Infotmation and stories on Obama administration

In a recent landmark visit to Africa, President Obama pledged to all African nations that the United States was planning on reaffirming its efforts to bolster all aspects of African reform, ranging from economic to social reforms. Obama’s visit bared a theme of hope for the future of all African nations, as the President visited extensively with the African Union in their headquarters located in Ethiopia.

“Africa is on the move,” was the slogan repeatedly used by President Obama throughout his time on the African continent. The ideology behind this phrase comes from the recognition of African reform in taking steps forward regarding technological improvements as well as economic developments. An article by the Guardian stated, “Politicians and entrepreneurs love to point out that the old stereotypes of war, famine and hopelessness have been replaced by some of the fastest growing economies in the world, as if they are the first to discover it.” Obama was quick to shed light on Africa’s new image in the 21st century during his time on the continent.

Homophobia across Africa was a big issue of conversation for Obama during his visit to Africa. The President made it a point to relate the topic of homosexuality in a social context to the African Union. According to the same article by the Guardian, “The president compared homophobia in Africa with racism in America.” Obama’s stance was one of progressiveness towards a typically close-minded group, but the President used his immense popularity in Africa due to his Kenyan roots to connect with the people. The media response to Obama’s message was extremely positive with many outlets beginning to call for reform on their own.

In addition to speaking out against homophobia, Obama also spent time championing for women’s rights. An article by All Africa was quoted as saying, “[Obama] added that Africa has to attach due emphasis to women and girls because unless girls are educated and given opportunity to be innovators, engineers, doctors, business women, it will be difficult to the continent to bring about change.” The President arrived in Africa to push an agenda that would help Africa as a whole rise up to a new level of social reform and is walking away with satisfaction.

Diego Catala

Sources: All Africa, The Guardian
Photo: Flickr


On a recent visit to London, Michelle Obama unveiled a new international plan to improve girls’ education. Obama’s Let Girls Learn Initiative aims to bring quality education to girls around the world. To kick off the initiative, Obama announced a new $200 million partnership between the United States and the United Kingdom.

The new partnership will be a joint effort by both countries to properly allocate funds to the countries with the greatest educational needs. The first projects will help 450,000 children in the Democratic Republic of Congo receive a primary school education, with benefits also going to Sierra Leone and Liberia.

In developing areas like these, girls often lack access to proper education. In total, there are approximately 62 million girls around the world today that are not in school. Even worse, half of this uneducated female population is made up of adolescents.

Looking ahead, the First Lady’s multi-million-dollar program is expected to benefit more than 755,000 girls between the ages of 10 and 18 over the next five years. Through bilateral collaboration, girls will be provided with access to education.

The plan includes enrolling students in accelerated primary school programs, reducing barriers to school access and mobilizing parental and community support. It will also focus on improving the quality of teaching materials and methods.

The partnership will also encourage other advocacy organizations to collaborate with one another in order to find the best solutions to improve girls’ education worldwide in terms of quality and access.

Shortly after the initiative was originally announced in March, the White House released a statement saying, “When a girl receives a quality education, she is more likely to earn a decent living, raise a healthy, educated family, and improve the quality of life for herself, her family, and her community.”

This press release highlights the connection between girls’ education and even larger, more deeply rooted worldwide problems. It is in the world’s poorest areas that girls’ education suffers the worst deficiencies. Improved education could bring improvements in other important areas as well.

Rocco Blume of the charity Plan International U.K. points out that improved education for girls could result in an influx of contributions to developing economies and impoverished communities. In fact, targeting issues like girls’ education is key in tackling other challenges like poverty and maternal health.

Countries with more girls in secondary school tend to have lower maternal mortality rates, lower infant mortality rates, lower rates of HIV/AIDS and better child nutrition. These facts stand at the foundation of the Let Girls Learn Initiative and the core of the U.S.-U.K. partnership.

Poverty is one small word for one incomprehensibly large problem. It must be tirelessly chipped away at, piece-by-piece. The worldwide effort to combat poverty is strengthened by zeroing in on particular issues like girls’ education. Hopefully, this new partnership will spark increasingly focused on international collaboration.

