Is Obama better for Africa? The question had to be asked. Watching the third and final presidential debate Africans all over twitter and Facebook were applauding Obama’s statements and having the “ooh” and “Aha” moments. Yours truly was part of the twitter mob. As we watched the last of the presidential debates, as wannabe pundits on African issues butchered African political history and sang praises for Obama, one had to wonder whether this whole messianic support from the African community was a misplaced trust or lack of facts. It was off course a disappointment to have Africa get an honorable mention in the debate, and you could feel the disappointment on twitter and Facebook too, as only Mali and Sudan were barely mentioned, and Egypt and Libya taking the top honor in African politics.
There is something disturbing about the relationship between Obama and Africa (yes, Africa is a continent, and there might be a sweeping generalization made, but humor the use of the general term). Four years ago, it was like the Messiah had finally arrived. Africans all over the continent thought’ Now here is a black man- and “African” Man” and we can only assume that they thought Obama was their answer to every problem they had. The prodigal son had returned- and joy to Africa restored. And when Obama made the visit to Ghana, the continent welcomed their “son” back, and enough could not be said at how Obama was going to change matters in Africa. In his speech, Obama made a promise to help Africa in strengthening its democracy and building infrastructures. He promised to help in encouraging economic growth with international trade and investment.– Little did we know that, besides that “symbolic” visit, Obama turned out to not being the hero everyone might have imagined. Unless you count the military involvement and intelligence operations.
If any other American president had done what Obama did in Africa- there would have been “hell” to pay so to speak. In Libya, Obama- just like the Bush’s Iraq decision- did not seek the permission of congress to attack. Was war the only other option for him? This is the man that seats down with Netanyahu to find peaceful solutions to Israel and Palestine- so you wonder, why act in haste with Libya?
But that is just the obvious point. How about direct US- Africa strategy? He has given the same rhetoric as his predecessors. Obama’s strategy included introducing multilateral initiatives in hope that one of them might ping to Africa and make a difference. The only problem with this kind of approach is that it is like putting one fish in a group of 7 sharks in hope that the weaker Shark will actually get a bite out of the meal.
There has be a lack of a clear vision for Africa when it comes to trade. One of the easiest way to improve Africa’s relations with the US would have been to do away with the subsidies- but that as it may will not happen very soon. But even with the strategy released earlier this year- one could not help but see that nothing really had changed.
“In substance, the Obama Africa policy does not differ from his predecessors’. His immediate predecessor, George W. Bush, initiated the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) in 2003. Through that program Bush funneled $18 billion into the HIV/AID fight in Africa. The Bush Malaria initiative is reputed to have helped cut in half malaria cases in 15 African countries. The Bush administration also backed programs to cancel $34bn in debt for 27 African countries, at the same time pumping $5.7 billion a year in aid to the continent.”- Obi Akwani
What is surprising up to this day, is why any African state would trust the American government. Recent history from the Cold war to now indicate that there is little of “good intentions” when it comes to African states- just ask Somalia and Congo.
So when Obama was announced for another term in the White House, there was a bit of relief. However, there was no need to celebrate. Africans should know that by now, Obama’s engagement with Africa is on the basis of “ Africa has resources that the US wants, and if they can get it for cheap, then so be it”- It doesn’t help that China is digging its paws into Africa too.
Will Obama change the state of Africa’s democratic process, or make any lasting impact? The answer to that is probably NO. Obama’s first obligation is to America and American interests. Thus throughout his presidency, expect him to act indifferent to Africa, and African state of affairs. Expect him to care for Africa when it matters only to his advancement of policies. For Africans to expect anything more than this is to set themselves up for failure.
Keeping things in perspective however, the alternative to Obama aka Romney could have been worse- the man needs a geography lesson first before he runs for president again.