (Samatar). Misinterpretations of the Western media have happened like this before, which really end up severely hurting the victims and prolong war.

For instance, in War Games Polman discusses the situation in Biafra, where in 1967 Ojukwu, the governor, proclaimed Biafra an independent republic (it also happens to be one of Nigeria’s most oil-rich provinces) (Polman 106). The Nigerian government reacted by imposing a blockade of Biafra, which made it impossible to deliver food supplies which caused hunger (Polman 106). “In June 1968 he [Ojukwu] called in the Genevan PR company Markpress to mobilize world opinion in his favour with photographs and television images of starving children” (Polman 107). Ojukwu insisted this was a genocide against the Ibo people by the Nigerian government although up to 7 million were not within the blockade, but aid came anyway without knowing the full situation (Polman 107). Aid organizations were even forced by Ojukwu to pay for space to put their food and medicine supplies (which were mostly consumed by Ojukwu’s soldiers) and weapons were accumulated for Ojukwu’s army (Polman 107). The media has misconstrued our ideas on where crisises lie, and the United States has remained blind to the fact that they are causing more harm than good with their self-interested aid efforts.

If we truly want to make a difference without our own self-interest involved, we must keep what In the Eyes of Others has taught us from MSF’s study on its impacts and misconceptions: “Neutrality and impartiality, the studies show, are not theoretical concepts or pie-in-the-sky constructs; they are essential ingredients of effective humanitarian action” (“In the Eyes of Others…”). In other words, in order to truly make the world a better place, we need to refrain from looking for what benefits we can draw out of a situation, but instead make a true good impact on an area by doing what the locals say they need.


Works Cited:

“In the Eyes of Others: How People in Crises Perceive Humanitarian Aid.” In the Eyes of Others: How People in Crises Perceive Humanitarian Aid. N.p., n.d. Web. 11 June 2013. <http://www.doctorswithoutborders.org/publications/book/perceptions/>.

Karimi, Faith, and Laura Bernardini. “Obama Pledges $7 Billion to Upgrade Power in Africa.” CNN. Cable News Network, 30 June 2013. Web. 01 July 2013. <http://www.cnn.com/2013/06/30/world/africa/south-africa-obama-pledge/>.

“Obama Promises U.S. $7 Billion Investment in Power Grids.” All Africa. N.p., 1 July 2013. Web. 01 July 2013. <http://allafrica.com/stories/201307010610.html>.

Polman, Linda. War Games. London: Penguin, 2010. Print.

Samatar, Abdi Ismail. “Obama’s Africa Rhetoric: Beware!” Aljazerra. N.p., 27 June 2013. Web. 01 July 2013. <http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/2013/06/2013626141431344927.html>.

Shih, Toh Han. “Beijing ‘to Increase Reliance on Middle East Oil'” South China Morning Post. N.p., 10 June 2013. Web. 01 July 2013. <http://www.scmp.com/business/commodities/article/1257412/beijing-increase-reliance-middle-east-oil>.

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