by Chimmuanya Obi
When Obama was inaugurated as the 44th President of the United States of America, Africa watched with keen interest. A man with a Luo heritage from the country of Kenya was expected to offer a new direction in US-African relations, one that would encourage economic partnership beyond aid, as well as political support. In his first term, Obama travelled to Ghana, Kenya, and Tanzania to promote political transparency and encourage leadership among a new generation of African men and women. The Young African Leadership Initiative (YALI), hosted by our very own Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy, has invited young professionals from different African nations to learn effective strategies to become better leaders for their respective nations. Despite initiatives like these, Obama could have done more to proactively include Africa in American foreign policy.
On the political front, Obama called for more transparency in African governance, but rarely pushed leaders to be more accepting of the will of the people and human rights. For example, in 2010 the US was fairly quiet during the Ivory Coast conflict that broke out when then-President Laurent Gbagbo refused to accept his election defeat. The US was similarly quiet on the protests in Ethiopia last year, and the recently resolved election crisis in The Gambia. While Obama did not have a horrible relationship with Africa, it was below the expectations of many African people.
Now enter President Donald Trump. A character if there was ever one to enter the White House. In his inaugural address, he pledged to put “America first,” which could greatly alter the status quo of American foreign policy. While Trump has listed the usual areas of interests – Russia, China, the Middle East, Europe – in which he will address policy, Africa was left widely unnoticed. With a wild card like Trump in the White House, we could see an opportunity to reset US-Africa relations by focusing on areas of shared interest.
One area to look at for this reset is terrorism. While many see the Middle East as the breeding ground for radical Islamic terrorism, Africa has also attracted terrorist groups to set up base. In Somalia, al-Shabaab has caused much instability not only in the country but in neighboring Kenya where there is a current refugee crisis as Somalis flee violence in their country. In Nigeria, Boko Haram has a strong presence, and one of their most heinous acts was the kidnaping of hundreds of school girls from Chibok in the North-Eastern part of Nigeria, in addition to killing 29 schoolboys during the night as they slept. These actions propelled Boko Haram to international notoriety, sparking the Bring Back Our Girls campaign in 2014. Both organizations have one thing in common – they have pledged loyalty to the Islamic State. One of Trump’s campaign promises was to eradicate ISIS. This can be approached by reducing their sphere of influence, which can be done relatively easily. Despite the prevalence of both al-Shabaab and Boko Haram, the spread of their influence has been largely restrained. African Union troops led by Kenya have managed to secure parts of Somalia. In December, Nigerian forces pushed Boko Haram insurgents out of the Sambisa Forest, the Boko Haram stronghold. Trump could offer American tactical support to help locate insurgents, working with these nations in their fight against terrorism. It would not require any ground force commitments, as militaries from both Nigeria and Kenya are capable and prepared to maintain lead combat roles.
Economic partnership is another area where Trump and Africa can improve relations. Africa, specifically Ghana, Nigeria, Rwanda, South Africa and Tanzania, has a vibrant budding middle class as economic growth continues to increase on the continent. The next goal is to reduce aid dependence and increase financial self-sufficiency. While development agencies such as the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) have worked with African governments on development projects, facilitating transatlantic trade with the continent will be the next crucial step. Although Trump is taking a more populist approach to trade, Africa can still benefit by increasing trade directly with the United States. This could be done by taking a more specific approach when trading with the continent such as crafting bilateral trade deals with different African nations. Tailoring trade to specific countries would build on each nation’s economic strengths and combat their weaknesses. This would play well for Trump as it could be beneficial to reduce China’s influence on the continent through intense American economic cooperation.
President Trump has already changed the dynamics of policy making in the US domestically and internationally. There is the possibility for a true reset in US-African relations, and for change that will benefit all parties. Trump has an opportunity to advance relations with the African continent in a less conventional way than his predecessors have. Trump and Africa could be an odd couple, but one that could be a potential highlight achievement in his presidential career.
