President Obama kicked off his tour of three African countries with a visit to the coastal francophone nation of Senegal.  Although the visit to the small West African country was framed as a reward for regional leadership and democratic successes, Obama did face a few challenges on the first stop of his week-long African trip.

Six years and only one African visit after his initial election, the Obama-mania of the continent has cooled substantially.  And while Obama was greeted by crowds of proud Senegalese wearing ‘Welcome Home, Mr. President’ t-shirts, some critics expressed concerns over the government-sanctioned ‘sanitization’ of the usually chaotic capital of Dakar in preparation for Obama’s arrival.

Despite the polished front, poverty, hunger and lack of opportunity are still the reality for the majority of Senegalese living on the fringe, and many citizens are hopeful that Obama’s visit is a sign of increased partnership and aid to come.  In his speech, however, Obama focused primarily on questions regarding domestic issues, not regional economic development.

Also on the agenda was a visit by the President and First Lady to the House of Slaves on Gorée Island, a UNESCO site and infamous historical slave trade hub where thousands of enslaved Africans were held before being shipped across the Atlantic.  Obama called the sobering visit to the site ‘…a powerful moment,’ and spoke of the importance of taking action on human rights and issues of equality.

President Obama also spoke encouragingly of Africa’s global importance as a continent full of potential. ‘The reason I came to Africa is because Africa is rising,’ Mr. Obama said. ‘And it is in the United States’ interests — not simply in Africa’s interests — that the United States don’t miss the opportunity to deepen and broaden the partnerships and potential here.’

He continued, ‘This is going to be a continent that is on the move. It is young. It is vibrant and full of energy. And there’s a reason why a lot of other countries around the world are spending a lot of time here.’

The President’s trip to Africa also included visits to Tanzania and South Africa and marked an important effort at shaping policy on trade, security, and human rights in the region.

– David Wilson

Sources: New York Times, USA Today
Photo: Breitbart

Obama in Senegal
President Obama’s first stop on his trip to Africa was Senegal, a fitting choice for a president who has made agriculture and food security major issues during his presidency. Senegal’s recent progress, which the President mentioned during his speech in Dakar, exemplifies the promise of the President’s approach to agriculture and food security.

In recent years, Senegal has made great strides in improving the standard of living for its citizens. The country has reduced poverty dramatically and is on track to halve the proportion of the population whose income is less than $1.25 per day.

Senegal’s government has also prioritized spending on agriculture. Agriculture expenditures represented 109.6 million, or 9.5% of the government’s total spending for 2011. Between 2003 and 2009, Senegal spent an average of 12.1% of the budget on agriculture. This increased spending has translated into strong growth for the sector.

The United States has played a large role in Senegal’s improvements and will continue to support the country. The U.S. plans to continue supporting programs that improve farmer productivity. With U.S. support, Senegal’s national agriculture plan emphasizes strengthening crop productivity through the distribution of seeds, fertilizers, and tools.

The private sector of the United States can also play a crucial role in the development of the agricultural sector of Senegal. In the President’s remarks in Dakar, he said he looks forward to Senegal joining the G8’s New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition later this year. The New Alliance’s model combines pro-investment policies committed to by African governments, substantial private sector investments to strengthen agricultural productivity for smallholder farms, and donor government support for country-led plans.

– Matthew Jackoski

Source: ABC News, ONE
Photo: Global Post


President Obama promised more funds dedicated to developing electrical power in Africa during his recent trip to the continent. His plan, named Power Africa, aims to double the electrical power available in Sub-Saharan Africa through public and private investments.

Currently, only one-third of the population living in Sub-Saharan Africa has access to electricity. In rural areas, as much as 85% of the population is living without power. Lack of electricity “inhibits business investment, prevents children from studying after dark, and makes it harder to keep vaccines from spoiling in rural areas”.

Power Africa has dedicated $7 billion of American funds to expand the accessibility of electricity in the continent, in addition to $9 billion that is expected to be provided by the private sector. It is anticipated that small and large companies alike will help make the investment in African electricity, as the investment helps produce jobs in America. With better access to electricity, African nations will increase economic productivity and become more connected to the global economy, creating a larger potential market for American exports. The investment will also create better relations with the continent, which is also working with China on a number of development projects.