– Sarah Bernard

Sources: CNN, Essence, Voice of America, The White House
Photo: eNCA

The main problem with congress is that there is an inability for Democrats and Republicans to agree on how best to handle poverty in the U.S. and around the globe.

In 1964 Lyndon Baines Johnson addressed a joint session of congress and introduced his war on poverty. He introduced poverty alleviation strategies that left a lasting legacy in the minds of the American public. He stated, “Some because of their poverty, and some because of their color, and all too many because of both. Our task is to help replace their despair with opportunity. This administration today, here and now, declares unconditional war on poverty in America.”

Today many Americans and people around the world reside in poverty. Some experts say that LBJ’s war on poverty was not a success, although it did bring the issue to the center stage for the first time on a national scale.

Today, parallels are being drawn between LBJ and Obama in their conviction to eradicate poverty.

Author Sasha Abromsky notes that President Obama, “understands the impact of poverty on people’s lives better than almost any other of his predecessors.” LBJ’s $20 trillion dollar strategy was much more aggressive than Obama’s poverty alleviation strategy. Obama supported economic packages that benefit those living in poverty, for example, the 2009 stimulus package increased funding for services such as food stamps. The Affordable Care Act is a safety net for Americans unable to afford the rising price of health care. Not only have his policies been aimed aid the poor, they also have prevented millions of Americans from falling into poverty.

Today, bipartisanship in congress remains the biggest obstacle for government assisted social service programs that support low income families. The fundamental problem remains that conservatives and neo-liberals hold vastly different beliefs when discussing the root problems of poverty. Liberals and neo-liberals believe that long-term poverty within certain demographics correlates with long-term structural problems and ongoing economic inequality within society. On the other hand conservatives and, most notably, conservatives like Paul Ryan hold that poverty is associated mainly with culture.

These distinctly different ideologies shed light on one of the reasons why Republicans and Democrats support separate economic and social service policies. The new Republican congress is pressing to reverse Obama’s second term packages that focused on providing substantial packages that supported the lower and lower middle classes. Obama’s policies show that he is aware of how the increasing income gap aversely affects low-income Americans. The Republican majority House and Senate has the ability to repeal legislation enacted during Obama’s terms in office.

It is likely that many of his bills will be on the chopping block next year.

– Maxine Gordon

Sources: NPR, New York Magazine Washington Post
Photo: Flickr

africa summit
On August 4, President Obama will welcome leaders from across the African continent to Washington, D.C. for a U.S.-Africa summit. The intercontinental meeting will run until the 6th and will feature a series of events that highlight America’s commitment to trade with new African democracies.

The summit will feature a theme of investment in the next generation.

Obama invited all heads of states in good standing with the United States. Egypt was extended a late invitation. An invitation was also extended to the African Union Chairperson, Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz.

The summit will begin on Monday with five Signature Events:

Civil Society Forum Signature Event:
The Civil Society Forum is to be hosted by Secretary of State John Kerry and will unite governmental leaders from the U.S. and all over Africa, as well as members of respective civil societies. The event will be split into three separate sections: an intercontinental dialogue, a keynote address and a Global Town Hall, which Kerry himself will moderate.

Investing in Women, Peace and Prosperity:
The Investing in Women, Peace and Prosperity event will highlight current women in African leadership roles, and discuss ways to ensure that future generations can continue this legacy.

Investing in Health: Investing in Africa’s Future:
This signature event will unite government officials from both continents, as well as Ministers of Health and senior health policy makers to envision a future of interrelated U.S. and African health policies.

Resilience and Food Security in a Changing Climate:
U.S. and African leaders will focus on food security and climate change. They will discuss ways in which poorer African countries can negate the impact of the global climate crisis.

Combating Wildlife Trafficking:
This signature event will unite leaders and see them strategize ways in which they can involve the youth in curbing poaching.

Day two will have the U.S. Department of Commerce and the Bloomberg Philanthropies co-host a U.S.-African Business forum. The purpose of the forum is to strengthen financial ties between the continents. As the name suggests, it places a special importance on engaging the American private sector with the African private sector.

