The perception that Africa takes a backseat to Asia in President Barack Obama’s foreign policy view obscures a compelling strategic landscape the administration could construct were it ever to elevate the attention it apportions to Africa. With the global geo-economic center of gravity shifting from west to east and north to south, Africa in general and eastern and southern Africa in particular constitute the missing piece in what could constitute the shaping of a coherent U.S.-global South strategy; one based on a convergence of Asia and Africa policies. But for this to happen, President Obama must afford comparable status to Kenya and the East African Community (EAC) to what he confers on Indonesia and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).
To be sure, the Obama administration has been preoccupied with Kenya’s stability and, more broadly, with regional security in northeast Africa. Yet, it has not been moved to develop a broader regional initiative revolving around Nairobi comparable to what it is weaving around Indonesia and the ASEAN. Moreover, South Africa - and its bid to have Home Affairs Minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma become the new head of the African Union (AU) – figures importantly in this calculus. But the first order of business should be creating convergence between Kenya and the EAC with Indonesia and the ASEAN as centerpieces in fashioning the U.S./Afro-Asian component of a global strategy. Here, Obama’s Trans-Pacific Partnership would be the foundational element for a broader coalition with East Africa. Beyond that, Kenya and East Africa should be perceived in much broader geostrategic terms.