Oxfam's to-do list for President Obama's Africa trip

By ebhatti

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Oxfam is urging President Obama and African leaders to make bold commitments to help transform African institutions into models of transparency and accountability over the next decade as billions of dollars in aid flows and oil, gas and mining revenues pour into the continent, affecting millions of lives.

With the President and First Lady Michelle Obama scheduled to travel to Senegal, South Africa and Tanzania over the next few days, the time is now to address the continent’s continued economic development, said Raymond C. Offenheiser, President of Oxfam America.

“President Obama got it right in Accra in 2009 when he said Africa's future lies with Africa's institutions. Now it’s time for the President to help Africa realize its full potential by investing directly in local governments and citizens, helping to increase transparency of budgets, extractive industry revenues, and tax systems for governments,” said Offenheiser.

Over the next decade, more than $1 trillion in natural resources will be extracted from the African continent. Currently, Africa exports more than $300 billion a year in oil, gas and mineral exports—more than four times the amount of aid the continent receives. But that money is not building roads, schools and hospitals for Africa’s people. In fact, booming extractives industries often lead to more poverty and powerlessness. The people of Kedougou, Senegal, for instance, live atop a large scale gold-mining operation. But despite the riches found in their soil, none of it has been returned to their community.  Many have lost access to the agricultural land that sustained their families, and many others did not even receive adequate compensation when they were forced off their lands without consultation.

Millions of people living near oil and mining sites, like those in Kedougou, struggle to survive on less than $2 a day. Instead of opportunity, this resource curse delivers environmental damage, loss of land and human rights abuses.

“I urge President Obama to shine a bright light on the current lack of transparency and accountability that perpetuates cycles of poverty and inequality in developing African nations,” said Offenheiser. “Tell your African counterparts to work to increase transparency in their budgets. Open payments from oil and mining companies to the light of transparency. Give African citizens knowledge about revenues from oil and mining companies. Let those citizens decide how to put their money to work for their own futures—let them claim their rights and fight for their own development.”

It’s time to lead by example, continued Offenheiser.

“President Obama should publicly announce when his own administration will release U.S. government aid data, setting a tone on institutional transparency. As one of the largest aid donors in the world, the United States shouldn’t be one of the least transparent.”

Souleymane Zeba, West Africa Regional Director of Oxfam, added, “The resources generated by extractives industries should be helping local communities build resilience against climate and food security shocks, particularly in the Sahel where recurrent food crises are epidemic."

Offenheiser sees even greater potential for agriculture in Africa, with the right investments.

“The President’s Feed the Future Initiative recognizes the central role that agriculture can play in driving economic growth and poverty reduction, but initiatives like the New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition, which promote private sector investment in select African countries, must not distract from badly needed development aid to this critical sector,” said Offenheiser. “The President must address legitimate concerns raised by civil society organizations about this initiative.”

In South Africa, Oxfam urges President Obama’s continued support for community-led accountability mechanisms.

“President Obama’s support for our HIV/AIDS response has been immensely important for South Africa’s continued efforts to realize the ambitions of a democratic, people-centered South Africa,” said Allan Moolman, Oxfam’s Country Director in South Africa.

 

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