Mali

In principle, the decision by House Republicans to strip the food stamp program out of the current farm bill is not a bad thing. In practice, it may not be so bad either.

For the past 40 years or so, agricultural subsidies and supplemental nutrition programs (food stamps) for poor people have been joined at the hip, the idea being that combining the two, otherwise unrelated, initiatives could help win bipartisan support for an omnibus bill that contained something for every constituency: farmers, agribusiness, advocates for the poor, etc. The problem with such an approach is that it embodied the worst of interest-group politics, legislative back scratching, and pork barrel giveaways. No liberal legislator would vote against subsidies for rich sugar or cotton or tobacco farmers for example, if it meant cuts to the food stamp program. No Florida conservative would vote to cut food stamps if it also meant cuts to subsidies for his or her rich, sugar-growing constituents. Everyone got pretty much everything they wanted, and no serious policy debate ever occurred. So separating the two makes profound sense. But encouraging a serious policy debate is the last thing on House Republicans’ minds.

In drafting and voting on a pure farm bill, House Republicans have laid bare their hypocrisy by showing, in black and white, the hollowness of their claims to budget-cutting rigor. It turns out that it’s not government spending per se they object to: as long as it benefits the wealthy, they are quite okay with it. Indeed, in drafting the new farm bill the House Republicans rejected all calls to cap or eliminate subsidies to wealthy individuals and corporations. [click to continue…]

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About 10 days ago I sat at breakfast  in Lomé, the capital of Togo, a sliver of a country in West Africa, watching French TV news of the capture, and what turned out to be false reports of the liberation, of seven French tourists in northern Cameroon by the Nigerian radical Islamist group Boko Haram. It was hard not to feel concerned about the future of this part of the world. Lomé is a good 800 miles as the crow flies from where this most recent drama occurred – and a similar distance from northern Mali, where fierce fighting continues for control of the city of Gao – and I was in far more danger there from motorcycles going the wrong way down one-way streets than from terrorist kidnappers. But the fairly recent emergence of economic dynamism in much of Africa after decades of stagnation due to poor governance and political and ethnic strife remains fragile, and these developments highlight the risk. [click to continue…]

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It must come as some reassurance to Mitt Romney that he is not the only would-be President who says remarkably silly things he knows to be untrue. Last week Hillary Clinton, on a tour of sub-Saharan Africa, delivered a speech in Senegal in which she said that the United States would stand up for democracy and universal human rights “even when it might be easier or more profitable to look the other way, to keep the resources flowing.” In a barely veiled dig at China, she added, “Not every partner makes that choice, but we do and we will.” [click to continue…]

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The official visits to Paris during the first week of July by three African heads of state raised more questions than answers about the Africa policy of François Hollande, the newly-elected French President. On July 2 it was President Alpha Conde of Guinea, on July 5 Ali Bongo, President of Gabon, and on July 6 President Macky Sall of Senegal. Presidents Conde and Sall came to power through elections generally recognized as free and fair, but the 2009 elections that brought Bongo to power, succeeding his late father Omar Bongo, who had served as Gabon’s President for 42 years, were widely thought to have been rigged.

This series of visits came as something of a surprise, François Hollande having promised to put an end to “Françafrique,” the web of political, economic, and military links between France and its former African colonies, links that maintained France’s sphere of influence and allowed it to continue to think of itself as a world power. In the words of former President François Mitterrand, Without Africa, there will be no history of France in the 21st century. Françafrique, though it came to have a negative connotation, had already been official French policy since the founding of the Fifth Republic by Charles de Gaulle. [click to continue…]

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In Nairobi last week African officials and businessmen met with their U.S. counterparts for the eighth annual AGOA Forum. Hillary Clinton delivered the keynote speech. AGOA – the Africa Growth and Opportunity Act – is the U.S. law, passed in 2000 and set to remain in force until 2015, which grants preferential duty-free and largely quota-free access to the U.S. market for some 1,800 products from 41 sub-Saharan African countries. To what extent has AGOA helped Africa? [click to continue…]

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