My bot's on Africa.
#1 Africa: Iran
With successive U.S. administrations and European governments effectively ignoring Africa, Tehran sees its fifty-two countries as diplomatic easy picking. On January 29, 2008, Mottaki declared that this year would mark a "milestone in Iran-Africa ties." Three days later, while attending the Africa Union summit in Addis Ababa, Mottaki announced that Iran would soon host a summit of African foreign ministers in Tehran.
The traditional pattern in which Iranian actions fail to live up to diplomatic rhetoric also appears to be changing in Africa, with Tehran developing strong partnerships with a number of states. The Islamic Republic has forged particularly strong ties with Senegal, once a Cold War ally of the United States but now quietly turning into West Africa's Venezuela. President Abdoulaye Wade has traveled twice to Tehran to meet with Khamenei and Ahmadinejad, first in 2006 and again in 2008. During his most recent visit, he provided a backdrop for Khamenei to declare that developing unity between Islamic countries like Senegal and Iran can weaken "the great powers" like the United States. It would be a mistake to dismiss this as a rhetorical flourish: on January 27, 2008, a week after Senegalese foreign minister Cheikh Tidiane Gadio announced that he, too, would visit Tehran, Minister of Armed Forces Becaye Diop met with his Iranian counterpart to discuss expanding bilateral defense ties between the two states.
Senior Iranian officials have returned the visits. On July 22, 2007, judiciary chief Ayatollah Mahmoud Hashemi Shahroudi and government spokesman Gholam-Hossein Elham--among the closest confidantes of Khamenei and Ahmadinejad, respectively--departed for Dakar, where they met Wade and Senegalese prime minister Cheikh Hadjibou Soumaré. Shahroudi declared, "We believe it is our duty to expand ties with Islamic countries and use the capabilities and potentials [sic] of Muslim states to help the growth and spread of Islam." On March 12, 2008, Ahmadinejad left for a visit to the West African state.
With successive U.S. administrations and European governments effectively ignoring Africa, Tehran sees its fifty-two countries as diplomatic easy picking.
#2) Africa and USA
By now, Americans are comfortable judging a president's Africa policies primarily through the lens of foreign aid — as in, George W. Bush gave more than Bill Clinton, and so our first African-American president should obviously give more than Bush did. Befitting Obama's burgeoning reputation as a stimulus spender of Rooseveltian proportions (and Reaganesque debt), he offered promises on Saturday regarding an American global-health initiative upwards of $60 billion, to go along with his just-previous G8 pledge on food aid and agricultural development (some portion of a collective $20 billion effort). Obama also offered the usual homily about Africa's future being "up to Africans" and not outside powers, and chided the continent for its poor history of self-governance.
Gee, thanks for the news flash, Mr. President. Quite the big picture of what's going on in Africa nowadays. No matter that sub-Saharan Africa's collective economy has grown at roughly 6 percent annually since 2004 (even with the current dip, it should rebound to 4 percent in 2010), or that many of the fastest growing economies in the world today are African, or that retail consumer chains operating there are registering 30-40 percent annual growth rates (signaling the emergence of a growing middle class), or that the vast majority of all that growth is due to a skyrocketing South-South (as in, Asian-African) trade and investment relationship that continues to become the defining structural characteristic of the post-crash global economy.
Instead, Obama cited the usual litany of woes, the now usual admonitions for self-improvement, and the usual plus-ups in promised developmental aid. For a guy who promised "change," it was a stunningly unimaginative debut, especially when he refused to raise the dead-elephant-in-the-living-room issue known as the Doha Development Round and the West's disastrously distorting agricultural subsidies. Where's that audacity when we need it?
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