Sunday, October 7, 2012

Missing in Africa

Missing in Africa

A Madiba mosaic portrait of president Obama. (tsevis / flickr)

Africa is more important than ever to the United States. The continent, home to six of the world's ten fastest-growing economies, is booming. And democracy has become the African norm rather than the exception. This year alone, no fewer than fifteen sub-Saharan countries will hold elections. With their combination of liberal politics and market economics, countries such as Ghana and Botswana are attracting frontier investors. Huge potential markets like Nigeria and Ethiopia are leveraging modest reforms into big economic opportunities. These trends all suggest that Africa is on a path to prosperity, and that it is ripe for U.S. investment, trade, and partnership.

At the same time, danger zones across the continent pose a growing security concern for Washington. Terrorist groups in Somalia and northern Mali are direct threats. In addition, pockets of weak governance in West Africa and in the Horn lead to cross-border problems such as narcotics trafficking and the spread of infectious diseases. In short, while Africa is making democratic and economic strides, it is also increasingly a locus of terrorism and transnational threats.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has, to her credit, visited fifteen African countries on four separate trips. But her presence has been overshadowed by President Obama's absence. Obama has set foot on the continent just once: for a mere 20 hours in Ghana in July 2009 where he gave a speech on democracy that resulted in no substantial action. The president's Kenyan heritage inspired unreasonably high hopes for a robust Africa policy; but his administration has failed to meet even the lowest of expectations. Even Obama's most vocal supporters quietly admit that he has done much less with Africa than previous presidents have.

Compare Obama's approach to Africa with that of his predecessors. President Bill Clinton exuded enthusiasm for the continent. His Africa policy was defined by the African Growth and Opportunity Act, which reduced trade barriers on more than 1,800 products exported from the continent to the United States. Partly as a result of the act, trade between the U.S. and Africa has more than tripled since 2000 to more than $90 billion. More important, Clinton approached Africa as a partner, not just as a receiver of goodwill.

President George W. Bush went further. He launched the Millennium Challenge Corporation, the President's Malaria Initiative, and the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief. These programs have had a major effect. The MCC developed compacts with 13 well-governed African countries to jointly implement business projects and boost economic growth. The malaria effort targeted 15 African countries and contributed to steep declines in child mortality. PEPFAR has been invaluable in the fight against HIV/AIDS, directly saving the lives of 2.4 million people via treatment and preventing infection for millions more. And these programs did not emerge under Bush by accident, but, rather, because of high-level engagement and the president's personal commitment.

In contrast, most of Obama's high-profile efforts have been washouts. Launched in 2009, the Global Health Initiative was supposed to broaden U.S. health investments beyond single diseases to cover health systems. But it has largely been abandoned because of overreach and a distinct lack of political support. The Global Climate Change Initiative, which sought to expand renewable energy in Africa, was announced in 2010 but has made little progress. Small, lesser-known U.S. agencies such as the Overseas Private Investment Corporation and the Export-Import Bank have boosted their project portfolios in Africa, but they have been toiling largely behind the scenes and on the margins of government attention.

The Obama Administration does deserve credit for its work in Sudan, as it undertook vigorous diplomatic efforts to prevent a return to war and helped shepherd South Sudan's independence. It also launched Feed the Future, a promising but still unproven agriculture program designed to help boost farm productivity in twelve African countries. But the president's record on Africa largely ends there.

All this suggests that the White House has, at best, overlooked Africa's significance or, at worst, consciously downgraded it on the list of priorities. Think about the position of USAID's assistant administrator for Africa, the most senior post in the entire federal workforce tasked with driving economic development on the continent. On Obama's watch, the position was left unfilled for more than three years. Similarly, the USAID administrator, a position that deals heavily with Africa policy and was elevated to the rank of deputy secretary in the Bush administration, was left vacant for nearly a year after Obama took office, and, when it was finally filled, it was demoted. This is part of a trend of sluggishness: the White House did not get around to releasing an official Africa strategy until June 2012. And African leaders know an afterthought when they see one.