On the final day, President Obama will meet with a number of African leaders in events all aimed at attracting youth to African politics.

Andrew John

Sources: Star Africa, Brookings, Whitehouse
Photo: AlJazeera

poverty in africa
A new report released by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) claims the Feed the Future program has bettered the lives of millions of people who suffer from poverty and chronic hunger. In 2013, Feed the Future reached 7 million farmers, teaching them how to achieve a higher crop yield by using new technologies, and provided vital nutrition to 12.5 million malnourished children.

The program, which is the U.S. government’s global health and food security initiative, was established by the Obama Administration in 2010 and aims to reduce extreme poverty and starvation around the world. Feed the Future asserts hunger and poverty are inextricably linked and cyclical, and breaking this cycle will promote global prosperity and stability. Currently, the initiative focuses on 19 countries, which were selected based on level of need, opportunity for partnership, potential for agricultural growth, opportunity for regional synergy and resource availability. These countries are located in Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean.

Feed the Future is led by USAID, and works alongside other federal agencies, including such organizations as the Peace Corps, the Millennium Challenge Corporation and the U.S. African Development Foundation, to achieve its goal of reducing poverty and hunger by at least 20 percent in each area that the program is established.

In order to break the poverty cycle, the program establishes important relationships with impoverished countries to strengthen their agricultural growth, empower women, educate people on proper nutrition and eco-friendly farming and create partnerships between the private sector, civil society and research community. By working on the ground, Feed the Future has made real, tangible progress.

Countries where Feed the Future has achieved the most success are Senegal, Bangladesh and Honduras. In Senegal, dependence on food imports has fallen significantly, specifically in regard to rice. The country’s rice imports have fallen by more than 20 percent and the country has grown enough rice to feed 400,000 Senegalese for one year. In Bangladesh, rice crop yields increased by 20 percent, and in Honduras, horticulture sales increased by 125 percent, which enabled more than 4,300 families to move above the poverty line of $1.25 a day.

In addition to these advancements, Feed the Future has also brought in billions of dollars of fundraising. For agricultural progress in African countries alone, $7 billion in private sector funds were raised. The organization also holds events, such as symposiums and summit meetings, to educate audience members on different branches of the initiative, and meet with world leaders to discuss further advancements of Feed the Future.

According to USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah, Feed the Future is not only “pioneering a new model of development,” but “delivering results that are changing the face of poverty and hunger.” The full progress report released by USAID can be found here.

– Taylor Lovett

Sources: All Africa, Feed the Future, The New York Times

President Obama has ordered an increase in U.S. involvement in the search for warlord Joseph Kony and members of his organization, the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA). This course of action follows the 2009 legislation that mandated the “support for increased, comprehensive U.S. efforts to help mitigate and eliminate the threat posed by the LRA to civilians and regional stability.”

Kony is infamous for his years of attacking central African villages, mutilating civilians and abducting children. He has been indicted by the International Criminal Court, but has not been sighted for “some time.” He is believed to be in the Central African Republic, where conflict and the absence of an effective government make it easy for him to hide.

The new aid package includes four CV-22 Ospreys, a type of tilt rotor aircraft with short takeoff and landing capabilities. They will be effective in taking quick action should Kony be sighted in central Africa. This marks the first incidence of military aircraft being deployed in the effort to find Kony. About 150 Air Force Special Operations forces will be in charge of flying and maintaining the aircraft.

U.S. officers will be in central Africa to provide “information, advice, and assistance” to the African Union military task force that is already looking for Kony. The search spans across Uganda, the Central African Republic, South Sudan and Congo.

As with the troops that Obama sent to support the search for Kony in 2011, the new batch of U.S. personnel will be combat-equipped, but prohibited from engaging LRA forces except in cases of self-defense. The addition of these troops brings the total of all U.S. forces in Uganda to 300.

Although the LRA poses no direct threat to the U.S., the Obama administration sees this mission as a helpful way to build partnerships with African governments in a region that is ripe for the development of terrorist organizations such as al-Qaeda.

