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Experts say Obama, McCain Africa Policies Nearly Identical

A gathering of U.S. foreign policy experts, observers and diplomats has heard that American policy toward Africa will remain more or less constant, regardless of who wins the November 4 presidential election. VOA's Peter Heinlein in Addis Ababa reports strong evidence was presented to support the thesis that a President Obama might be tougher on Africa than a President McCain.

The seminar at the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa, was titled: The U.S. Presidential Election and Its Implications for Africa.

The conclusion: Washington's foreign policy, whether under a President John McCain or a President Barack Obama would be almost identical to that of President George W. Bush.

U.S. political scientist, Steven Ekovich, a professor at the American University in Paris, was one of the main presenters. He says a study of the Democrat and Republican platforms shows a remarkable similarity.

"I read both texts, and I had this strange impression that I read the same text twice. I read first Barack Obama's propositions for his Africa policy, then I read John McCain, and I found a few differences in nuance, but in terms of the general themes and general orientations, I had read the same text. Furthermore, I said not only have I read the same text, I've read this text before, I've seen this before. Where did I see this before because this is basically current American-Africa policy. No difference," said Ekovich.

Speaking to an audience of mainly African diplomats and intellectuals, Ekovich cautioned not to expect radical change if the man they call 'the son of Africa' is victorious.

"I think I can guess who your favorite candidate is. I think it's the favorite candidate of all Africans," he said. "I think there's a deep sympathy and attachment to Barack Obama. And therefore I think among your publics, there's a feeling if it's an African-American president, there will be a dramatic change in policy toward Africa. But I will say this, an African-American president can be tougher on you than a white president. He can give you what Americans call 'tough love'. He's going to be able to say, where another kind of president cannot say, 'You know, my African brothers and sisters are just going to have to do a better on corruption, on democracy, on reducing violence, etc. on these policy areas.' "

Professor Ekovich noted that Senator Obama has already shown a willingness to criticize African Americans for their perceived failings.

"A white guy can't say that in America, but Barack Obama could. If Barack Obama is somebody who can legitimately chastise his own African Americans, let's say there's going to be a new style in Africa policy if it's Barack Obama, but don't expect it's necessarily going to be something you're going to enjoy hearing from a President Obama," he added.

Ekovich pointed out that Senator Obama has referred to events in Sudan's Darfur region as 'genocide', and said he would work to end it. The Democrat did not hesitate to criticize corruption in Kenya during a visit to his father's homeland. And like his Republican opponent, Obama favors increasing pressure on Zimbabwe's Robert Mugabe, accusing him of stealing the recent election and using violence against his own people.

After hearing the presentation, Kenyan diplomat Michael Oyogi said he had concluded that Africans could expect nothing new from the presidential election, whatever the outcome.

"It means that not only the two of them but previous candidates and presidents of the U.S. would not, you would not decipher much of a change between those presidents and the one that is going to come as a result of forthcoming elections. We can conclude at this moment that the implications are zero," said Oyogi.

Participants say just the fact that this conference is being held indicates an unprecedented fascination, some might say an obsession, in parts of Africa with the U.S. presidential election. It suggests that, like never before, Africans will be waking up early on the morning of November 5, or in some cases staying up all night, turning on their radios and TV sets to hear the American people's verdict.