WASHINGTON, DC — On the eve of his historic trip to Ghana, international humanitarian agency Oxfam called on President Obama to commit to a new partnership for African development built on new resources and new measures to increase transparency and accountability.
"Much like the Cairo speech, we are hoping the Accra speech will signal a new era of engagement, respect and partnership with Africa," said Raymond C. Offenheiser, President of Oxfam America. "This historic visit, so early in his presidency and on the heels of important commitments at the G8 in Italy, signals the importance President Obama places on African development."
Millions of Africans live in extreme poverty, and are now hit hard by the global economic and climate crisis. Sub-Saharan Africa alone is expecting losses of up to $245 billion this year as a result of the global slump, which is almost seven times the amount it receives in global aid. In Ghana, a resource-rich country, the life expectancy is a mere 58 years and 70% of people in the poor northern regions live on less than $1 a day. Despite the economic crisis, Africa continues to attract large investments to extract the riches that lie below ground, producing billions in government revenues. By 2015, oil revenues in African oil-exporting countries will exceed the amount needed to meet key social development goals by $35 billion annually—but investing this money wisely is not a sure thing.
"Africa is rich in natural resources like gold, diamonds and oil, but, too often, these resources have contributed to corruption, conflict, and human rights abuses," said Offenheiser. "But important progress can be made to turn this around. President Obama can help by supporting increased transparency and the disclosure of payments from US and other companies to African governments to help ensure responsible use of billions of dollars of government revenues per year."
Oxfam praised Ghana's recent commitment to transparency in the country's nascent oil sector and urged President Obama to encourage the government to follow through on these commitments and encourage other African governments to follow the positive steps the Ghanaian government has taken to date.
Oxfam also noted that key reforms are needed to make the US foreign aid system as effective as possible in reducing poverty and creating prosperous communities throughout the developing world. The US currently lacks a coherent assistance strategy for many of the countries it is trying to help. Oxfam is calling on the US to keep recipient country governments and their public informed on the nature and amount of American aid, help the recipient country to manage its own development, and ultimately, let each recipient country lead its own development agenda.
"American generosity is undermined by a reactive approach that prioritizes relief efforts—like food aid—that saves lives, but doesn't address underlying causes of poverty and hunger," said Offenheiser. "If the US wants to use its aid consistently help the poor in countries such as Ghana, it needs a global development strategy to guide the US government's efforts to fight poverty."
Climate change is already impacting the lives and livelihoods of millions of poor people in Africa, as a recent Oxfam report details. Tackling these impacts is essential to addressing food security and broader development objectives. President Obama must commit to help bring about a comprehensive global climate strategy that will help poor communities cope with the impacts of global warming, from failed crops to dwindling reserves of clean water and displacement caused by extreme weather events.
"Global hunger and poverty is a human tragedy exacerbated by faltering investments in agricultural production and the growing impacts of climate change," said Offenheiser. "We are pleased to see President Obama follow through on his commitments to reassert US leadership and address the challenges facing the billion people around the world without enough food."