— Madisson Barnett

Sources: The Washington Post, USA Today

Growing up in Ireland, Samantha Power would come home after school and 
practice erasing her Dublin accent to speak more “American.” To her, the “the American flag was the symbol of fortune and of freedom”.

Power immigrated to America with her brother and mother, and eventually gradated from Yale University in 1993. After her graduation and before attending Harvard Law School, she covered the Yugoslav Wars as a freelance journalist for several years, experiencing firsthand the horrors of war, and the inaction by the U.S. government.

In 2003, her book “A Problem from Hell: America and the Age of Genocide,” won the Pulitzer Prize for general non-fiction. What began as a Harvard law school paper, her book analyzes 20th century genocides and strongly criticizes governments, especially the U.S. government, for failing to recognize and prevent genocides (e.g. Bosnia, Rwanda).

Power joined President Obama as a foreign policy fellow in 2005, when he was still a senator. During his 2008 presidential campaign, she resigned as a senior foreign policy adviser when it was revealed that she referred to Hillary Clinton a “monster” during an interview, which she wrongly believed was off the record. She was in fact directing that comment towards Clinton’s campaign policies.

As part of the National Security Council, she was instrumental in the United States’ decision to intervene militarily in Libya, in expanding President Obama’s human rights approaches, creating the Atrocities Prevention Board in the White House, and drawing the world’s attention to the brutalities in war-torn countries. She supports open government and the doctrine, the “Responsibility to Protect” (R2P).

The “Responsibility to Protect” doctrine urges nations to interfere in a country’s internal affairs, potentially with military force, to “thwart genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity, or ethnic cleansing.” This doctrine is significant because it places a responsibility on the international community to protect not only their own citizens, but also for individuals around the world. Starting from the war crime trials after World War II, leaders and governments found that they could be held accountable and punished for their actions. The idea of a sovereign country having the power to do whatever they want to do is no longer feasible in the 21st century.

At 43 years old, Power is the youngest US ambassador to the United Nations in history. She has focused on UN reform, women’s rights and human rights, human trafficking, while supporting refugees and promoting democracy.

Since her July confirmation hearing, she has been continuously wearing a simple bracelet on her wrist, engraved with the word “fearlessness.” From her visits to the Central African Republic, to crossing illegally into Darfur, and to her speeches in human rights communities, she has demonstrated continuously that she is fearless.

”When innocent life is being taken on such a scale and the United States has the power to stop the killing at reasonable risk, it has a duty to act,” said Power. 

– Sarah Yan

Sources: Washinton Post, Discover the Networks

One of President Obama’s most important initiatives in the Latin American region has been the 100K Strong in the Americas Program. This program was launched in March 2011, and seeks to increase international study in the Western Hemisphere. The idea is to foster a common understanding between the peoples of the Americas in the hopes of bettering inter-American relations.

The Department of State has partnered with the Association of International Educators (NAFSA), and Partners of the Americas, a development agency, in order to realize this vision. The program works by establishing a network of partnerships with foreign governments, universities, and colleges, and the private sector to increase foreign student participation in the U.S. and U.S. student participation in the Americas. The goal of the program is to reach 100,000 Latin American students studying in the U.S. and 100,000 U.S. students studying in Latin America by 2021.

In order to finance this venture, the State Department has set up the 100K Strong in the Americas Innovation Fund, whereby companies can donate money to Latin American and U.S. universities in order to improve cross-cultural student exchange. By current figures, 40,000 U.S. students study in Latin America and the Caribbean while 66,000 Latin American students study in the U.S. each year. Clearly there is work still to be done.

One large obstacle is the fact that many Latin Americans from poorer backgrounds do not have the necessary grasp on the English language that is required to succeed at a U.S. college or university. On the other hand, many U.S. students do not understand or recognize the value of studying abroad at Latin American colleges or universities.

It is hoped that the public-private sector partnership through the Innovation Fund will be able to increase the numbers of students studying in the U.S. and in Latin America.

