President Obama is a self-proclaimed “son of Kenya,” but his accomplishments in the country to which he owes his heritage are anything but impressive.
The World Helath Organization reported this week that global life expectancy has increased by about 5 years in the past 15. Africa experienced the biggest boost thanks to improvements in healthcare for kids and wider availability of medicines including those for AIDS and malaria.
This landmark increase has a lot to do not with President Obama, but with his predecessor. George W. Bush made ending civil wars and fighting disease in African a priority during his presidency. His PEPFAR program (President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief), which sought to expand anti-retroviral treatment for HIV/AIDS patients in Africa, is credited with saving millions of lives.
Launched in 2004, the program expanded the number of HIV/AIDS patients in sub-Saharan Africa receiving anti-retroviral drugs from 100,000 to a whopping 2 million. Today, PEPFAR is heralded as “the largest health initiative ever initiated by one country to address a disease.”
Despite criticism regarding the war in Iraq, Bush’s work in Africa has earned him praise from friends and foes alike. “George kind of knocked it out of the park,” says singer and Bush-critic Bono. “I can tell you, and I’m actually here to tell you that America now has 5 million people being kept alive by these drugs. That’s something that everyone should know.”
On July 28th, 2015, President Obama became the first sitting US president to address the African Union. His actions suggest an administration focused on engaging the southern continent and pursuing strategies that would promote growth and end conflict.
Fast-forward to today, with less than 10 months remaining in Obama’s term, and our president has yet to achieve any real victories in Africa. As his focus shifts to problems in the Middle East, it seems our first African American’s legacy will pale in comparison to that of his predecessor.
Cameron Hudson, who served under George W. Bush as the National Security Council’s director for African affairs, says Bush’s strategy was far more solid than Obama’s. “When Bush came into office, there were civil wars going on in Sudan, Congo, Angola, Liberia, Sierra Leone. And by the end of his first term, all those civil wars were over. There was, I think, a very deliberate effort in the first term of the Bush Administration to end those civil wars, and by ending those civil warns, enabling him in the second term to launch a very aggressive development program.”
Obama’s Kenyan roots gave Africa high hopes for his presidency, but those hopes may have been skewed. “Expectations for what he was going to achieve were completely unreasonable and outsized,” says Hudson.
Power Africa, an initiative to double access to electricity in the sub-Saharan region, was Obama’s most substantial program in the southern continent. The program was launched in 2013, but has failed to yield tangible results thus far. Additional efforts include:
• Feed the Future, which targets 12 African countries
• Reauthorization for the African Growth and Opportunity Act (started by Bush)
• US response to Ebola outbreak in West Africa
Even so, Obama can’t hope to match what Bush accomplished, such as a 600% increase in the US Agency for International Development. Speaking of Obama’s Power Africa project, EJ Hogendoorn of the International Crisis Group says: “My experience in Africa is that things always take longer than you would hope. These large-scale infrastructure projects are not easy to get off the ground, particularly in places where it’s actually difficult to do business … I do think we need to be somewhat patient.”
Hogendoorn says Obama needs to focus on ending the conflicts in Central African Republic, Somalia, Sudan, and others. “Unfortunately, the reality is that Africa remains a relatively lower priority issue for most of the political establishment in Washington and that’s reflected in the Obama administration’s foreign priorities.”
While Obama turns to face ISIS and the humanitarian crisis in Syria, some of the African conflicts quashed by Bush have started to heat up again. In South Sudan – a country created by the historic peace agreement facilitated by President Bush – violence erupted in 2013 and continues unchecked today.