 Baker, P. (2009, May 16). Obama Will Travel to Ghana. Retrieved from https://thecaucus.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/05/16/obama-chooses-ghana-for-first-africa-trip/?_r=0
 Hussein, H. (2015, July 28). What exactly is Obama’s Africa legacy? Retrieved from http://america.aljazeera.com/opinions/2015/7/what-exactly-is-obamas-africa-legacy.html
 Lilley, K. (2016, November 15). DONALD TRUMP'S AFRICA POLICY: THREE PRIORITIES. Retrieved from http://www.newsweek.com/three-priorities-donald-trump-africa-521375
 Campbell, J. (2016, December 22). Africa Shouldn’t Freak Out About Trump. Retrieved from http://foreignpolicy.com/2016/12/22/africa-shouldnt-freak-out-about-trump/
 29 Boys Killed as Boko Haram Attacks Boarding School in Nigeria. (2014, February 25). Retrieved from http://www.nbcnews.com/news/world/29-boys-killed-boko-haram-attacks-boarding-school-nigeria-n37991
 Army presents captured Boko Haram flag to Buhari. (2016, December 22). Retrieved December 31, 2016, from http://punchng.com/army-presents-captured-boko-haram-flag-buhari/
by Madeline Merrill
I stepped off the 7 AM Amtrak from Charlottesville, and made a beeline for the Union Station McDonald’s for a cup of coffee. As I waited in line with the other under-caffeinated commuters traveling to and from our nation’s capital, a man with a tattered jacket, scuffed shoes, and ripped jeans approached me and asked me to buy him a cup of coffee.
I hesitantly obliged. I was already running late for a meeting, and living on a graduate student’s budget. Wasn’t there another stranger he could ask? After a moment’s reflection, my generosity won over. After all, it was the holidays, and aren’t we all supposed to be a little nicer around these times? But when I reached the counter, he ordered over my head, and instructed the cashier to get him a large house coffee, extra hot, with sugar and three creams, and she might as well add a breakfast sandwich to his order, on me.
It was obvious I wasn’t the first traveler to acquiesce to his request for breakfast. All my holiday goodwill instantly disappeared – this gentleman was clearly a regular loiterer, and I had just furthered his dependence on strangers, on my already stretched dime.
But after the gentleman had collected his sandwich and coffee, during my hundred steps or so from the McDonald’s to the Metro, I contemplated why a seemingly capable man would be unable to secure stable work, and resort to asking strangers for handouts. Why was an able-bodied, middle-aged D.C. resident sleeping on the grates outside of the train station? Why was D.C., a city bloated with opportunity for young political aspirants, be a region so bleak for the working class, and those trying to break into the working class?
Washington, D.C. is a city of privilege and power, but a different scene unfolds merely steps from our nation’s Capitol. The average unemployment rate nationally regularly sits around 4.8%, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. In the District of Columbia, our capital and the hub of our political discourse, the unemployment rate is 6.5%. The District of Columbia officially has the highest rate of homelessness among the 32 largest U.S. cities, as of December 2016. For every 10,000 residents of the District, there are 124.2 homeless people.
For all the lobbying money and think tanks and bright minds that flow into Washington, we have yet to transform the capital into a city of opportunity for the chronically homeless, and other residents struggling to make ends meet. Mayor Muriel Bowser and her administration trace this hike in homelessness to a lack of affordable housing within the city’s borders, and stagnant minimum wages.
Homelessness, according to the Department of Housing and Urban Development and as authorized under the Hearth Act, is defined as “individuals and families who lack a fixed, regular, and adequate nighttime residence; individuals and families who will imminently lose their primary nighttime residence; unaccompanied youth [under age 25] and families with children and youth who are defined as homeless under certain other federal statutes who do not otherwise qualify as homeless under this group of four definitions; and individuals and families who are fleeing, or attempting to flee, domestic violence, sexual assault, stalking, or other dangerous or life-threatening conditions that relate to violence against the individual or a family member.” 
Between the years of 2009 to 2016, the D.C. homeless population increased 34.1%. Chronically homeless individuals are just one segment of that population. On any given night in the District, roughly 1,500 individuals are experiencing chronic homelessness, as contrasted with the approximately 8,000 families and households that experience homelessness over the course of a given year. An overall count of the D.C. metropolitan region, not limited to the city’s borders, listed 11,623 people without permanent shelter in the Washington area over the 2014-2015 winter season.
The Washington Post’s Aaron Davis writes, “For the first time since the annual [District-wide homelessness] census began in 2001, homeless children and their parents in the District outnumbered homeless single adults, a population beset by mental illness and disabilities that historically has loomed as the larger and more intractable problem in cities nationwide. On one day in late January, officials counted 4,667 homeless children and their parents, compared with 3,683 single adults.” 
The loitering gentleman outside of the Union Station McDonald’s is now in the minority of the District of Columbia’s homeless population. The shifting reality is that most families experiencing housing insecurity are crowded out of their neighborhoods and their homes because young professionals – like me – are willing to pay exorbitant prices for high-rise studios and front the inflating real estate costs. We write off the $1000-plus per month rent, knowing that our college diplomas and K Street salaries will be able to pay off our mounting loans and student debt. Gentrification is occurring footsteps from the White House and the Capitol, and the minimum-wage worker cannot keep up. The most substantive portion of homeless individuals in the District are not those sleeping on the grates off K Street or outside Union Station. According to Mayor Bowser’s administration, they are families who are priced out of their neighborhoods and their apartments, rerouted to homeless shelters, churches, or family friends’ homes. 
The Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments publicly stated that the “single greatest barrier to ending homelessness” in the D.C. region was a “diminishing number of affordable and available permanent housing opportunities for the lowest-income households.” The council also said a shortage of living-wage jobs has prevented the 39 percent of working homeless parents counted in this winter’s tally from earning enough to provide housing for themselves or their families.  Lower-income families are watching their neighborhoods transform right under their noses, as there are diminishing prospects to live and work within the District’s borders with stagnant minimum wages.
There may be a glimmer of hope for the homeless population in the District – Mayor Muriel Bowser’s administration has made great strides. The District of Columbia now has one of the lowest proportions of homeless youth and unsheltered homeless individuals. Furthermore, her team goes above and beyond in housing homeless veterans, and has made an “unprecedented $100 million annual investment in the affordable housing fund.”  D.C. General - a former hospital in Southeast D.C. that has been used for years to house homeless families - is being replaced by seven smaller, neighborhood-based facilities that would be distributed across the city and make accessing homeless shelters easier for D.C. residents.  There is work yet to do, but Ms. Bowser and her team remain focused on their goal to make D.C. a more affordable community.
The American public, however, remains unclear of the positions held by Dr. Ben Carson – the new Secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development. We need to know more about his stances on housing vouchers, on Section 8 Housing, and on how he plans to assist Mayor Bowser in ensuring that D.C. is an affordable capital city with opportunities for all.
The fate of our nation’s affordable housing rests in the hands of a surgeon – here’s to hoping Dr. Carson treats housing policy with the same exactness and precision as his scalpel.
by Madeline Merrill
This past winter break, my family and I left port from Baltimore, Maryland the day immediately following Christmas. We wound our way through the Atlantic Ocean aboard the Carnival Pride to Grand Turk, Half Moon Cay, and Freeport, Bahamas for some much-needed time away from school and work.
While aboard the Carnival cruise line, we encountered many a crew member who hailed from the Philippines, Russia, Peru, or Indonesia – countries with average GDPs significantly lower than that of America’s. I can recall meeting only two American employees among the Carnival Pride crewmembers.
The cruise line industry employs approximately 200,000 individuals worldwide. Typically, there is one crew member for every three to four passengers on board each commercial ship. The hours can be long, and a worker’s ability to ‘get away’ from work is extremely limited, if not impossible, while aboard the cruise line. But cruise lines can justify their low pay to their workers in our global economy, as the income of staff members is often notably higher than salaries available in employees’ home countries.
The International Transport Workers’ Federation “represents seafarers on bodies such as the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) and the International Labour Organisation (ILO), which set these global standards for employment conditions, recruitment, training and safety at sea.”  These are international authorities that dictate regulations for the working conditions for employees, as well as safety regulations. But although cruise lines do abide by some international maritime standards, the employee pay and working conditions fall well below American labor standards, and the International Maritime Organization does not have the authority to enforce its own rules.
Major companies like Carnival and Royal Caribbean are incorporated into foreign countries’ GDPs, like Panama, the Bahamas, Bermuda, and Liberia. By proudly flying the flag of these nations on their ships – and not that of the United States – these corporations are able to avoid United States’ federal taxes, labor laws, and safety regulations. 
Cruise Lines International Association represents 26 cruise lines, and publicly shared that, in 2011, three-quarters of the nearly 16 million cruise bookings worldwide were made from the United States.  Although it is Americans who are enjoying the vast majority of Caribbean getaways at lower prices, a maid aboard a Royal Caribbean ship, for example, may work 12 hours a day, seven days a week, for as little as $156.25 a week with no tips. U.S. labor laws are not applicable to provide protection to crew members at sea, nor is there any real oversight of the cruise lines' operations .
Safety precautions are a pressing concern for guests and crew members alike. Ross Klein, a cruise expert and author, shares that “fires broke out in 79 cruise ships from 1990 to 2011. Most of these fires received little coverage in the U.S. press. It is a topic that the travel publications avoid and travel agents do not like to hear,” contrasting against their colorful advertisements of cruising as a fun, safe family vacation.
The cruise industry provides once-in-a-lifetime memories for American families at relatively discounted prices, but at what social cost to employees? At what safety risk? Americans - my family included - might want to think twice before booking an all-inclusive cruise down south. Safety concerns, low pay, and tax evasion are just a few reasons why Carnival and Royal Caribbean stay ‘afloat’ financially. But we as consumers need to be diligent in our demands for fair wages for workers and the safest ships possible.