President Obama states that his proposed project “is not charity; [it] is self-interest.” His main incentive in promoting the project is to create trade with the continent and to encourage using green technologies to power the continent. Most of the African continent is well-suited for the use of solar panels to generate electricity, providing electricity without producing greenhouse gases. Large deposits of natural gas are also found in the continent, providing a cleaner alternative than generating energy by burning coal or gasoline.

The United States will first begin implementing Power Africa in Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Liberia, Nigeria, and Tanzania. It will also work with Uganda and Mozambique to develop “oil and gas management”.

 – Jordan Kline
Source: Reuters, NPR
Photo: Breitbart

USAID Launches Infrastructure Fund for Africa

The Administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), Rajiv Shah, the President of the African Development Bank (AfDB), Donald Kaberuka, and the Swedish Minister for International Development Cooperation, Gunilla Carlsson, recently announced a new fund called the Agriculture Fast Track. The Agriculture Fast Track is a $25 million fund that will spur greater private investment in agricultural infrastructure projects in sub-Saharan Africa. The Agriculture Fast Track fund is the first of its kind.

The announcement was made at the Grow Africa Forum in South Africa. Grow Africa is a partnership of the African Union, the New Partnership for Africa’s Development, and the World Economic Forum. It works with eight African countries to engage governments, civil society, and the private sector to advance sustainable agricultural growth.

The Agriculture Fast Track will spur agriculture infrastructure development in countries that are members of the New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition, strengthening the links from farmers to markets to tables. It will also finance upstream work of project design, including feasibility studies, market analyses, site surveys, business plans, financial modeling, and other activities necessary to ensure project quality and bank-ability by supporting each project with up to $1.5 million. These project preparation grants will ultimately facilitate access to more funding for agriculture infrastructure because banks and other investors require this documentation to issue commercial loans.

The New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition was launched last year by President Obama at the G-8 summit and includes six member countries: Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire, Ethiopia, Ghana, Mozambique, and Tanzania. The New Alliance matches market-oriented regulatory reforms in these six countries with $3.7 billion in commitments from the private sector in agriculture.

The fund will be managed by the African Development Bank with the USAID pledging $15 million and the Government of Sweden, pledging $10 million, respectively.

Shah said, “Since the New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition was founded last year, we’ve seen member countries make serious reforms that have led to real progress. The launch of the Agriculture Fast Track allows African farmers to take advantage of these reforms through fast-tracked infrastructure projects that will better deliver their products to markets.”

Carlsson noted, “By targeting the project preparation stage of projects, the Agriculture Fast Track will advance infrastructure projects when funding is most acutely needed to pivot from planning to construction. This targeted approach allows us to catalyze significantly more private sector investments and ensure the highest standards in terms of social and environmental sustainability.”

–  Essee Oruma

Source: USAID

agriculture u.s. data-sharing g8 crop

U.S. Agriculture Secretary, Tom Vilsack, announced a new U.S. data sharing network for food, agriculture and rural issues.  This announcement is in accordance with the agreement among G8 members, USA, Japan, UK, Germany, France, Canada, Russia, Italy, and the European Union, to share agriculture data at the G8 Summit at Camp David in 2012. Vilsack stated that “Greater access to data also can increase individuals’ access to food and provide ladders of opportunity for improved incomes.” The public will be able to easily find, download, and use data sets generated by the U.S. government free of charge.

“This new, virtual community will enable entrepreneurship, empowerment and better participation in solving our global challenges,” Vilsack said. Information such as weather conditions, nutritional content of crops, and crop growth can be shared through the network. The network is here and is formatted so that any machine can read it. However, the data sharing network is only available in the English language.

According to Vilsack, the U.S., the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the World Bank are working together to develop a model that uses open data from satellites to monitor vegetation growth which could help pinpoint where disease-carrying insects are and prevent crop damage. This data sharing will thus spread critical research and information.

President Obama noted that, “Creating a platform to effectively share key data and the tools to analyze it is a critical next step in confronting the fight against hunger and fulfilling the promise of the New Alliance.”

