MOMBASA, Kenya — It took 16 hours to fly from Washington to this port city for the sixth annual African Resource Bank. I left a chilly fall and arrived in an equatorial warmth. The interest in the U.S. election and President-elect Barack Obama is omnipresent.
Kenyan newspapers and news programs have extensive coverage and opinion about the election. Most seems celebratory and proud that the son of a Kenyan has been elected president of the world’s most powerful country. However, there also seems to be a common belief that the election will result in substantial financial and political benefits for Africa generally and for Kenya specifically.
These expectations most likely will go unrealized. Considering the financial crisis, the U.S. is unlikely to add more resources on top of its current substantial commitments, including opening the U.S. economy to African goods, quadrupling aid to Africa since 2000, and creating programs like PEPFAR to address HIV/AIDS. Indeed, during the debates, Obama and Joe Biden suggested — when asked what programs or promises might have to be cut as a result of the financial crisis — that promises to double foreign assistance would likely not be met.
As president, Obama will be forced to temper unrealistic African expectations for his administration. In truth, having those expectations be unrealized would be a good for Africa.
Africans have too long been encouraged to look abroad for their salvation. The key to African development is not more aid. It lies in freeing African economies, combating corruption, unleashing the entrepreneurial talents of the people, and embracing competition in the global market place. Accomplishing these tasks depends on political will and action in African countries, not the United States.
Although he may not be lauded for it, if Obama chose to communicate this message to African governments and citizens, he could provide long-term benefits to Africa that would far outstrip aid.