The Star (Nairobi)

3 August 2014

Africa: The U.S. & Africa - How the Game Has Changed

Photo: The White House
Barack Obama (file photo).

opinion

The first US-Africa Summit called by President Barack Obama in Washington is a three-day event that begins in barely 48 hours' time on August 4. It is a remarkable gathering, and will long be remembered for its historic dynamics, beginning with the logistics themselves.

Fifty African heads of state and government, and delegations of their key advisers and private-sector associates will be flying to Washington, DC to meet the American President, also known as the most powerful man in the world, his officials and business/investment community.

In this day and age, the era of Edward Snowden's digital espionage disclosures, and former US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's Wiki-leaked instructions to the American Intelligence community about harvesting the DNA and frequent-flyer details of foreign dignitaries, no one doubts that President Obama has a Top Secret file on each, and every one of our continent's leaders that he will meet next week.

They will be more than closely monitored while in North America. And they, and their delegations' contributions will be analysed by an army of experts.

Our very own President Uhuru Muigai Kenyatta will have his own pet project, the Safaricom National Secure Communication and Surveillance System for the National Police Service, much on his mind, even when he is completely alone in a Presidential hotel suite in Washington.

The kind of security surveillance camera and audio system that he envisages has its true home in America, and has been up and running for years now.

This and other snooping systems, some of them so advanced and so secret that Snowden has not even touched on them, will surround our President and his fellow African leaders and their delegations every minute of every day that they are in America.

From media coverage to stealth surveillance, our leaders will be on candid digital platforms. If they take time off to meet their North American personal bankers and investment advisers, the visits, and the secretive accounts, will be duly monitored and logged for intelligence purposes.

The poorest man in the room

When he rises to address Africa's leaders to welcome them to America, the world's most powerful man will most likely also be the poorest head of state and government in the room, with the exception of Malawi's recently installed Peter Mutharika.

Obama will be addressing men and women with multi-million dollar personal property portfolios in both their nations and in the West. What's more, the first American President to openly push a homosexual agenda couched in terms of human rights will be speaking to some of the planet's most homophobic individuals.

In Uganda's President Yoweri Kaguta Museveni, Obama, who presides over an administration that proudly lists the number of homosexuals, lesbians and transgender officials in its ranks by name and designation on a number of websites accessible from anywhere on the planet, will come face-to-face with a man whose national constitution these appointees would consider as being positively mediaeval when it comes to anti-gay laws and penalties.

And yet Museveni is the East, Great Lakes and Horn of Africa regions' longest-serving leader and elder statesman, a man frequently consulted, and esteemed by all the other regional leaders.

There will be vast differences of opinion, mindsets and policies in that hall in which Obama will address Africa's gathered leaders. Keen observers will also note that the world itself has changed a great deal during the Obama Presidency, which ends in 2016.

Obama may preside over the world's only superpower but there is a new, and growing, giant on the global stage - China, the world's second biggest economy.

China will be much on everyone's mind while Africa's leaders are being lectured in no uncertain terms by America's President and his officials on the niceties of human rights, a free press and civil society and against corruption, nepotism, cronyism and negative ethnicity.

China never broaches these sensitive subjects with African, or indeed any other visiting leaders. What's more, China's wealth is such that she has invested billions of dollars across Africa, particularly in the infrastructure and extractive natural resources sectors, including oil, gas and coal.

There will be African leaders who leave Washington deeply aggrieved at being faulted over human rights and raw corruption, and feeling grateful for China's "neutrality" in these matters.

Obama and Africa's huge youth demographic

Already, retired President Daniel arap Moi has questioned the quality of President Obama's African youth leadership mentorship programme, in the surest sign; yet there is great and gathering unease among African Old School statesmen and women about how the world has changed and continues to change in the Obama Era.

Renamed the Mandela Washington Fellowship for Young African Leaders only on Tuesday, Obama's initiative is a refinement on the Mboya-Kennedy education airlifts of the late 1950s and early 1960s that targeted adults and professionals.

Young African Leaders already has 500 members in the US, about 10 per cent of whom are Kenyans. Obama this week met the young leaders in an event designed as being preliminary to his encounter with the continent's heads of state and government next week.

Moi, now in the 12th year of his retirement after a marathon political career that included 24 years at State House, remarked about Obama meeting Africa's youth:

"I have read the story with a lot of interest; however some questions need to be answered. Who are these young leaders? Who selected them, and what is the subject area taught?"

Warming to his theme, Moi went on, "Kenyans elect their leaders through the popular vote, how are the youth in the training programme expected to ascend to power?" Moi urged Kenyans to be wary of some initiatives that are packaged to look harmless, "yet the intention is not what people think".

In the ears of a great many young Kenyans and other Africans, these are easily Moi's most unfortunate and uncalled-for remarks in his entire retirement to date.

In Obama's phrase in his first inaugural address, the ancient Moi is clearly on "the wrong side of history" in the eyes of millions of young Africans who fervently wish they were among the 500.

Moi's real fear is that Obama is targeting an African demographic that will, within a generation, indeed not long after Moi reaches his centenary around 2024, write constitutions that codify gay and other rights that are at present either outlawed, or only extremely grudgingly acknowledged. And Moi is not alone.

Many of the 50 incumbent heads of state and government, who will board 50 different planes and fly to Washington for their mass encounter with Obama, share Moi's views to the hilt.

They would rather that Africa's youth demographic wallows in backwardness rather than acquire a worldview and the smarts to fully democratise and develop the continent. This is a huge pity.

It is not for nothing that the organisers of the Mandela Washington Fellowship for Young African Leaders declare that their objective is to change the way young people think across this continent.

Obama and his handlers appear to be more keenly aware of Africa's youth demographic, and what it portends than his invited guests of next week and the retired Moi. The statistics are truly stunning.

Fully 65 per cent of Africa's billion-strong-plus population in 2014 is aged below 35 years old. More than 35 per cent are aged between 15 and 35 years. In other words, there are more people aged below 20 in Africa than anywhere else in the world.

When they look at their youth demographic, Africa's leaders ought to see what Obama and his associates are seeing with such clarity. It is a massive potential workforce that can drive development and power - the prosperity agenda that has for so long eluded most of this continent's people and nations. The oldest continent is also, almost paradoxically, the youngest.

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