20 February 2008

Africa: Obama Must Tame America for the Continent of His Ancestors


His presidency could, besides pursuing a pro-African foreign policy, influence US transnational corporations, the Military Industrial Complex and scientific institutions to be fair to the continent, writes Okello Oculi, Daily Monitor Correspondent in Nigeria

Barack Obama, now leading Hillary Clinton in the Democratic Party presidential primaries ahead of key battles in Texas, has come like rain on American politics.

His campaign theme - 'the source of new hope on a parched land' is a cleansing agent in a land weighed down by crusted blood of Iraqis murdered in their own territory by Americans who came to save them from "weapons of mass destruction".

Obama has come as rain from a Kenyan cloud that seeded in the plains of Iowa and fell in Hawaii, but refuses to be tied down as just another "black candidate" pushing primarily for the restoration of justice for African-Americans by reminding white America of its guilt.

Instead, he insists on the freedom of a collective American Messiah who has come to mobilise all disillusioned children of American democracy to open up a new frontier in politics. This is Obama's venture of building hope using the power of hope.

Like rain, Obama must rouse new winds that will blow away drought, which drought will not depart without a fight. The first facet of the drought he must shove aside is the old establishment African-American politicians like Andrew Young in Atlanta and Charles Randle in New York whose powers rest on being called to the White House to carry forth addresses to black church congregations and assemblies of The National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People (NAACP).

These workhorses are seasoned in lobbying Congress for legislation in favour of black America. Andrew Young gave that power a voice in a libidinal flavour when he said Bill Clinton was blacker than Obama because he has had relations with more black women.

Others put it differently, saying Obama will simply not be nominated by the Democratic Party when it assembles in its rainbow complexity at a convention and remembers that those who landed at Plymouth, Massachusetts, in 1620 aboard the Mayflower and established the first permanent English colony were White Anglo Saxon Protestants. To them, America is an un-melting rock of racism that will always melt down everything dressed in idealism.

Mixed reactions

The new winds in black America are talking of a change of guard. Arthur Clarke, a classmate of Obama at the Harvard Law School, believes that those who hold that Obama is unelectable and therefore will not waste their vote, say exactly what a Caucasian American would be vilified for if they used the argument for the opposite purpose of wishing away the very possibility of a black American president.

In his view, there is a fear of getting hurt which becomes the very cause of perpetuating injury- in this case, historic injustice against a racial group.

In Nigeria, Obama draws similar conflicting perceptions. There are those who wish he would win but will not want to bank on his victory because they believe he will be assassinated by an irate American racist. The image of America in which even school children mow down fellow children with guns simply looms like a huge monster.

The prospect of a black man as the president of the most powerful country in the world is like a deluge that would wash away all the centuries of decay that slavery (which took millions of people from Africa) brought. Against this school of thought are those who are miffed by a sense of historic cheating that Kenya would achieve by being the African country from which this historic Obama has popped from.

Obama's history does not help here. His father travelled to America as a post-independence beneficiary of the Tom Mboya - John F. Kennedy diplomatic and scholarships rumba. Nigeria's earliest known migrant to America in search of education was the venerated Nnamdi Azikiwe.

He studied at Lincoln University and the closest that a Kenyan became associated with his legacy there was when in 1994, Kenya's Prof Ali Mazrui was invited to give a lecture on Azikiwe.

The Rockefeller Foundation probably awarded fellowships for training academics for Nigerian universities and the University of Nairobi in a ratio of one hundred Nigerians to one Kenyan. By way of subsequent levels of exodus from Nigeria to America, the figure now probably stands at over two million Nigerians domiciled in the US.

It is little wonder that a sense of daylight robbery would be felt by Nigerians if Obama, a Kenyan, grabs the biggest prize. There are those who worry about other things, notably what to hope for from American foreign policy when, not if, Obama wins the presidency. A point of departure is the current perception of Obama as the John F. Kennedy of the new millennium.

Kennedy brings back memories of his order for the brutal murder of Patrice Lumumba and the termination of democratic politics in newly independent Congo.

Charles Devlin, an operative of the Central Intelligence Agency, CIA, would have Joseph Desire Mobutu stage a coup whose consequences would ruin that rich land till his cowardly flight in 1997 to Togo and then Morocco where he died of prostate cancer in 1997.

That tradition of military coups would hurl Ghana's Kwame Nkrumah out of power in 1966 and threaten East Africa with coordinated coup attempts in Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania between 1964 and 1965.

It would bring civil war to Nigeria. An Israeli newspaper would boast that Israeli intelligence recruited Aguiyi Ironsi as a coup plotter when he was serving in Nigeria's military contingent to the UN peace keeping mission in the Congo.

In 1971, a coup booted Milton Obote out of power in Uganda when the American ambassador there was an African American. Uganda's most barbaric rule under Idi Amin from 1971 to 1978 was Obote's reward for running one of the few African countries that was free of corruption. American foreign policy, like their version of football, has little patience for players without brawn.

When Obama talks of a wind of change that will make American power an agent of positive world diplomacy, it is not clear to this group of Nigerians how he will turn the country's military-industrial complex away from weapons and their usage abroad as tools of profit.

High expectations

Obama grew up in Indonesia. It was an Indonesia which could never have anticipated the Bali bombings as long as memories of the slaughter of over one million "communists" by a CIA-foisted Suharto regime remained hidden through his regime's economic miracle.

When it faltered, the social cost of the regime bred an anger that became responsive to poisonous sermons from Saudi Arabia. It is not clear how Obama will tilt the sails of American's multinational corporations, conservative fundamentalists and their surrogates in the Muslim world.

Obama's African ancestry is seen to hold great potentialities. For one, it holds the promise of a return to the truncated will of Africa's peoples to re-domocratise a western world whose legacy of pursuit of human freedom had been cut short by records of enslaving Africans followed by genocidal colonial invasions, settlement in, and administration of Africa.

Bursts of liberation wars in Algeria, Kenya, Angola, Namibia, Mozambique, Zimbabwe and South Africa were countered by cynical exertions by NATO countries - including support for military invasions by apartheid South Africa.

Basil Davidson and Susan George have asserted that deliberate efforts were made by Euro-American banks to paralyse new administrations in Africa by promoting widespread corruption.

The resultant debt trap sounded the death knell for millions of Africans. The call by the first nationalists for ending poverty, illiteracy and disease" in their countries, let alone Nigeria's dream of building the "black atomic bomb" for projecting Africa's power, is paralysed.

Undeterred, new voices have continued to call for Africa's rebirth. The New Partnership for Africa's Development, NEPAD, is drawing more than yawns. As Kofi Annan, former Secretary General of the United Nations, sat in Nairobi to sort out the tragic conflict in Kenya over a presidential election dispute, Kenya's Bethuel Kiplagat was in Nigeria to inspect records of governance within the framework of NEPAD's Peer Review Mechanism, a self-assessment tool invented by Africa's rulers themselves.

Muhammar Gaddafi's dream of being crowned Africa's first emperor continues to serve the useful purpose of keeping alive, to a new generation of Africans, the old dream of Kwame Nkrumah's generation for creating a United States of Africa.

Barack Obama is uniquely placed to support the fruition of this dream knowing, as he now does, the sublime challenges of conducting political rain on a scale as grand, in terrestrial and human space, as the United States of America. May his rain come down to sprout a Union of Africa. To which some Nigerians say "Amen."

Africa Insight is an initiative of the Nation Media Group's Africa Media Network Project

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