In advance of tonight’s presidential foreign policy debate, U.S. policy towards Africa should be an important question the candidates are considering. It’s an issue the candidates and their teams have undoubtedly thought about and already answered for themselves.
But I’ll be (pleasantly) surprised if either of the candidates gives U.S. engagement in Africa much attention. I suspect most of the airtime for Africa will focus on one country located way up in the North.
But whether they speak to pan-African issues and, if so, how they do it, will likely depend on whether they believe they can “sell” the American people on long-term consequences.
Marketing guru Seth Godin recently penned a blog entry entitled “truth or consequences,” in which he posits that trying to sell the long term to short-term focused audiences is insanely difficult. “If you are selling tomorrow,” cautions Godin, “be very careful not to pitch people who are only interested in buying things that are about today. It’s virtually impossible to sell financial planning or safety or the long-term impacts of the environment to a consumer or a voter who is relentlessly focused on what might be fun right now.”
Most people think the American electorate is only “today” focused. So, when it comes to Africa, some of the really important issues (ones that don’t involve a recent attack on an American embassy) are unlikely to get much play. There are many good foreign policy reasons for the U.S. to be engaged with Africa. But most of them have more to do with tomorrow than today. For example:
I won’t be surprise if these issues don’t get mentioned tonight, but I don’t think that means the candidates aren’t thinking about Africa. I think it means they don’t believe they can call sell it to the American people.
What messages do you think could work when it comes to foreign policy issues with largely long-term consequences?