– Essee Oruma

Source: IIP Digital

dennis and kim

Last month, ex-NBA basketball player, Dennis Rodman, did what many political leaders will never have the opportunity to do. He made the long trip over to North Korea and met with its mysterious and very powerful leader, Kim Jong Un.

North Korea is known for its isolation, yet, recently, has begun to make huge headlines in the United States. North Korea and the United States have never been allies and tension between the two countries have existed for years. North Korea’s nuclear test last month has only increased this tension, making new threats against American military bases in Japan and in Guam even more pressing and serious. The threat came earlier this month from a spokesperson for the Supreme Command of the North Korean People’s Army, who said “the U.S. should not forget that the Andersen Air Force Base on Guam, where B-52s take off, and naval bases in Japan proper and Okinawa, where nuclear-powered submarines are launched, are within the striking range of the D.P.R.K.’s precision strike means.” Videos depicting the White House and Congress buildings being blown up have recently come out of North Korea.

Yet, even with all of this, communication between President Obama and Kim Jong Un has been very little. In fact, any communication on the matter, is made through the media. The spokesperson for the Supreme Command of the North Korean People’s Army made his statement to the state-run Korean Central News Agency. The Pentagon retaliated by making a rare announcement about the missions nucelar-capable B-52 bombers have and will continue to take over South Korea.

Chances of any U.S. political official making his or her way to a police state, such as North Korea is very rare. And, yet, Dennis Rodman recently acted as an ambassador for the Harlem Globetrotters, flying to North Korea to meet and spend two days with Kim Jong Un.

Dennis Rodman has come back with a lot of insight into Kim Jong Un, making it seem as if the North Korean dictator is willing to speak directly with President Obama to meet some sort of peace agreement. He even offered advice to Kim Jong Un in talking to President Obama, saying, “[Kim] loves basketball. And I said the same thing, I said, ‘Obama loves basketball.’ Let’s start there.” While President Obama has not made any efforts to talk to Kim Jong Un, Dennis Rodman has been making his rounds to talk about his trip to North Korea, appearing on many talk and news shows. Recently he appeared on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno and referred to Kim Jong Un as his friend and a nice guy. In an interview on “This Week,” Dennis Rodman on talking about Kim Jong Un said, “I love him. He’s awesome.”

Whether or not Dennis Rodman’s knowledge of North Korea and Kim Jong Un will be helpful to the United States in its dispute with North Korea is unknown as U.S. State Department officials have no plans to debrief the former basketball star. Former deputy assistant secretary of state, Col. Steve Ganyard, finds this ridiculous as  “There is nobody at the CIA who can tell you more personally about Kim Jong Un than Dennis Rodman.”

-Angela Hooks

Sources: CNN, NY Times, ABC News
Photo: CBS News

More US Aid to Jordan to Help With Syrian Refugees

The Civil War in Syria has driven thousands of people out of the country and into Jordan. This has resulted in major problems in Jordan as they try to figure out what to do with all of the Syrian refugees. Recently, President Barack Obama made a public announcement offering $200 million in U.S. aid to help with the Syrian refugees in Jordan.

This pledge from Barack Obama for foreign aid money comes at an interesting time as it follows the extensive budget cuts recently put in place by the United States Congress. However, President Obama seems adamant on offering aid money to Jordan for basic services to help place and educate displaced Syrians, saying he will work with Congress to find a way to give $200 million extra dollars in U.S. aid. According to  Jordan’s King Abdullah II, whom Obama met with on Friday, March 22, more than 460,000 Syrians have fled their country in search of refuge within the Jordanian borders. This number is estimated to double in the upcoming months if the turmoil in Syria continues.

Putting these numbers into perspective: 460,000 people make up approximately a tenth of the Jordanian population. Doubling the number of Syrian refugees causes an almost 25% increase in the number of people in Jordan.

This increase in people will have serious effects on the economic situation in Jordan. Some economists predict a nearly 30% unemployment rate by the end of the year as more and more Syrians pour into the county. These many refugees are also predicted to cost over $1 billion. Yet, King Abdullah pledges to not turn away any refugees, asking “how are you going to turn back women, children or the wounded?”