Worse, the Obama administration has repeatedly highlighted marginal foreign policy issues that Africans and policy watchers can only interpret as patronizing. To mollify critics a few months ago, the White House released a list of its proudest accomplishments in Africa. The top item was "engaged young African leaders," which cited a series of conferences for youth leaders, including a forum with President Obama and another with First Lady Michelle Obama. Boasting brief instances of public dialogue as the most prominent accomplishment toward an entire region speaks to the lack of real, substantive policy over the last four years. It is hard to imagine the administration citing a similar effort as the cornerstone of its Asia or Latin America policy.

The Obama approach has not been well received by African leaders, especially compared with the investment alternatives offered by China. Beijing has invested heavily in roads, energy, and business projects in nearly every African country. Secretary Clinton, in a veiled attack on Beijing's activities in Africa, claimed in August that the United States brings "a model of sustainable partnership that adds value, rather than extracts it." But instead of lecturing African countries to beware, the administration should reflect upon why China seems to be so attractive to the region as it gains self-confidence. Today's Africa does not want charity. It seeks more investment and a measure of respect. China-bashing might be good political theater, but it makes for ineffective policy.

Even Democrats on Capitol Hill are frustrated. Senator Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) introduced new legislation in March 2012 that attempts to force the administration to boost and coordinate its economic policy toward Africa. Durbin stressed the importance of the bill by remarking, "Increasingly, I am hearing, 'The U.S. has given up on Africa as a market.' ... While we're building institutions, China and others are building markets and we're being left behind."

Correcting this neglect would begin with recognizing and investing in the tremendous economic opportunities in Africa. One small step in that direction would be to bolster the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC) by allowing more flexibility and equity investments. The administration could also consolidate private investment activities on the continent that are currently spread across multiple agencies. For example, a White House effort on electricity and other infrastructure could bring together OPIC, Ex-Im Bank lending, technical assistance from USAID, and feasibility studies from the U.S. Trade and Development Agency, along with private capital and expertise. With seven out of ten Africans living without access to electricity, this kind of partnership would be welcomed by African leadership and be beneficial to U.S. business; it would revive positive relations with the continent.

A reinvigorated Africa policy would also require high-level engagement, at times by the president himself. Partnerships must be built based on mutual and hardheaded security, economic, and political interests, not on third-tier soft issues. And a strong Africa approach demands, at a minimum, filling senior positions quickly.

Finally, whoever occupies the White House for the next four years will have to resist knee-jerk efforts to counter Chinese influence in Africa. This is not a new Cold War. U.S. and Chinese interests only rarely conflict, and both countries stand to benefit from a more prosperous and stable Africa. Where there is friction, such as over human rights in Zimbabwe or oil deals in Sudan, Washington can manage as it manages similar foreign policy dilemmas -- through tradeoffs, not moralistic grandstanding.

Ultimately, the United States cannot afford to ignore Africa. And rather than viewing the continent as a problem to be solved, the next administration should do something radical: treat Africa with the attention it now deserves.

Ohio mall terrorism defendant facing deportation

Ohio mall terrorism defendant facing deportation

COLUMBUS (AP) — Federal immigration authorities are preparing to deport a Somali immigrant who federal prosecutors say plotted to attack an Ohio shopping mall.

Nuradin Abdi completed his prison sentence last month and is in federal immigration custody in Louisiana while final preparations are made to return him to Somalia.

Abdi was one of three friends in Columbus tried on terrorism charges beginning in 2003 in cases that came to epitomize the government's early efforts to combat domestic terrorism.

The Justice Department accused Abdi of suggesting the plan to bomb or shoot up an unidentified Columbus shopping mall during an August 2002 meeting at a Caribou Coffee shop.

No evidence of an attack was ever found, but prosecutors also linked Abdi to multiple calls to suspected terrorists.

