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BUSINESS EXCHANGE: Africans Come to America

William Reed | 8/6/2014, 3 p.m.
As he winds through his second term with high "disapproval" numbers, Blacks are the only people President Barack Obama can ...
William Reed

As he winds through his second term with high “disapproval” numbers, Blacks are the only people President Barack Obama can turn to. As we enter August, a third of America’s voters think Obama is the worst president since World War II. Except for Blacks providing an upside, the first African-American president of the United States’ image is one of inexperience and ineptness. With his domestic and foreign policy portfolios both in tatters, Obama has turned to Blacks for support. This time it’s leaders from African nations that are “in good standing” with America. As he holds history’s first U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit, Obama is hosting 50 African heads of state and more than 100 of their ministers.

Recent domestic polls have Obama being viewed as “less competent” and “more dishonest” than George W. Bush. Obama’s approval rating among American registered voters stands at 45 percent, but among Blacks, his job approval soars to 86 percent. Almost nine out of every 10 African American would support Obama no matter what, no matter how far America sinks under his leadership, even if they have no jobs and their own lives are in shambles. Seventy percent of Africans say pretty much the same about Obama.

The three-day Summit is the largest event any U.S. president has held with African heads of state and government. Those Africans coming to America for the Summit will be displaying the latest fashions, prints and styles of the continent. But, not much of substance is expected. It’s a “photo-op” to help Blacks, from here and there, feel good and in charge. Truth is, China, which devotes half of its $14.41 billion aid budget to its projects on the continent, regularly hosts individual African heads of state and has far outpaced the U.S. in trade and everything economic, in Africa. The structure of today’s trade relations between the U.S. and Africa is primarily dominated by fuel and fuel-related products.

Colonialist countries exploited Africa for centuries. As “the Black President,” Obama gets a “pass” for America’s colonial practices, but little else. These days China is the “most dominate” foreign country in Africa. The Africans are being very polite in coming to America because little else will come of the occasion other than a “Polaroid moment.” Obama has a long way to go to put America on economic par with China among Africans.

The African continent is home to more than a billion people that speak more than 2,000 languages. Only a few of Africa’s 54 leaders – Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe, who is still the target of U.S. sanctions and the Sudanese whom the U.S. bombed and assisted in the separation of South Sudan – were not invited to the Summit.

U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman is hosting the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) Ministerial at the World Bank. Obama’s Power Africa initiative is a key Summit issue item.  “Power” is one of Africa’s most pressing challenges. According to the World Bank, only a quarter of sub-Saharan Africa has access to electricity and 10 percent per-year capacity growth is needed to meet electricity demand.

A Summit Business Forum will be presented by the Department of Commerce and Bloomberg Philanthropies. The Senate Foreign Relations and House Foreign Affairs Committees will host a Capitol Hill welcoming reception.  The key Blacks on African issues there are U.S. Rep. Karen Bass (D-Calif.), the Ranking Member on the U.S. House of Representatives' Subcommittee on Africa and the Republican majority’s Gregory Simpkins the Subcommittee staff director, who says his main focus is: “increasing economic linkages between the U.S. and Africa.”

Summit planners say the discussions will encourage progress in areas that Africans define as critical for the continent’s future: “expanding trade and investment ties, engaging young African leaders, promoting inclusive sustainable development, expanding cooperation on peace and security, and gaining better futures for Africa’s next generation.”

“Everyone must understand that Africans aren’t looking for people to save them, but for people to partner with,” says Melvin Foote, head of the U.S.-based Constituency for Africa.

William Reed is publisher of “Who’s Who in Black Corporate America” and available for projects via the BaileyGroup.org.