The Obama administration seems committed to helping end the fighting in Syria, pushing for the current Syrian president Assad to step down. Yet, Obama absolutely refuses to provide U.S. military assistance for the Syrian opposition movement, saying that interference may discredit the message the Syrian rebels are advocating or may lead to even larger security issues. Financial support in Jordan to take care of the many Syrian refugees seems to be a substitute solution for showing its support for bringing peace to Syria without getting directly involved in the civil war.

Obama pledging the extra aid money is only half of the equation. Congress must now scrape together this money, which may be a difficult task, as evident from the inability for Congress to come to an agreement over budget cuts.

– Angela Hooks

Sources: CNN, Wall Street Journal
Photo: UPI

coinage 3
President Obama’s push to increase the national minimum wage to $9.00 has stirred up plenty of conversations lately. This has been a very divisive issue over which party lines are clearly drawn. Politicians, news anchors, lobbyists, and economists have been debating the importance of the possible change that $1.75 could make here at home. Here in my home state of Ohio, the increase would be $1.30. But, what could that bit of money do elsewhere?

The World Bank found that in 2008 about 1.4 billion people in the developing world depended on a cost of living of less than $1.25 and set this amount as the definitive worldwide poverty line. Roughly one in every four inhabitants of any given developing country is estimated to fall under this category. While that number has been dropping steadily over the past decade, it is still a frighteningly high number. So, what can you get for $1.25?

In Kenya your $1.25 could buy you:
-2 0.33 liter bottles of Coca-cola
-2 loaves of bread
-1 liter of gasoline

But forget luxury items like a dozen eggs, that run at a market low of $1.44. And with the cheapest transportation available you’d better need no more than two buses to get where you’re going since they will cost you $0.50 each way, and that’s a day without any food cost at all. You may think that the American dollar would buy more abroad but it is important to remember that the $1.25 line used to mark poverty level is based on the purchase power parity, or the relative price that the same grouping of goods would cost in different markets. Even with this in mind, my $1.79 cup of coffee that I’m drinking now would be more than unattainable for a person living below the poverty level.

So, keep in mind that $1.25 can make a difference. Thankfully, the number of people living in poverty is decreasing each year. With great effort, we can keep that trend going.

– Kevin Sullivan

Source: NumbeoWorld Bank
Traditii Romania

End Poverty in Africa

As President Obama begins his second term, Reverend Derrick Boykin and his organization African-American Voices for Africa are asking that he make four policies his priority to end poverty in Africa. During the last decade, six of the world’s fastest-growing economies were in Africa. This is due in no small part to assistance from the United States. Sustaining this commitment, Boykin writes, “will help create the future we want for all of our sisters and brothers — a future marked by growth, shared responsibility, and mutual respect.”

  1. Maintain effective development assistance and trade policies for African agriculture. It is estimated that 80 percent of Africans make their living from farming. Initiatives that help to make resources available to develop agricultural infrastructure and diversify African economies are essential for the many people that rely on farming for their livelihood. Trade policies that encourage things such as revising subsidy levels, reducing tariff limitations and strengthening smallholder farmers are essential to achieving this goal.
  2. Continue efforts to promote maternal and child nutrition. The group that has been affected most by rising food prices and the global financial crisis are children under the age of two. The first 1,000 days of a child’s life from pregnancy to its second birthday are critical and any harm done is often irreversible. The best way to ensure that the first two years are healthy is to promote important habits of hygiene and nutrition such as breast-feeding, healthy staple foods, hand-washing with soap and therapeutic foods for those that are malnourished.
  3. Reduce the African debt burden. The United States, as a world leader, should use its leverage to convince multilateral agencies such as the International Development Agency to provide interest-free loans and grants to impoverished African countries. Once African countries are free from their past debts, the growth that they are already experiencing can really take effect and push its many economies to not just survive, but to flourish and end poverty in Africa.
  4. Encourage standards of social responsibility. In the past, outside sources doing private sector business in Africa have been less than fair. Through regulatory policies such as the New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition, established at the May 2012 G-8 Summit, organizations must now be transparent about the business that they are doing in Africa. This will lessen the amount of corruption in Africa by outside sources. It is important that we continue to hold companies accountable for the business that they practice to ensure that they work in Africa’s best interest.

Sean Morales

Source: Huffington Post
Photo: The Guardian