Thursday, November 13, 2008
Is Africa ready for Obama?
Since Africa gained independence from European colonial masters, the US government has only sporadically paid attention to the vast sub-Saharan stretches of the continent. What attention has been paid usually has come in response to crises, both natural and human-made.
Let's face it: The US is the most powerful nation in the world. Decisions made by an American president affect millions across the globe. Pundits have been questioning whether America is ready for Obama. The question that should be asked is this: Is Africa ready for Obama?
The answer is a big "Yes". When Barack Obama occupies the Oval Office and White House on January 20 next year, he will move his father's native continent higher up on this country's policy agenda. In this ever-more-interdependent world, that would be good for both Africa and America unless corrupt or incompetent government officials prevent it.
We all know that the US' current foreign diplomacy hasn't worked. Part of Obama's appeal is the fresh perspective he holds on world matters.
Even before Obama announced his candidacy for election, he had already attracted attention, not only from America, but indeed from all over the world.
Africa saw a connection through his father. No wonder Kenyans claimed him as their own.
For all the whining over Obama's identity, the question to ponder is this:
Will a black president be more favourable towards Third World countries? What do Africa and the developing world stand to benefit from a black president?
Considering how popular Obama is around the world, particularly Africa, coupled with his naturally amiable persona and his solid international background, will his presidency see the end of hatred towards America? Or will it compromise his country's foreign and domestic policy goals?
Obama has already spoken about the responsibility of Africans to take action against "a lack of basic rule of law and accountability that has hampered the ability of countries with enormous natural resources".
"Ultimately, a new generation of Africans have to recognise the international community and the international relief organisations. The US can't help Africa if its own leaders are undermining the possibilities of progress," Obama said during his trip to Africa in 2006.
In his 1995 memoir, Dreams From My Father, Obama recalled his first trip to Africa, when, in his late 20s, he cried as he sat between the graves of his father and grandfather.
By acknowledging that the power of the US is finite, Obama presents himself as a foreign policy pragmatist, one who is different from the neo-conservatives who have a more strait-jacketed view of the world.
It is always hoped that a candidate's words will match his actions. Obama has a wealth of words but, unlike many candidates, he turns them into action.
He does not have to craft the Utopia his followers dream of. He follows his own words. As he said at the Democratic National Convention in 2004, the American Dream is measured in "a faith in simple dreams, an insistence on small miracles".
Obama may be an idealist, but he is also a brazen progressive. By putting him in the White House, Americans have produced their most-liked president since Bill Clinton.
An American president with a more favourable outlook and appreciation of the ever-fluid and transient nature of global politics such as Obama is the political bandage that could restore the US.
The inner circle of foreign policy experts advising Obama is small but influential.
His advisers consist of three people who worked in President Bill Clinton's administration: former National Security Adviser (NSA) Anthony Lake and former senior State Department officials Susan Rice and Gregory Craig.
Lake was the NSA adviser during Clinton's first term.
Rice was the senior adviser on national security affairs and an assistant secretary of state for African affairs and a special assistant to the president at the National Security Council at the Clinton White House.
The Obama foreign policy team deals with counter-terrorism, the development of democracy, the inter-related matters of energy and the environment, global health, homeland security and nuclear non-proliferation, among other issues.
Obama is aware that if he wishes to regain respect in the world, the current brand of US democracy isn't palatable to everyone. There are certain rights every human being should be entitled to.
If he hopes to get other world leaders to the same table, Obama knows that he needs to lead by example. He has said that the US needs to come to that table with a closed mouth and open ears. He understands that America needs to listen to all sides, something the Bush administration has refused to do.
Obama knows that America can't hope to resolve issues if no one listens.
For Obama, open communication is a priority, without conditions.
The US must learn to share the world forum with even the smallest of countries.
Obama knows that every country has a stake in this planet we all inhabit.
He is a respectable leader to represent America to the world.America needs young blood in leadership. The US needs new policies in foreign affairs.
In Obama, America has not only an effective speaker, but also an effective listener. This is a major step in promoting world peace.
Obama may only have been a first-term senator with little Washington experience when he launched his presidential bid, but he understands that realism in American policy can be achieved without the risk of the type of power politics Bush employed.
Obama, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee's sub-committee on Africa, has said his goal is not simply to dwell on problems, but to talk about solutions, too.
"These days, the challenges Africa faces are well-documented. The opportunities are less known," he said.
"When I visited an Aids clinic, what I tried to learn was not simply whether Aids is devastating in a country like Kenya.
"What I hoped to learn in talking to a nurse or a mother or talking to a doctor was what programmes are working to prevent Aids, to treat Aids."
Obama's mixture of African roots and political celebrity will, at least, call for new attention to those problems, a big step away from the status quo.
Africa has long been ignored as a national issue, even by the Democratic Party, which relies heavily on black voters during presidential elections.
That should change because Obama is a strong Democratic leader.
Obama's heart is with Africa. More important than Obama's skin colour and partial African heritage is that he will bring a change from the policies of the Bush administration.
He may not be a foreign policy wonk but he is up to the task of providing the far-sighted leadership that former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan had called for from America when he said: "The system still cries out for far-sighted American leadership."
Obama's race and modest upbringing in Hawaii are the most dramatic changes in a political society dominated by rich white men.
He has broken the stereotypes of the Bush administration.
The poetic truth of Obama - the son of an African goat herder - replacing Bush - the son of an oil tycoon - is sweet enough to give even the hardest cynics a toothache.
Imagine the Zimbabwean tyrant Robert Mugabe blaming his people's suffering on the American white devil under President Obama?
With his background, Obama is not a humanist per se, but he is not unreceptive to human interest policies, both at home and abroad, which will implicitly eliminate the need for animosity towards the United States.
Africa is ready for President Obama.