Despite a promising speech in Ghana in 2009, President Obama’s limited engagement with the continent during his first term in office left many disappointed. But, as Obama nears the end of his second term, he leaves behind a number of important legacies in the realm of US-Africa policy. Among his accomplishments, Obama’s administration launched the ambitious Power Africa plan to double access to power in sub-Saharan Africa, renewed the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA), and held the first-ever US-Africa Leaders Summit. While not a comprehensive list, these achievements have one commonality: they use “commercial diplomacy” to deepen the economic relationship between the United States and African countries, and send a clear signal to American investors that the continent is open for business.
Particularly hard hit are those African economies, such as Nigeria, that are dependent on exporting commodities and importing—in the words of President Muhammadu Buhari—“everything including toothpicks.” Despite the pressure that Nigeria’s foreign earnings shortage has put on its currency, the naira, Buhari has obstinately refused to devalue it, ignoring calls from the International Monetary Fund (and many international observers) to do so. The bleak financial outlook has driven some Nigerian consumers to try to kick-start the economy through less orthodox measures, including a movement to encourage the consumption of locally produced goods. This movement, led by Nigerian Senator Ben Murray-Bruce, has spawned a popular Twitter hashtag #BuyNaijaToGrowTheNaira, as well as a catchy theme song.
Gambella, one of Ethiopia’s nine official regions that is approximately the size of Belgium, is located in the western part of the country, jutting into South Sudanese territory. It has 400,000 estimated residents, and is home to some of the country’s most fertile land—significant chunks of which have been leased to international companies in lucrative, but controversial, land deals.
Africa’s rural population has always been larger than its urban population. But that is changing, and in 2030, the number of urban and rural Africans will be roughly the same: nearly 1.6 billion people altogether. By 2050, nearly two-thirds of all Africans will live in cities. By the same year, nearly a quarter of the world’s workforce will be African—and these workers will be overwhelmingly young.
The region has descended from the great hope for change into a spiral of fragmentation, insecurity, and fragility, and it continues to face complex emergency situations on an unprecedented scale. The conflicts cause untold damage to both human life and physical infrastructure, as fifteen million people to date have fled their countries. Syria today is an increasingly fragmented nation and the humanitarian situation there remains extremely challenging.
At the same time, Ethiopian officials revised their predictions of the number of people affected by the ongoing drought upward by nearly two million. They now estimate that more than 10 million people—over 10 percent of the country’s population—need emergency food aid. The successive failure of two seasonal rains due to the El Niño weather phenomenon caused massive crop failure, and drought is now straining farmers who depend on the land for their livelihoods.