African leaders seem to have rested their hopes on the United States president Barack Obama to turn the tide in Africa. However, in a 2008 article, Gambian journalist warned in earnest that “If Obama is a messiah, he’s not our messiah. We cannot lay claim to him.” Alagi Yorro Jallow’s article, first published by Global Post, is worth reproducing and reading. It’s a good reference material, which comes ahead of the August 5th US-African Leaders Summit in Washington, D.C.
There’s an understandable excitement at the prospect of somebody other than the usual suspects occupying the white House, arguably the most powerful job in the world.
Barack Obama, if he succeeds in beating John McCain in November, will change the tone and texture and even the psychology of not just US politics, but world affairs-It’s not because of what he might do or say, but who he is. As Jesse Jackson would say, he’s moving from the outhouse to the White House.
Obama is not a descendant of slaves, a fact that initially seemed to rankle some black leaders in the US, until he started winning, and then they embraced him with shameless alacrity. Not all black leaders have embraced him-Some were for Hillary Clinton, others like Jesse Jackson, Al Sharp ton et al have been weary of him. His election, if it comes to pass, will truly be historic. In a uni-polar world where the US wields untrammeled power, his election will put a different cast and complexion on world affairs.
The palpable thrill, especially in Africa,at the prospect of an Obama presidency is therefore understandable. Africa often tends to behave a bit like an unwanted orphan who suddenly discovers a famous uncle, who’ll hopefully wipe away the tears and provide a protective arm.It doesn’t always work that way. I don’t seem to remember what Kofi Annan achieved for Africa at the United Nations – except the carnage in Rwanda which happened on his watch – despite the exuberance that greeted his elevation.
Barack Obama’s success should come with a healthy warning, so to speak, lest we be disappointed. Despite his African-sounding name, Obama is an American as apple pie, or baseball. He’s going to bat for nobody else but America.
Because of his tenuous association with Africa, we will feel entitled to offer our sage advice and allow ourselves to be disappointed, insulted almost, at what we view as his faults or failures. We should relieve ourselves of such burdens. He’s not ours. He doesn’t speak for us. He doesn’t have to. He doesn’t owe us anything. Not a single butut.
Because of its parlous state and the awful failures of its leadership, Africa is often looking around for a saviour. The continent is crawling with Good Samaritans who never run short of a mouth to feed. If Obama is a messiah, he’s not our messiah. We cannot lay claim to him. We ‘re gate-crashing someone else’s party. I suspect Africa does not necessarily hold pleasant memories for Obama. After all his father abandoned him when he was two, and left him with a name that has proved nothing but a hurdle in his quest for political power. He has more kinship with Indonesia, where he spent the better part of his childhood. It’s interesting some African leaders were quick to dispatch congratulatory messages to Obama for clinching the Democratic nomination. Few years ago on a visit to Africa-in some countries he visited not one cabinet minister was on hand to meet him-after all, he is what we refer to ‘Very Important Person’ (VIP), a U.S senator of African extraction.
There will obviously be an improvement if Obama were to replace the nightmarish reign of the incumbent, who often gives the impression he has a grudge against the entire planet and seems determined to use the instruments of violence at his disposal to wreak revenge.
Obama will serve the interests of humanity better if he does his job well, running an efficient and compassionate administration. First, he will prove to be doubting Thomas’s that competence, or the lack thereof, has nothing to do with colour. Second, as the recent past has shown, an American which feels secure and comfortable in its own skin is crucial to world peace. The question is whether Obama could have come this far, dazzled the world, if he had been an insurgent African politician in Africa? My honest answer is probably not.
He would be cooling his heels in jail (with Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch feverishly calling for his release), tortured or even killed.
There’s a sobering thought.
The author is a Gambian journalist ,a Nieman fellow at Harvard University and a graduate student Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government (Mason fellow ) MPA 2008.