Enduring Conflicts and New Challenges for Obama in Africa

The inauguration of President Barack Obama was filled with tremendously moving images, perhaps none more striking than the crowds who gathered in Kogelo, Kenya -- the birthplace of Obama's father -- to watch the ceremony. Archbishop Desmond Tutu and the South African newspaper Business Day both compared Obama's election to that of Nelson Mandela, the first democratically elected president in South Africa. As elsewhere in the world, Obama's task will be to maintain that enthusiasm in the face of real challenges.

Although Africa has been billed as one of the Bush administration's foreign policy successes, three conflicts continue to dominate headlines: Sudan, Somalia, and Zimbabwe. The Sudanese regime continues to perpetrate mass atrocities in Darfur, and the 2003 peace agreement between the north and south is at risk of unraveling; Somalia is still in a state of anarchy, with various Islamist factions fighting it out following the withdrawal of Ethiopian troops at the end of last year; and Robert Mugabe is still in power in Zimbabwe, despite a power-sharing agreement that was signed in September but never implemented.

In the short term, President Obama has no choice but to address these conflicts. The conflicts in Sudan and Somalia are two of the deadliest on the continent. The instability in Somalia has facilitated the emergence of pirates and Al-Shabaab (a radical Islamist insurgency with ties to al-Qaida), both threats to vital American interests. And Mugabe's tyranny in Zimbabwe has destroyed the country's economy and health care system, systematically violated political and civil liberties, and created a cholera epidemic and refugee crisis that threaten neighboring countries.

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