Former White House political director Patrick Gaspard, President Barack Obama’s Haitian-American nominee to succeed Donald Gips as Washington’s ambassador to South Africa, is a step closer to Pretoria. Last Wednesday he made the obligatory appearance before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

In his prepared text, he told the panel the US had a “vital role to play in President Zuma’s efforts to improve the quality and accessibility of education; the struggle to combat high unemployment and by extension the epidemic in crime; and the challenge of income inequality.”

“Beyond our aid assistance and technical expertise,” he continued, “our greatest contribution will be in stimulating private investment and trade. This will be a major priority for my mission if I am confirmed…There are more than 600 American companies already based in South Africa and I will work to see that number grow.” Continue reading “Insider”


No Free Rides

Briefing reporters aboard Air Force One en route from Johannesburg to Dar es Salaam last week, Mike Froman, President Obama’s new US Trade Representative (USTR), talked about the difficulty of transporting goods between Kenya and Rwanda.

“Right now, a product that comes in through the port of Mombasa and wants to make its way to Kigali, you run into 47 road blocks,” he said, according to the White House transcript. “On average, it takes a month…When you get to the border, trucks will wait for oftentimes days, cross into the next country and face another border crossing with a different customs system.”

Mr Froman was explaining his office’s efforts, rebranded as Trade Africa for the Obama trip, to promote regional integration starting with the five-member East African Community. Unless it became easier and cheaper to get their goods to market, he said, few African countries would ever benefit fully from duty free access to the US under the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA). Continue reading “No Free Rides”

Africa’s Lincoln

Of Nelson Mandela’s many chroniclers few are more astute than the journalist John Carlin who covered South Africa’s democratic transition for the London Independent, then wrote Playing the Enemy which became the film Invictus. “Mandela”, he wrote in the Cairo Review in 2011, “is Africa’s Lincoln”.

He was referring to the Great Emancipator, Abraham Lincoln, America’s 16th president, thanks to whom the swath of territory between Canada and the Rio Grande is today occupied by one United States rather than a constellation of disunited ones, and Barak Obama is its president.

“Mandela, like Lincoln, achieved the historically rare feat of uniting a fiercely divided country,” Carlin wrote. “ The feat is rare because what ordinary politicians have always done is seek power by highlighting difference and fueling antagonism. Mandela sought it by appealing to people’s common humanity.” So did Lincoln. Continue reading “Africa’s Lincoln”