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Imagining Obama's Africa Policy

Shortly after Barack Obama's election, South Africa's Mail & Guardian newspaper ran a special issue depicting the president-elect as a superhero (Atlantic). But the newspaper's editorial page took a more measured tone, warning against viewing him as Africa's messiah. "The only lesson we can learn from him is to reimagine the art of the possible," it said. Is Obama Africa's superhero, or just its role model? A number of analysts and U.S. policymakers say he will likely be something in between, devoting new diplomatic attention to the continent but not necessarily increased aid or military support.

President Bush oversaw significant increases in foreign aid to Africa, a record lauded by development experts. On the campaign trail, Obama outlined bigger steps; his priorities for Africa policy include stopping what U.S. officials have termed genocide in Darfur, fighting poverty, and expanding prosperity. His appointment of Susan Rice, an advocate of "dramatic action" (CSMonitor) on Darfur and former assistant secretary of state for African affairs, as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, is seen by Africa watchers as a sign his administration will prioritize the continent. However, many experts believe his proposal to double foreign assistance to $50 billion by the end of his first term is unfeasible in a time of U.S. economic crisis. In a September 2008 speech on Obama's Africa policy, Obama adviser Witney W. Schneidman said Obama would establish an agriculture research initiative, expand U.S.-Africa trade by strengthening the African Growth and Opportunity Act, and create a Global Education Fund.

But many experts say three major conflicts--Sudan, Somalia, and eastern Congo--will eclipse any other policy plans. These countries "matter, obviously, for humanitarian reasons, but they also matter to us for some very concrete...

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