Last updated: July 06. 2013 12:32PM - 1709 Views

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U.S. President Barack Obama paid tribute to the inspiration of Nelson Mandela at the weekend during his first presidential visit to sub-Saharan Africa, and offered a vision of his own for the continent’s future. Obama spoke of the importance of embracing democracy and shaking off aid-dependency.

Despite his Kenyan bloodline, Obama’s only previous visit to sub-Saharan Africa was a 20-hour stopover in Ghana in 2009. Since then, Chinese presidents or vice presidents have visited 30 African nations, striving for influence and to secure Africa as a source of strategic raw materials. Soon after he recently took office, Chinese President Xi Jinping made a beeline for Africa, leaving no doubt about the importance Beijing attaches to the continent’s vast mineral resources. China far outstrips the US as Africa’s biggest trading partner. The Addis Ababa headquarters of the African Union has been built with Chinese money and an exclusively Chinese workforce. On their frequent visits, Chinese leaders have faced no protests against China’s exploitation or its attitude to human rights.

By contrast, Obama, in Johannesburg, has been confronted by muddle-headed “Nobama” protesters, some from organizations allied to the ruling ANC, demanding his arrest for “crimes against humanity” and denouncing “US colonialism”. This is despite the annual $1 billion the US provides Africa to combat AIDS, and Washington’s training African armies to fight jihadists linked to al-Qai’da.

Faced with such hypocritical protests, Obama has emphasized the importance of democracy and the rule of law. He has underlined the need for Africa to break out of the aid dependency trap and ensure its resources are not exploited in a way that returns little to its people. Long-standing and exploitative Chinese aid to Zimbabwe is an example of what to avoid. As with other autocratic and kleptocratic African rulers, Beijing has helped sustain the Mugabe dictatorship, but done nothing to improve the lot of Zimbabweans.

Five of the world’s 10 fastest-growing economies are African and the World Bank believes the continent is on the brink of an economic take-off like China and India a generation ago. That promise will be fulfilled, however, only if African leaders wean their nations off the aid-dependency trap and make democracy and human rights an essential part of economic progress.

The Australian, Sydney

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