Wednesday, November 05, 2008

A South African perspective on President Barack Obama


In the last two months of the US election campaign South Africa's president has been deposed and its main political party split.

But 14 years after South Africa elected its first black president, Barack Obama's bid to follow suit has remained front page news.

In a country acutely aware of race and its role in politics Mr Obama appears South Africa's overwhelming preference.

On election day itself one newspaper proclaimed "Obamania: World Wants Illinois Senator in White House".

That preference appears to be based more on symbolism than any evidence that Mr Obama will mean a real change in bilateral relations.

In fact it's possible that America's next president may be less favourable to Africa than his often derided predecessor.

George W Bush is widely credited with increasing foreign aid for Africa and for South Africa in particular, his support of HIV/Aids-related projects has been welcome.

Mr Obama has promised to double foreign aid - but his running mate Joe Biden has already suggested that the global financial crisis may mean that commitment not being met.

President Bush is also credited with the African Growth and Opportunities Act which allows African countries like South Africa to export selected goods into the US tariff free.

With the Democrats enjoying closer ties to the trade unions and a recession imminent there may now be pressure on President Obama to take a more protectionist stance.

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