Sunday, May 31, 2009

Why Obama's visit to Ghana is not that significant

By Dr. Kwame Osei

There will be intense excitement when US president Barack Obama and his wife Michelle touchdown in Ghana in July for a two day official visit to the country.

Much will be made about the significance of Obama's first official visit to Afrika as US president, especially the fact that he chose to make Ghana his first destination.

Let us critically analyze this and why in my opinion Obama's visit to Ghana is really about looking after US interests in Ghana particularly the oil.

Let us be quite candid about this, Obama's first visit as US president to Afrika was always going to attract intense media attention not least for the fact that he has an Afrikan father, and for that matter many thought that Kenya would have been his first destination to visit as US president.

The White House's decision to pick Ghana as Obama's first trip to Afrika was deliberate as it was strategic. These folks at the white house do not do things for nothing - they are very meticulous in their preparation and strategic thinking.

It was no accident that Ghana was chosen as Obama's first official trip to Afrika. Why? Well Ghana rightly or wrongly is seen as a beacon of Afrikan democracy; Secondly Ghana was the first 'sub-Saharan' Afrikan country to gain political independence and was at the forefront of the Pan-Afrikan struggle against Western imperialism and domination.

Thirdly Ghana was at the centre of the infamous Trans-Atlantic enslavement of Afrikans and since Obama's visit co-incides with the annual PANAFEST celebrations it is appropriate that Obama come to Ghana.

It has been widely acknowledged and accepted by historians that the majority of Afrikan-Americans are of Ghanaian heritage and specifically belong to the Akan people.

During the 15-16 centuries Ghana was the nerve centre of the Trans-Atlantic enslavement of Afrikan people and this is emphasized by the numerous slave forts that dot the Ghanaian coastline - in which many millions of Ghanaians and Africans were taken to the Americas and the Caribbean.

So this reflects the socio-cultural aspect of Obama's visit where he is expected to visit a fort or two to symbolize this important chapter of Ghanaian and American history.

However the main reason why Obama is in Ghana is to promote and protect US interests in the country.

As I said in an earlier article Obama's victory will mean nothing to Afrika unless US foreign policy towards Afrika changes drastically.

This is the main contention of Obama's visit. Is he coming to enforce US policy in Afrika by securing US interests first or he is going to open a new chapter in US/Afrika policy by being sympathetic to Afrika's cause.

I have serious doubts because Obama was selected, nominated and elected by the US corporate elite who are counting on Obama to safeguard their interests not least oil.

Before we get onto the issue of oil, let us concentrate for a moment on AFRICOM. AFRICOM is an initiative or policy that was conceived by the neo-cons in the Bush administration that knew as far back as 2002 that Afrika particularly West Afrika would become strategically important for the US government.

Why? - This is because the West Afrika sub-region has about 10 countries that produce oil. Some of these countries include Nigeria, Sao Tome, Mauritania, Ghana and Equatorial Guinea.

Since the US is the world's biggest user of oil and with demand for oil in it's normally 'safe haven' of the 'middle-east' (North-East Afrika), becoming very precarious, the Bush administration decided that West Afrika provided a safe and reliable source of oil.

However given what has happened in the Niger Delta it thought that precautions had to be taken so the US conceived of AFRICOM which is a military initiative to safeguard American corporate interests in the region.

AFRICOM is already a reality operating from its base in Germany after its original plan to have its headquarters in Afrika was met with unease.

Despite this AFRICOM is a reality and there are already US military basis in Afrika and US military engaging in military exercises with many Afrikan countries including Ghana.

KOSMOS Energy that has been at the forefront of oil exploration in Ghana has huge commercial interests in Ghana and the wider Afrikan continent.

So oil is a main component of the AFRICOM initiative and Obama is in Ghana to safeguard America's corporate interests and NOT the interests of Ghana.

Another point to consider on Obama's visit to Ghana is US-Ghana trade. An example of this imbalance in US-Ghana trade relations is that Ghana once a thriving producer of rice is now through trade polices an importer of rice, most of which comes from the US. By the way the rice lobby in the United States is a huge lobby with enormous clout.

Ghana's once thriving rice industry used to employ thousands of Ghanaians but now due to the importation of rice, many Ghanaians have lost their jobs and in the process giving those jobs to foreigners.

