Obama’s speech disappointed some people. On the other hand, many seemed to be inspired by his visit to Ghana regardless of what he said. He is a politician, however, and makes decisions for political reasons. Why he chose Ghana and not Nigeria or Kenya to make his first Sub-Saharan visit as President was a political decision. Why he spoke to other politicians and not the people was a political decision. He is an excellent orator and spoke well but it was a missed opportunity I believe. It is not surprising that the new US administration is not deviating at all from business as usual in sub-Saharan Africa. Other than a new cult-of personality, little has actually changed in Washington, D.C.
Some people noted that there was a double-standard of sorts. Obama did not tell the Middle-East that their problems are their own. Americans are right in the middle of that mess. Obama has made it very clear to the ‘Muslim world’ that he was beginning a new chapter in US relations-a kinder, gentler, more understanding approach with admissions about mistakes of the past. He even mentioned past mistake to the Russians. There was only tough love for Africa.
This speech was symbolic and we could say it accomplished its goal and move on. Obama performed in Africa and then left the building. The standard lines were delivered and there was applause. Disappointingly, so much more could have been done.
To begin with, I am no expert in politics but I do know that anyone involved in politics in the city of Chicago, (born there, extended family from there) cannot possibly lecture on the ills of corruption. He is an elegant man and a fine public speaker but let us not be naive and forget what it takes to get to the top politically in the US.
Additionally, what would have been so bad about spending more time acknowledging the numerous mistakes America made in Africa over the years? If studies of dispute resolution and conflict have taught me anything it is that sometimes a heartfelt apology is all it takes to begin to mend the deepest of hurts. An apology may have put paid to complaints about past treatment. Obama has been traveling the world apologising for what Bush did, would it have been so hard to go a little further?
This was an opportunity for a new beginning in US-African interactions. I do not think enough attention was given by speech writers and policy wonks to the real possibilities of this visit. New things are possible because Obama is African-American and also because he is riding the tide of a new era. Americans are facing a much poorer future due to the GFC, more compassion and understanding should be forthcoming. That does not mean an automatic opening of the Aid wallet to assuage the developed world’s burden but some different thinking is in order.
I expected more. What I really hoped for was an effort to redefine how we approach Africa-a new understanding. That is not what we got nor is it what we will see during this administration I am quite sure. I think this illustrates a lack of leadership.
It is not because Obama is African American that African policy is important. African policy is important because while we were all borrowing to buy McMansions African economies were growing. Now that it has all gone to hell in a hand basket- those economies are now struggling desperately. So when Obama talks about how ‘America has a responsibility’, he should tie it to the GFC and not Darfur or Zimbabwe. The GFC has created a bigger global security risk than those situations combined. America is responsible and I wish Obama took that on board when making his historic visit. That would have been the start of something new.