Obama's new Africa strategy and some advice for the international research community

It's not as easy as it looks... President Obama juggles more than just business, investment, trade, development, corruption, poverty reduction, health, and conservation in Tanzania. (Photo from adn.com)

It's not as easy as it looks... President Obama juggles more than just business, investment, trade, development, corruption, poverty reduction, health, and conservation in Tanzania. (Photo from adn.com)

- David Wolking

President Obama was in Tanzania today.  Sadly he did not visit the HALI project team or our partners at Sokoine University.  We understand, there were more pressing issues at hand in Dar es Salaam, where the President met with Tanzania's leaders and discussed improving US-Tanzania relationships, trade, and the investment climate.

Notably, Obama committed  $10 million to combat illegal wildlife trafficking in eastern Africa, including a dedicated post through the US Fish and Wildlife Service to support the region through better enforcement, policy, and practice.  In addition, he signed an executive order to create a task force dedicated to reducing US demand for trafficked wildlife.  This is great news for conservation in East Africa, a traditional wildlife trade and export hub to Asia, and sadly a region where instability and conflict threaten conservation gains as terrorist groups increasingly rely on poaching and trafficking to fund activities.

But the most intriguing element of Obama's focus on Africa is a refreshing step away from aid and donor dependence and towards utilizing US federal assistance and infrastructure as leverage to support greater investments in business, trade, research and development.  'The President promised to "step up our game" in a region that is home to six of the world's 10 fastest growing economies,' and offered advice to African leaders on international partnerships: choose your international partners carefully, and push back against countries that bring in their own workers or mine Africa's natural resources but handle the production outside the continent.

Obama's advice is especially relevant to the international research community, where sadly Africa's abundance of natural resources is all to often exploited for scientific gain by an international community of researchers unwillingly to invest the time, energy, or capital in treating research activities as training grounds and learning labs for an emerging cadre of brilliant African scientists.  Part of the problem is no doubt linked to research funding and restrictions on time and resources to adequately integrate capacity building into the research process.  However, even with limited funds and tight timelines, capacity building and training can accompany programs and lead to better and more reliable results, along with improving the efficiency and efficacy of research in future projects.  

HALI has been working with national parks staff, village leaders, children, community game scouts, livestock extension officers and health officials, students in community development at local training institutes and colleges, and bachelors and graduate level students at Sokoine University since project inception in 2006.  Integrating intensive training and professional development into technical research work plans has been a challenging process.  Sometimes training is incredibly basic, like learning to use Microsoft Office and Excel, but it can also involve extraordinarily technical lessons like fruit bat capture and immobilization, and molecular diagnostics and viral discovery.  We find that capacity building is our most rewarding endeavor, and we hope, our longest lasting investment as this promising young generation of development practitioners and researchers go onto lead their own independent studies, development projects, and entrepreneurial activities in areas well beyond our imagination and HALI's initial scope.  

A lot of energy, attention, and investment can follow from US Presidential visit to a country like Tanzania.  Let' hope Obama's advice on investing time, energy, and capital is heeded not only by the US and international business and development community, but also by the research and academic community working to understand and identify today's problems and offer up tomorrow's solutions.  

Enough soap boxing...  check out some of our own young and brilliant scientific leaders over at the HALI Team page.