Another aspect of the trade relationship between Ghana and the United States that needs attention is the AGOA accord. AGOA is the African Growth and Opportunities Act. AGOA is an initiative by the US government to give Afrikan countries and their producers the opportunity to have access to the lucrative US market pending certain conditionalities.

Despite many Afrikan countries meeting these conditionalities many have not reaped any benefit of the AGOA act. On the other hand many American companies like Kosmos Energy have enjoyed huge benefits in Afrikan markets.

So while Obama may be viewed in some quarters as a breath of fresh air and even a saviour to Afrika, time will tell if Obama will engage Afrika in a fair and equitable manner.

Source: Public Agenda

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Obama pledge on treaties a complex undertaking

FAIR USE NOTICE: This page contains copyrighted material the use of which has not been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. Nana Akyea Mensah distributes this material without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. We believe this constitutes a fair use of any such copyrighted material as provided for in 17 U.S.C ß 107. If you wish to use copyrighted material from this blog for purposes of your own that go beyond fair use, you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.

BYLINE: Bob Egelko =
COMMENT: E-mail Bob Egelko at =
CREDIT: Chronicle Staff Writer =
DATE: 12/01/08 =
DATELINE: (11-30) 16:17 PST =
EDITION: 5star =
HEADLINE: Obama pledge on treaties a complex undertaking =
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NAME: Barack Obama =
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PRINTHED: THE PRESIDENCY IN TRANSITION / Treaties seen as key to improving U.S. standing =
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CAPTION: In this Nov. 26, 2008 file photo, President-elect Barack Obama listens to a reporter's question during a news conference in Chicago. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak, File) =
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PAPER: San Francisco Chronicle =


President-elect Barack Obama's pledge to restore the United States' international standing extends far beyond front-page topics such as closing Guantanamo and banning torture, into areas as diverse as nuclear testing, the rights of women and people with disabilities, and military and commercial activities in the world's oceans.

As a candidate, Obama promised to seek Senate ratification of long-stalled treaties on a nuclear test ban, women's equality and the law of the sea, and to sign a U.N. convention on disability rights. He also vowed to reverse President Bush's policies on global warming and to join negotiations toward a long-term treaty on greenhouse-gas emissions.

The global warming talks, which face a deadline of December 2009, are a rare example of an international accord that has captured public attention, largely because of Bush's opposition to mandatory emissions limits. Most treaties stay below the political radar, with often-complex subject matter, nebulous constituencies and a two-thirds majority requirement that can leave them languishing in the Senate for years.

The American Society of International Law, an association of academics, officials and business leaders, sent questions on treaties to Obama and other presidential candidates during the primaries. Scholars from the organization differed about Obama's prospects for getting treaties ratified, but said they liked his attitude.

Contrast with Bush

"The Obama campaign talked about the international rule of law and human rights, working with our allies, suggesting it will take the treaty process quite a bit more seriously than the Bush administration did," said David Kaye, who heads a human rights program at UCLA Law School and was a State Department attorney for a decade.

Bush has actually won Senate approval of scores of treaties, mostly small-scale agreements on subjects like extradition. He has been more prominent, however, in opposing pacts he sees as overly restrictive of U.S. prerogatives.

Bush opposed the Kyoto Protocol on climate change, which former President Bill Clinton signed but never submitted to the Senate. And Bush took the unprecedented step of withdrawing Clinton's presidential signature from the treaty forming the International Criminal Court for war crimes and human rights prosecutions.

Bush has also declared that the Geneva Convention rules on interrogations and trials didn't apply to prisoners at the U.S. Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and secret CIA sites.

Obama promised a different approach.

"Promoting strong international norms helps us advance many interests, including (nuclear) nonproliferation, free and fair trade, a clean environment, and protecting our troops in wartime," he told the international law society. "Because the (Bush) administration cast aside international norms that reflect American values, such as the Geneva Conventions, we are less able to promote those values abroad."

Primary focus

Obama cited three treaties he would concentrate on ratifying: the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, and the Convention on the Law of the Sea.

Last December, Obama cited a fourth treaty that he said he would sign and ask the Senate to ratify, the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

Missing from his to-do list, at least so far, are the International Criminal Court - which could subject U.S. officials and military personnel to prosecution - and treaties banning land mines and cluster bombs. All three would face Defense Department resistance, and Obama has said he would consult with military commanders before deciding whether to ask the Senate to ratify the International Criminal Court.

