National Public Radio’s Ari Shapiro reported that President Barack Obama had done “little” for Africa thus far in his presidency–then attempted to excuse Obama’s inaction as the result of circumstances beyond his control. Obama’s “dance card” was full, said Shapiro, with two wars, an economy in trouble, and so on. Yet President George W. Bush faced similar circumstances and made Africa a clear focus of his foreign policy.
Bush is acknowledged as having saved millions of lives through his aggressive funding of HIV/Aids treatment in Africa. He also took a keen interest in ending the civil war in the Sudan, and helped usher long-time autocrat Daniel arap Moi out of office in Kenya in a democratic transition. Bush’s one mistake was trusting South African president Thabo Mbeki to resolve the Zimbabwe crisis. Otherwise, his record was exemplary.
Many Africa observers, even on the left, acknowledge that Bush was the greatest U.S. president that Africa has ever had. That is a reality that Shapiro and NPR somehow cannot acknowledge when evaluating Obama’s paltry record, which consists of grand speeches about how Africa will help lead the twenty-first century, and little else, while China makes rapid advances in its own diplomatic and economic ties on the continent.
The NPR story is at least honest enough to note that African optimism about Obama had been “misplaced.” Yet Shapiro refuses to place responsibility for that failure where it belongs–on the media that deified Obama before day one, and on Obama himself. Perhaps he thought he could rely on Africa’s support; perhaps he (foolishly) feared a conservative backlash. Regardless, Obama’s poor Africa record is no one else’s fault.