Through the 100K Strong in the Americas program the U.S. hopes to construct a more understanding relationship between Latin Americans and the U.S. Enhancing cross-cultural contact is necessary for a better working relationship within the hemisphere in the future. By promoting this contact between the future leaders of the Americas, the U.S. is ensuring more successful diplomatic efforts down the line.

– Jeff Meyer

Sources: 100K Strong, U.S. Department of State, U.S. Department of State
Photo: US Embassy

In a report released by the UN Human Rights Committee (UNHRC), the United States was found to be in violation of previously established human rights law. The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights was placed into effect in the mid-1970s as international law and the U.S. has failed to uphold it with practices including torture in Guantanamo Bay, drone strikes and massive surveillance practices.

The U.S. has already broken United Nations charters multiple times with military interventions in the Middle East.

Bulk data collection however, has become one of the major domestic human rights violations following Edward Snowden’s whistleblowing of the NSA program. The UNHRC urged the U.S. to remove their surveillance program, as it is a major violation of the right to privacy.

Moreover, the surveillance spotlight in the U.S. is not limited to the NSA. The UN Congressional Intelligence Committees have addressed surveillance by executive agencies in the past, but have failed to produce any action—until just recently.

The Senate Intelligence Committee, tasked with overseeing intelligence agencies in the executive branch such as the National Security Agency and the Central Intelligence Agency, have made allegations that the CIA spied on computers that the committee had used. The allegations have thus sparked ongoing conflict between the two branches of government and human rights advocates are stepping into the ring.

A 6,300 page long Senate Intelligence Committee report on the CIA “enhanced interrogation” program is waiting to be voted on for release. The report covers highly controversial interrogation tactics and is expected to be sent to President Barack Obama’s desk for approval to be publicly released. The Senate Intelligence Committee’s Chairwoman, Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) has also said there is currently enough support for the vote to pass; however, the official vote is set to occur later in the week.

Concerning the release of the controversial report, President Barack Obama stated, “I would urge them to go ahead and complete the report and send it to us, and we will declassify those findings so that the American people can understand what happened in the past.”

– Jugal Patel

Sources: Politico, The Huffington Post, Foreign Policy, The Guardian, The Washington Post
Photo: Popular Resistance

Greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions have been identified as having a significant impact on environmental problems through changes in the climate. Although carbon dioxide is the most abundant anthropogenic greenhouse gas in the atmosphere, United States President Barack Obama’s administration has begun taking steps to decrease methane emissions.

Methane makes up only 9 percent of the nation’s greenhouse gas pollution, yet it has 20 times the potency of carbon dioxide. This allows for the gas to have a significant impact on the global climate. Moreover, methane emissions largely come from leaks in oil and natural gas production, various agricultural processes and melting permafrost.

During a 2009 United Nations climate change conference, Obama declared that the U.S. would decrease its GHG emissions 17 percent by 2020. Since then, environmentalists have argued that a substantial reduction of climate change impacts would require methane emissions to be addressed. And although a methane reduction strategy has been around for a while, the natural gas industry has been able to expand rapidly regardless of its connection to methane emissions.

The White House has stated that the Environmental Protection Agency plans to assess methane emissions and develop a strategic plan of action that is proportionate to the severity of impacts.

Reducing methane pollution may require for regulatory actions to be taken towards the oil and natural gas industry. If that is the case, there will be more of a need for U.S. to realize its renewable energy potential. This means the U.S. government would have to take meaningful steps to allow for offshore wind to develop on the Atlantic coast with solar and geothermal energy expansion in the West. It is possible, but political will and coordination on multiple levels of both the public and private sector will be necessary.

A shale-gas revolution has defined contemporary energy policy. Abundance in natural gas seemingly allowed for the heavy-emitting coal industry to be phased out for cleaner energy sources. However, analysis on methane’s impact on the global climate indicates that the effects are still significant and the GHG has to be reduced.

Therefore, with the Obama administration’s announcement of plans to cut methane emissions, it seems as though renewable energy would be the ideal avenue for energy policy.

– Jugal Patel

Sources: Reuters, New York Times
Photo: Ars Technica