Although the treaties Obama has endorsed may be less controversial, "I don't see any really easy wins on the list," said K. Russell Lamotte, a former State Department attorney now in private practice in Washington, D.C.

Climate pact toughest

Most difficult of all, he said, may be the negotiation and ratification of a post-Kyoto climate change agreement.

Now that a U.S. administration is willing to take part in the talks, Lamotte said, Obama must decide what emissions limits to accept, how to pay for them during a period of economic convulsion, and how to bring key players such as China and India on board - and then present the final product to most of the same senators who killed a modest global-warming bill earlier this year.

"It's a very daunting process," Lamotte said.

Of the unratified treaties on Obama's list, the nuclear test ban agreement is the most substantial and probably the least likely to win ratification. The accord, passed by the U.N. General Assembly in 1996, was defeated by a Republican-controlled Senate in 1999.

The test ban treaty has never taken effect - it requires ratification by the 44 "nuclear-capable" nations - but the United States and most other countries observe voluntary moratoriums on nuclear explosive testing.

The Law of the Sea treaty may face an easier road. The treaty, adopted by the United Nations in 1982, includes protections for nations' coastal waters and guidelines for commercial use of international waters. Military and business leaders, environmental groups and the Bush administration support it, but a bloc of conservative Republicans, citing concerns over U.S. sovereignty, has kept if off the Senate floor.

"This is the one that may be the highest priority," said Duncan Hollis, a Temple University law professor and former State Department treaty lawyer. "It's not often that industry and environmental groups are in favor" of the same treaty.

Women's treaty

The women's-rights treaty is even older - it won U.N. approval in 1979 and was signed by President Jimmy Carter in 1980, but has never reached the Senate floor. Every other industrialized nation has ratified it.

The treaty proclaims a woman's right to equality in all areas of society, including employment and family relations. It does not explicitly address abortion, but says women should have access to "information, counseling and services in family planning," and equal rights to determine "the number and spacing of their children."

That alarms anti-abortion groups. Other conservative opponents have cited pronouncements by the treaty's oversight committee - such as a report that said Mothers' Day in Belarus fostered sex-role stereotypes - as evidence of a radical feminist agenda.

American Society of International Law commentators said such opposition will make Senate passage of the treaty difficult - though they say the accord would have little effect on U.S. law because it requires only that nations take "all appropriate measures" to protect women's rights.

U.S. interpretations

The United States has interpreted other human rights accords to make them consistent with its laws, said Allen Weiner, a former State Department attorney who now teaches international law at Stanford.

"As a domestic law matter, it's utterly symbolic" but nevertheless important, Weiner said of the women's rights treaty. "It's a commitment we're making to an international human rights regime."

Ratification "makes us somewhat more credible" to the rest of the world, Weiner said. As long as the United States is unwilling to join a widely accepted agreement on women's rights, he said, "it's difficult to demand that fundamentalist Islamic societies change their treatment of women."

National security: The team that Obama is introducing today has embraced a shift in resources. A5

International accords on Obama's agenda

Treaties that President-elect Barack Obama has promised to present to the Senate for ratification:

Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty: Would prohibit all nuclear explosive testing. Takes effect only when ratified by all 44 "nuclear-capable" nations, including the United States. Passed by the U.N. General Assembly in 1996 and signed that year by President Bill Clinton. Rejected by the Senate in 1999.

U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea: Defines nations' rights in managing their coastal zones and sets rules for commercial use of international waters and resources. Passed by the General Assembly in 1982, took effect in 1994. Signed by Clinton in 1994. Approved by Senate Foreign Relations Committee most recently in October 2007, but no floor vote.

Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women: Declares equal rights for women "in the political, economic, social, cultural, civil or any other field" and requires nations to take "all appropriate measures" to ensure equality. Passed by the General Assembly in 1979, took effect in 1981. Signed by President Jimmy Carter in 1980. Approved by Senate Foreign Relations Committee in 2002, but no floor vote.

Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities: Requires nations to abolish legislation, customs and practices that discriminate against the disabled, and to establish policies that promote independent living and full participation in the community. Passed by the General Assembly in 2006, took effect in May 2008. Not yet signed by the United States.