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What Will ‘Brother Barack’ Do for Africa?

Posted on Dec 26, 2008
Kenyans for Obama
AP photo / Riccardo Gangale

Kenyans in Kisumu, in the west of the country, celebrate the U.S. presidential election victory of Barack Obama.

By Gbemisola Olujobi

(Page 2)

One such possibility, according to Kenyan Graphine Okinda, is a boost in Kenya’s tourism industry from which he would expect a personal gain. “People will come from America to see where he [Obama] is from. The tourism industry will improve. Maybe, when I finish school, I can be employed in a big hotel.”
Kgalema Motlanthe, the new South African president, told Obama in a congratulatory message that his election “carries with it hope for millions of your countrymen and women as much as it is for millions of people particularly of African descent both in the continent of Africa as well as those in the Diaspora.”

Motlanthe also urged Obama to use his presidency to tackle poverty in Africa. “We express the hope that poverty and under-development in Africa, which remains a challenge for humanity, will indeed continue to receive a greater attention of the focus of the new administration.”

Obama is not unaware of these hopes and expectations. Indeed, they have been high since he visited the continent as a senator in 2006 and proclaimed, “You are all my brothers and sisters.” In Kenya, South Africa, Ethiopia, Djibouti and Chad, he told cheering crowds that he would lobby for help back in the U.S. to solve their problems.

And even though he was quick to remind his kinsmen in western Kenya that he was the senator for Illinois in the United States—not Kogelo, or indeed Africa—the foreign policy page at states that Obama worked with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid “to secure $20 million for the African Union peacekeeping mission in Darfur.”

Obama co-sponsored Senate legislation that would enable federal, state and municipal government entities to divest themselves of Sudan-related stock. He co-sponsored, along with Sen. Sam Brownback, who accompanied him on his August 2006 trip to South Africa, Kenya, Djibouti, Chad and Sudan, the Darfur Peace and Accountability Act of 2006, which classified the Darfur conflict as genocide and authorized U.S. assistance for African Union peacekeeping forces in the region.

He also co-authored, with Brownback, an Op-Ed article published in The Washington Post about the Bush administration’s efforts regarding the genocide in Darfur. On the subject of the African Union, the two senators wrote: “First, the administration must help transform the African Union protection force into a sizable, effective multinational force. … The African Union has begun discussions with the United Nations about folding itself into a follow-on U.N. mission, but because of the West’s reluctance to offend African sensibilities, all parties seem resigned to muddling along. It has become clear that a U.N.- or NATO-led force is required, and the administration must use diplomacy to override Chinese and Sudanese opposition to such a force and persuade outside troops to join it.”

And even now the man who traveled on dirt roads in bumpy buses with chickens nestled in his lap as he traced his Kenyan roots still has Africa very much on his mind. According to Witney Schneidman, a deputy assistant secretary of state for Africa in the Clinton administration who is now an Obama advisor, the president-elect has three fundamental objectives for Africa: to accelerate the continent’s integration into the global economy; to enhance peace and security; and to deepen democracy.

Whether he will be able to realize these objectives has, however, become a matter of grave concern across the African continent. After the riotous celebrations of the election of “one of our own,” reality is beginning to set in. While the less informed continue to daydream about the loads of benefits that might flow to them from Obama’s presidency, the elite are aware that Obama faces momentous global challenges, especially in Iraq, Afghanistan, Iran, Israel, Palestine and North Korea. There are also the global economic crisis and the current budget deficit in the United States.

The sobering reality therefore is that an Obama presidency may not bring a concrete change in terms of U.S. policy in Africa. The challenges Obama will face as president are so daunting that, according to Mark Schroeder, director of risk analysis for sub-Saharan Africa at the political intelligence group Stratfor, “Whatever his personal preferences are, he is going to face much more immediate pressing concerns. And those are dealing with Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, Russia and the global financial crisis.” Schroeder concluded that “there is not going to be a lot of political capital left over to devote to Africa.”

Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade has cautioned that “Africans must not ask extraordinary things from him [Obama], must not expect ... that through the miracle of his election America will rain money on Africa to change our continent. I don’t think that’s going to happen, and it wouldn’t be a good thing.”

Cameroonian historian and political theorist Achille Mbembe also warns that Africa’s expectations of Obama are “too emotional, irrational, and unrealistic.”

Says Mbembe: “I would make a distinction between the symbolic significance of this black man being elected to the most powerful position on Earth and the political consequences. Obama will be pushing the interests of America first. He would not be there as an African; he would be there as an American.”

Ousmane Sene, a professor of literature and American civilization at Senegal’s University of Cheikh Anta Diop, says, “we [Africans] should be drawing [inspirational] lessons from Obama’s victory rather than that … the coffers will open and billions of dollars will come. ... It doesn’t work like that.”

Those who are well aware that Obama’s presidency may not bring much to Africa in terms of concrete change, however, agree that it has great symbolic value for Africa and Africans. Political theorist Mbembe argues that Obama’s rise to office “holds the promise of a shift in Africa and the Diaspora from a politics of victimhood to a politics of possibility.”

According to Mbembe, “the Obama phenomenon reframes the black question. It pushes it to a level that we have not achieved in the history of modernity. It’s more than Frederick Douglass; it’s more than Martin Luther King Jr. It’s something else.”



