Dear Obama Administration

20137121573583734_20
An Open Letter to the Obama Administration

On June 30th, the Obama administration announced the “Power Africa” initiative. This initiative plans to “double access to power in sub-Saharan Africa “(“Fact Sheet”) by committing “more than $7 billion in financial support over the next five years” (“Fact Sheet”). The goal of this mission was to bring power to connect their people to the promise of the 21st century (“Africa”). This initiative promises “access to electricity that is fundamental to opportunity in this age. It’s the light that children study by; the energy that allows an idea to be transformed into a real business “(“Africa”).
On the surface, this initiative looks and sounds good, very similar to many humanitarian aid organization projects. However, as in War Games and Emergency Sex, we learn that decisions are not always as they appear on the surface. In order to get a true picture of the situation and determine if any ulterior motives might exist, we must be willing to research and dig.

Just days before the announcement of this initiative, Obama appeared in Johannesburg in front of a town meeting. In this meeting, he praised former South African President Nelson Mandela, spoke of the bright future of Africa’s economy, provided a warning in the fight against terrorism, discussed America’s ambitions, and discussed the issue of global warming. It seems as though his trip and speech in Africa served as a propaganda campaign leading into the announcement. This reinforces the thought that this initiative has a much deeper undertone than simply helping a developing nation or providing humanitarian aid. What are the underlying undertones that can be learned from his speech in combination with this initiative? Let’s take a look.

The first thing that stood out was the fact that this speech mentioned global warming. This discussion referred to carbon emissions as a reason for the world’s climate change. Why are we discussing carbon emissions with other countries? The US is biggest reason for non-environmental carbon emission. While we have made strides in reducing our carbon footprint, we must look to the US first in improving this. It appears as the pot calling the kettle black when we go around and outwardly warn countries about vehicles and air conditioners and carbon emissions. This just seems like a point that could be discussed on a different platform and involve our progress as opposed to putting it off on a developing country. It seemed almost like this point was discussed in an attempt to be a preface for “clean energy” and go along with the initiative.

A second point that stood out was the praise that Obama expressed about former South African President Nelson Mandela. Mandela is widely recognized as the “founding father of the country’s modern democracy” (Wikipedia) .In Emergency Sex, we learn more about the effort that was provided from humanitarian aid organizations and the US in implementing a vote to overthrow the current government in Cambodia with the hopes of converting them to democracy. Could this visit and initiative have a political agenda? Recently, China has been seen making a presence in Africa. China is classified as communist state (“The World Factbook”). The initiative is neglecting the non-sub-Saharan countries, which are considered part of the Arab world (Wikipedia). These facts show that there does appear to be political reasons for this initiative and also discredits Obama’s praise of Mandela in his speech.

The third point that stood out was the discussion of Africa’s economy. Businesses in Africa already exist, are successful, and prosper on their current available power. The initiative looks to bolster this by doubling the access to power, but is this what Africa wants? A lot of the land in Africa consists of desert, rain forests, and plains. Many of the people that inhabit these areas are tribes and native people who would not benefit from this initiative. Is America pushing our ideology of what the world should be in the 21st century on other countries? It would appear as though we are pushing our modern traditions and ideals on people whose day to day lives differ than ours.

The last point that stood out was the fact that Obama stated that this was not an attempt to expand military reach and brought issue up of terrorism up. In the Eyes of Others, we learned about the problems that can arise when humanitarian aid workers are unable to be identified in aid situations. This initiative provides aid to Africa, in a different form, but because of the possible political reasons that exist, can lead to the misidentification of the African people as targets.

While this initiative outwardly appears as a feel good, look at America helping another developing country story, it does have its ulterior motives. The easiest motive to point out is the political one. The hope of finding an ally in the fight on terror can lead to the targeting of not only the Americans helping in this initiative, but can also put the people of Africa at risk. This initiative doesn’t address the real issue of if this is actually what Africa needs. This initiatives main purpose is to improve the future of the people of Africa. How much will they prosper from this future if they still do not have access to medicines or vaccines? Will there be a future if there are more pressing needs that $7 billion could be applied to, but are neglected to achieve an American goal?

It is understandable, logical, and rational to enter into any situation with ulterior motives. It is also naïve to think that everything in running the government is black and white. Someone not directly involved with the government, without knowledge of exact foreign policies, or the volatility of those relationships can easily be dismissed. However, the most basic of questions is ignored by this initiative, and in many aid efforts. Is this what these people need or is it what we want to them to have? Does this serve in their best interest or in ours?

Chris Dove
Elon University Student

Works Cited:

Abu-Sada, Caroline. In the Eyes of Others. United States: MSF-USA, n.d. Print.

“Africa: Obama Promises U.S. $7 Billion Investment in Power Grids.” AllAfrica. AllAfrica, 01 July 2013. Web. 02 July 2013. <http://allafrica.com/stories/201307010610.html>.

Cain, Kenneth, Heidi Postlewait, and Andrew Thomson. Emergency Sex and Other Desperate Measures: A True Story From Hell on Earth. New York: Hyperion, 2004. Print.

Karimi, Faith, and Matt Smith. “Obama Pledges $7 Billion to Upgrade Power in Africa.” CNN. CNN, 30 June 2013. Web. 02 July 2013. <http://www.cnn.com/2013/06/30/world/africa/south-africa-obama-pledge/>.

“Obama Backs ‘new Model’ for Africa in Tanzania Speech.” BBC News. BBC, 01 July 2013. Web. 02 July 2013. <http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-23133214>.

Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete (R) and US President Barack Obama met to discuss trade possibilities [AFP]. N.d. Photograph. AljazeeraWeb. 3 Jul 2013. <http://www.aljazeera.com/mritems/Images/2013/7/1/20137121573583734_20.jpg>.

The White House. Office of the Press Secretary. Fact Sheet: Power Africa. The White House. N.p., 30 June 2013. Web. 02 July 2013. <http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2013/06/30/fact-sheet-power-africa>.

“The World Factbook.” Central Intelligence Agency. Central Intelligence Agency, 12 May 2013. Web. 3 Jul 2013. <https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/ch.html>.

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