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Is Obama Africa's saviour?


As the first black U.S. president, Obama is assured of an African hero's welcome in Ghana at the weekend.

But the United States still faces growing competition for influence from China and other emerging economic powers seeking resources and markets -- and putting less emphasis on matters such as governance that Obama is likely to stress in Ghana.

"Obama is not going to have it easy meeting these expectations because democracy in Africa is not the best," said Vladimir Antwi-Danso at the University of Ghana's Legon Centre for International Affairs.

"He could succeed if he continues to be creative to ensure that assistance projects and initiatives are followed to their intended goals because there is enormous goodwill from the continent."

Although Obama's father was born in Kenya, Ghana was an obvious choice for his first visit to Africa as president.

It is it held up as an example of economic reform and good governance after two successful transfers of power through elections, including a vote in December that bucked a recent trend of flawed ballots and military takeovers elsewhere.

Ghana is also set to become the newest oil producer in a region that is increasingly important for the United States as it seeks to diversify energy supplies away from the Middle East.

"The priority of the United States in Africa ... is oil," said independent political analyst Babacar Justin Ndiaye in Dakar, capital of nearby Senegal.

"Ghana is neither Nigeria nor Angola, and Obama is going to Accra to recognise the country's political health and good governance," he said.

The United States is concerned at security in the Gulf of Guinea, where attacks by militants have shut in a fifth of top producer Nigeria's output.

The hope is that Ghana will not suffer the same woes as other oil producers, where revenues have propped up dictatorships, brought unrest and spawned corruption.

"Strong bilateral support with the recognition that Ghana has had a long battle and a hard fought battle against corruption will help," said Tara O'Connor of Africa Risk Consulting.

Security concerns

Security is also a big U.S. concern in the Horn of Africa, particularly Somalia, where Islamist insurgents Washington links to al Qaeda are battling to take power and anarchy has allowed coastal piracy to flourish.

"Africa has become a playground for terrorists," said Antwi-Danso of the University of Ghana.

Islamist militancy is also a worry in the states that lie to the north of Ghana on the fringes of the Sahara Desert.

But Africa has been far from the top of Obama's agenda as he grapples with the global financial crisis, Iraq and Afghanistan, and few expect that his visit to Ghana will change that.

Meanwhile, China has been strengthening its links with Africa both on the official level and in pursuing business opportunities with piles of cash unavailable to Western rivals finding it harder to raise money.

Three weeks after Obama's inauguration, Chinese President Hu Jintao spent five days in Africa on a four-country tour to stress that China's commitment was not shaken by the financial crisis. Obama will be in Ghana for less than 24 hours.

China's trade with Africa increased tenfold in a decade to $107 billion last year -- although still behind the $140 billion for the United States, according to U.S. figures.

The growing Chinese involvement in Africa has also given its governments an alternative source of funds from those of the traditional Western donors, making it harder for Obama's United States and other Western countries to apply pressure for change.

"When you go to the traditional partners, the issue of conditionality comes in. They will talk about governance, human rights, corruption," Zambian Vice-President George Kunda said this week.

"With the Chinese, there are hardly any conditions that they put." ... ion/-/buptd2/-/index.html

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