US President Barack Obama is scheduled to visit Accra, Ghana in July of this year. Mr. Obama will hold talks with his Ghanaian host Mr. Atta Mills, the President of Ghana. Accompanying Mr. Obama will be his wife Michelle. This will be the Obama’s first trip to Sub-Saharan Africa since Barack Obama, the son of a Kenyan, was elected president of the United States.
It is my hope that besides the expected fanfare that will greet the Obama’s in Accra there will be a sober discussion of the problems afflicting millions of Sub-Saharan Africans – from poverty, to aids, to conflicts to poor governance. I hope that the US president will be as candid as is diplomatically permissible in telling African leaders to style up and realize that the region will continue to remain the global backwater if they do not stop their kleptocratic ways.
I also hope that the president will talk frankly about US commitment to improving living conditions in Africa by allowing for more free trade between the Continent and America (and please do something about the farm subsidies that are killing Global South farmers, Mr. President). President Obama will also most certainly continue former president Bush’s generosity to Africa in tackling AIDS, TB and Malaria through PEPFAR – although minus Mr. Bush’s crazy (religious??) objection to the use of contraceptives in the fight against HIV/AIDS.
South African President, Jacob Zuma, appointed his cabinet with no surprises. The question on most people’s minds was whether he was going to retain Trevor Manuel, the man who has been South Africa’s finance minister for over a decade, in the same post. As things turned out he moved Mr. Manuel to the national economic planning commission and gave a nod to former taxman Pravin Gordhan to head the finance ministry. Zuma’s cabinet appointments were largely tame, with the main complaints being that the cabinet was too big. The appointments showed that Mr. Zuma is not going to be the crazy populist that many had feared leading up to his election. It looks like he is going to take a measured approach to solving South Africa’s economic and social problems as the country wades through an economic recession.
So much for his domestic agenda. Now let us hear about Zuma’s foreign policy, in particular what he has to say about governance in Africa. Zimbabwe, The DRC, Somalia, Sudan and Chad are all problems that require the attention of the most powerful man on the Continent. President Zuma should not allow the Libyan clown, Muamar Gadaffi, to be Africa’s spokesperson. He may be tainted domestically but his ANC credentials can still take him a long way on Continental matters. The sooner he establishes a presence on the Continental stage the better.
The New York Times’ Nicholas Kristof has a piece on the plight of women in rural Africa. The story is as heartwrenching as it is evocative. Nearly one in ten women die during childbirth in rural Africa. Getting pregnant is almost a death sentence for these women. Poor nutrition, poverty (which forces pregnant women to engage in hard labor that further endanger their lives) and regressive cultural practices – like genital mutilation – make childbearing a most dangerous activity.
A while back I wrote a piece on this same issue with figures from IRIN. I am glad and encouraged that Kristof is shining an infinitely bigger spotlight on this issue. The world needs to know more about the voiceless poor in rural Africa and the rest of the Global South who are condemned to live short and brutish lives dictated by their dire economic situations and formidable structural factors (poor governance, gender bias, dependency etc etc) that forever condemn them to live like it is still 20,000 BC.
As Kristof notes in his piece, it does not take much to make a difference. Four dollars can save a woman’s life. But such measures should be seen as band aid. The real cure for the healthcare mess that persists in rural Africa is education of women (and men). Statistics have proven again and again that educated women have fewer, healthier children. Education also serves to delay the onset of childbearing, therefore avoding the dangers associated with teenage motherhood.
The right to life is the most sacred human right. The poor women of the Global South deserve better than they are getting from both their governments and the international community at large.