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By uglyfemale, January 5, 2009 at 9:51 am Link to this comment
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NOT fund Africom; a militay post to protect corporations fleecing Africa.  Stop selling arms to various factions in African countries.  Stop that abstinence/no condom distribution nonsense that are killing people.  Stop allowing Big Pharma to treat Africa as a petri dish for its toxic medications.  Stop the Cold War games with China for Africa’s oil/timber/minerals.  Let Africans grow their own food supply without GM seeds.  Stop trying to destroy Zimbabwe because Briton lost its colony.  Forgive all debts incurred by the puppets the US/UK/FRANCE/BELGIUM imposed on these countries.  Pay fair market value for African minerals/oil/fabrics/commodities, etc.  Have real war crimes trials inside Africa, not the truth-and-reconciliation show trials.  Bar foreign countries from seizing huge swaths of arable land to produce food for their citizens.  Need I go on?

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By KDelphi, January 4, 2009 at 10:17 pm Link to this comment

Unless the upper mioddle class wants to give up their tax cut, and , use it for such things…

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By KDelphi, January 4, 2009 at 10:16 pm Link to this comment

Is the rest of the world completely unaware of the finanaical situation of unemployed USAns?

Or, do they just believe what they see on tv? Or people that they see on the internet…

Did they not notice New Orleans? I thought everyone, outside of the uS, was now, well aware of what a farce the “Ameican dream” is. It destroys the rest of the world , along with itself—not restores it!

I guess that people are just referring to impressions that they get from images…if he said anything like that—I sure as hell never heard it! He wont even consdier reparations for the Af Ams of THIS country!

All I every hear about it the politically beloved “middle class”—up to $250,000 a year, supposedly…

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By Tony B., January 4, 2009 at 7:26 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Why shouldn’t Africans expect something from a black president? The Irish lobby has done quite well in this country on behalf of Ireland…getting favorable immigration quotas on behalf of the Irish people. The Jewish lobby has probably done even better on behalf of their people. There are 30+ million black people in the United States, and there should be some expectation that`Africa should be in the forefront of policymaking when we have a black president. I see NOTHING wrong with that line of reasoning.

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By M.B.S.S., January 4, 2009 at 10:15 am Link to this comment

obama will let down most everyone aside from wall st, military manufacturers, and the fred barnes of the world.  although the fred barnes types wont admit they are pleased and will try to push obama even further right.

he simply doesnt listen to the left because in his political algebra they dont equal as much as the center and the center right, his most coveted treasure.

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By mike112769, January 4, 2009 at 2:58 am Link to this comment

irspariah: Amen! Reparations and erase their debt? Who will erase OUR debt? What a crock!

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By M.H.Buraleh, January 3, 2009 at 10:54 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Africa first must help itself, then outside help might matter.
Africa have to go back to their basic life and froget imitating the West or the rich Arabs.
Africa have to learn many lessons, first to be stop killing each others due to power,greed and proxy wars.
Stop tribal wars, since no tribe have vanished or will be allowed any refuge in any cross borders.
Whites and Arabs will then be tackled, and dealt with.


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By COGITO, January 3, 2009 at 9:16 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

The question is not what Barak can do for Africa, but, rather, what can Africa do for itself. Barak will do what it takes to stay in power.

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By irspariah29, January 3, 2009 at 12:52 am Link to this comment

Delusional thinking at its finest. The man is an American politician, not the coming of the messiah!

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By Rob, January 2, 2009 at 2:35 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

I can’t help but predict that many Africans will be gravely disappointed with Obama in that many of their expectations of the era he is ushering can be likened to an almost Rastafarian-like prophecy of a black leader bringing total prosperity to the continent. On the other hand, I am reminded of how joyous the oppressed people of Ireland were at Kennedy’s presidency, how they considered him one of their own, and how he actively worked on bettering Ireland and today is deeply respected in that country.

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By Dave Schwab, January 2, 2009 at 11:27 am Link to this comment

One of the best things President Obama can do for Africa’s future is reduce US military spending, which has fueled so many violent conflicts on that continent.

Sign the petition for a Secure Green Future from

Tell Obama to cut wasteful military spending by at least 70%, and invest the savings in education, health care, preventing foreclosures and developing green energy.

More military spending and projects like AFRICOM will not make the world safer. True security comes from living peacefully, within the limits of Earth’s capacity, and making sure everyone’s basic needs are met.

Read, sign, and spread the word:

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By samosamo, January 2, 2009 at 8:05 am Link to this comment

This just from the headline, hopefully obama will be able to start a rebuilding of sorts for our country so that he can start reaching out the the world to repair the damage that the w & dick show has done, but we still have 19 days left to see what will happen, well make that 20 days because those elitist people in d.c. are bound and determined to have this goddamn party to celebrate a new president from a different party. I would rather see something along these lines, right after the ceremony, w & dick and their cabal are arrested and locked up for their crimes, the federal reserve is shut down and lobbyists are outlawed from doing buisness anywhere, especially keeping them away from all member of congress, the president and the supreme court.
But don’t get too much hope up. For me, obama has jumped in bed with the lobbyist and special interests far too much already, the type politics this country definitely needs to get away from.

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By MzScarlett, January 2, 2009 at 12:03 am Link to this comment

sad to say: in Germany he gave his speech in front of the place where Hitler stood; “images” mean so much, we are told: & telling it was indeed; the “changes” which WE will decide! one Senator snarled: the “restore & rebuild” the USA which was done during the DNC are such: water laws were passed; unable to drink even from your own well; they are agressively destroying all water supply: one city I live near is extending ski lodge; another mining; etc: From Fed, to St, to county to city exactly how they have “thrown away” items remaining to declare “need more $”; from taxpayers every single year; now they just mark it down on paper as expense & keep the $; charing “toll” instead of gasoline tax sounding small will in reality be 3 or more times the tax as you will pay “tolls” & then be charged per mile to drive; water is human need not a right; if you do not pay in 3 days you die.

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