President Obama operates by variable foreign policy standards, as his July 10 visit to Ghana illustrates: It is the last leg of a trip on which he has visited Russia for talks with Medvedev and Putin, and Italy for the G-8 conference. Given Obama’s own African heritage, his first visit as President to sub-Saharan Africa has been much anticipated by Africans of many nationalities. The choice of Ghana, according to Obama and his spokesmen, is intended to show support to one of the most successfully democratized African nations — but also, and less justifiably, to rebuke the much larger African nations of Nigeria and Kenya (both of them with longstanding ties to the U.S.), for their democratic shortcomings.
A single-nation stop in Africa could hardly encompass every aspect of U.S. policy for the region. Obama’s own comments, however, make clear his priority in selecting Ghana:
Well, part of the reason is because Ghana has now undergone a couple of successful elections in which power was transferred peacefully, even a very close election. I think that the new president, President Mills, has shown himself committed to the rule of law, to the kinds of democratic commitments that ensure stability in a country. And I think that there is a direct correlation between governance and prosperity. Countries that are governed well, that are stable, where the leadership recognizes that they are accountable to the people and that institutions are stronger than any one person have a track record of producing results for the people. And we want to highlight that.
We have seen progress [in other African nations] over the last several years; in some cases, though, we’re also seeing some backsliding. In my father’s own country of Kenya, I’m concerned about how the political parties do not seem to be moving into a permanent reconciliation that would allow the country to move forward. And Kenya is not alone in some of the problems that we’ve seen of late, post-election or pre-election…
There is a very practical, pragmatic consequence to political instability and corruption when it comes to whether people can feed their families, educate their children, and we think that Africa – the African continent is a place of extraordinary promise as well as challenges. We’re not going to be able to fulfill those promises unless we see better governance.
Obama’s endorsement of the rule of law and democratic commitments in Ghana, and his concern over Kenya’s failures in that regard, make an interesting contrast with the absence of any such endorsement regarding Iraq in 2009, and with his careful neutrality on the outcome of the disputed June election in Iran, regarding which, his policy was to avoid the appearance of “meddling.” Indeed, the Obama administration’s posture on Kenya, which is currently the subject of an International Criminal Court probe over election-related violence, stands in pointed contrast to its Iran policy: for Kenya, “throwing its weight behind” Kofi Annan’s ICC campaign to identify and try the perpetrators of violence; for Iran, commending the G-8′s condemnation of the post-election violence, but pursuing no tightening of sanctions or other concrete actions. Kofi Annan probably will not be handing the ICC a list of election-violence perpetrators from Iran any time soon, as he did July 9 with a list from Kenya.