Africans Relocate to Alabama to Fill Jobs After Immigration Law

Africans Relocate to Alabama to Fill Jobs After Immigration Law- Bloomberg

Africans Relocate to Alabama to Fill Jobs After Immigration Law

By Margaret Newkirk and Gigi Douban
September 24, 2012 9:00 AM EDT

                State Sen. Scott Beason, center, talks with tomato farmers about the Alabama immigration law in Steele, Ala. Photographer: Dave Martin/AP Photo

Esene Manga, an Eritrean refugee living in Atlanta, hadn't heard of Albertville, Alabama until a recruiter offered him a job there. Now Manga, 22, earns $10.85 an hour cutting chicken breasts on a poultry-plant night shift, an unexpected beneficiary of a year-old law designed to drive out illegal Hispanic immigrants.

This isn't what the law's backers said would happen. Republican state Senator Scott Beason, a sponsor, said at a news conference last year that the restrictions on undocumented workers would "put thousands of native Alabamians back in the work force."

Instead, it caused a labor shortage that resulted in the importation of hundreds of legal African and Haitian refugees, and Puerto Ricans, according to interviews with workers, advocacy organizations and businesses. Most were recruited by the poultry industry, in a segment of the economy that has been a heavy employer of undocumented workers, according to the Pew Hispanic Center, a Washington research group.

Alabama is one of five states that last year passed immigration laws modeled on a 2010 Arizona measure largely invalidated by the U.S. Supreme Court in June. Last month, an appellate court in Atlanta said many of the Alabama law's requirements also aren't constitutional. Other provisions, including one allowing police to arrest suspected illegal immigrants, remain in place.

Destination: Albertville

In Albertville, a city of about 21,000 in the northeast corner of the state, Manga, his friend Abrahaley Araya and about 18 other African refugees started at Wayne Farms LLC's plant in the days after the law took effect a year ago, according to the two men and Albert Mbanfu of Lutheran Services of Georgia, which helps refugees find jobs.

Johnell Rodriguez, 26, said he was among 17 Puerto Ricans who arrived at another Alabama Wayne Farms plant a week after the law took effect. Haitian Saul Jules said he was recruited in Miami to work in Albertville by JBS SA (JBSS3)'s Pilgrim's Pride Corp. a few months ago.

Plants sought refugees because too few local residents were interested or qualified, said Frank Singleton, a spokesman for Wayne Farms, based in Oakwood, Georgia.

Many legal Hispanic employees left after the immigration law took effect, he said. The company, which operates six plants in the state, spent $5 million to replace and train new workers, he said. Turnover in North Alabama was 50 percent last year, and is now as high as 90 percent in some plants because replacements didn't stay, he said. The company is "having to use alternative methods and sourcing," including recruiting refugees, Singleton said.

Wayne Farms found Eritreans, displaced by war and conflict, and other Africans through East Coast Labor Solutions LLC, a Fairlea, West Virginia-based labor broker. East Coast has about 200 workers in Alabama, owner Ray Wiley said in an interview.

"Our jobs are often in states where immigration laws have hit the hardest, and mostly in the poultry industry," he said.

East Coast began calling Atlanta refugee agencies several months ago looking for legal immigrants to come to Alabama for a year, said Mbanfu, refugee employment director for Lutheran Services in Atlanta. He said the company would have taken as many refugees as he could refer.

The agency connected East Coast with refugees who had been in the country three to five years, he said.

Chris Gaddis, head of human resources for Greeley, Colorado-based Pilgrim's Pride, which has four plants in Alabama, said the law didn't affect its workforce. Worth Sparkman, a spokesman for Tyson Foods Inc. (TSN), which has two plants in Alabama, also said there was no effect.

Alabama doesn't track the number of refugees who come to fill jobs. The state had an estimated 120,000 illegal Hispanic immigrants in 2010, of whom 95,000 were in the labor force, according to the Pew Hispanic Center. They were 2.5 percent of the population and 4.2 percent of the workforce.

Changing demographics are reflected on store shelves. Albertville's main Hispanic grocery, Tienda El Sol, added coconut milk, new varieties of hot peppers and other items to appeal to newcomers, manager Marjorie Centeno said.

The Alabama law's intent was to attack "every aspect of an illegal alien's life," and "make it difficult for them to live here so they will deport themselves," Republican House sponsor Micky Hammon said during legislative debate, according to a Birmingham News report.

The measure let police arrest people after traffic stops if they couldn't prove legal status. It made it a crime to rent property to illegal immigrants, forbade registering their cars or giving them dog or business licenses, and required schools to check students' citizenship.

Beason, the senator, said that while he welcomes legal immigrants, he isn't pleased by the arrival of the refugees.

"We would prefer they hire native Alabamians," he said. The reason refugees are being hired is probably because "they're cheaper," he said.

Beason credits the law with a decrease in Alabama's unemployment rate. It dropped to 8.5 percent in October 2011 from 8.8 the month before and continued to decline. Unemployment was 8.5 percent in August, the most recent month for which data is available.

The drop "absolutely, directly coincides with when our law went into effect," he said this month. "It put thousands of Alabamians into jobs."

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data show that the rate fell because the labor force shrank. Fewer people had jobs in Alabama in August than did before the law.

In Albertville, poultry plants had long drawn Hispanic workers. In 2010, the Hispanic population in surrounding Marshall County was about three times the state average, according to the Pew Center.

The Pew Center has no estimate on how many Hispanics left Alabama. Anecdotal evidence suggests Albertville lost many.

"Here, it's like a ghost town for Hispanics," said Rafael Leon, owner of Accessories La Alianza, near Albertville. Leon sat waiting for customers to walk in and buy prepaid mobile phones and sparkly butterfly hair clips, skin creams and key chains. Rows of glass cases were empty. He said the store was busy before the law.

He said he'll move if business doesn't pick up by December. Leon said one son is about to go to college, another is in high school and he himself has a baby.

"We're all kind of depressed," he said.

Centeno, the grocery manager, said she has seen the decline, too. She said poultry companies could have used the money spent to find the refugees to help Hispanics get legal status. She said she has heard from recruits who complain that the plants are too cold and the jobs too difficult.

Jules was one of four Haitians sitting in the Albertville lobby of Alatrade Foods LLC, a chicken-processing company that offers orientation in Creole, hoping for work. Jules said he lost his original job with Pilgrim's Pride (PPC) after a month.

"I'm not a lucky person," he said.

Rodriguez, the Puerto Rican, said he was recruited in a San Juan unemployment office by East Coast. He and 31 others flew to Atlanta the next month for poultry jobs, then split into buses to Alabama and North Carolina, Rodriguez said in Spanish through an interpreter.

Manga and Araya, a 32-year-old who now works for Tyson, found themselves living in a dark apartment in an aging complex rented along with its furniture from the labor broker. It's sparsely furnished, with mismatched chairs and a yellow sofa.

When asked what they do in their spare time, both laughed.

He and Manga said working in chicken plants is hard, and pays good money.

"We are here to work," Manga said. "We go to our jobs and come back."

To contact the reporter on this story: Margaret Newkirk in Atlanta at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Stephen Merelman at

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

NAACP Urges UN to Probe Racism In U.S. Elections

NAACP Urges UN to Probe Racism In U.S. Elections

Tim Graham's picture

Patrick Goodenough of reports an NAACP delegation visiting Geneva hosted a panel on the "disenfranchisement" of U.S. citizens and addressed the U.N. Human Rights Council. The NAACP urged the U.N.'s "special rapporteur" on racism to investigate "racially discriminatory election laws," and said the U.N. should then make recommendations that would restore the political and voting rights of all U.S. citizens.

NAACP Senior Vice President for Advocacy Hilary Shelton told the panel that the restrictions on voting "prevent those most in need of an advocate from the ability to elect someone who will represent their concerns:  the need for a decent public education, for a health care system that addresses their specific demographic needs, as well as the creation of decent jobs, a functional criminal justice system and other basic human needs."

The NAACP's Lorraine Miller opposed any attempt to keep felons from voting: "We remain deeply concerned with the continued practice and discriminatory impact of felony disenfranchisement." This is the second NAACP visit to the HRC in six months. Read more at