In DepthColumns



Message to Obama from Morocco

Gemma Ware


Mustapha Khalfi, editor of daily newspaper Attajdid, Morocco


“ Obama might be the right man to get beyond the sterile debate over clashes of civilisation between the East and West. He has the credibility that could open the door of the Arab world. The Bush administration has lost theirs. He also has a clear vision for the region. In Iraq he has said he will withdraw. In Iran he says he is willing to open dialogue. He is also free from ideological pressure like the evangelical or neo-conservative groups. They destabilised the region and sent bad signals of neocolonial projects. Obama will hopefully present a pragmatic policy based on mutual interest, focusing on economic reforms and a fair society.?


The Maghreb is seen as a success story for the Bush administration, so it is an opportunity for Obama to build on this success, unlike the Middle East. There is real strength to the US-Morocco relationship – we have a free trade agreement and cooperate on the war on terror.


?If I had a message to send to the White House, it would be to listen to the region. Not just what you hear in Washington. ”


Back to other messages for Obama

"White House please, operator"

Gemma Ware


The voices of the continent unite in their welcome for the new president of the United States, tinged with realism


Power came to Nyangoma-Kogelo, Barack Obama’s grandmother’s village, within hours of her grandson’s victory speech. The Kenya Power and Lighting truck, with its men and their cables and electricity posts, were busy connecting the little village to the national grid as the crowds gathered and exulted at Mama Sarah’s front door – a prospect that, if at all it had been envisaged, had never been realistically expected during Mama Sarah’s lifetime.


?Other strange things happened during that historic week in November: a battalion of Caterpillar earthmovers and tipper trucks graded the nine kilometer road leading to the house in four days, a record. There was talk that piped water would soon be installed and that the airport in Kisumu was going to be upgraded to international status. In those heady days of November 2008, in completely unprecedented fashion, the government was actually delivering ‘development’ to a people marginalized since independence. So hurriedly that it barely had time to examine the political implications. It seemed that a new era was dawning in which the new stature of Kogelo would accelerate progress. ?


Certainly there will be parts of the African continent where Obama’s election will herald fast, concrete and visible changes, like Kogelo. More subtle and substantial changes could also be on the way for Africa – particularly in areas affected by the political spillover from a Middle East brought to boiling point by the previous administration. A more engaged US State Department, until now overshadowed by the Department of Defense, will also help unwind some of the more tangled US deployments in Mali and Algeria.

Messages for the new
President Obama

Mustapha Khalfi
Moroccan journalist

Abdirahman Abdishakur Warsame
Somalian politician
Pokuaa Busumru-Banson
South African student

Donu Kogbara
Nigerian consultant


Losing its shine?


But a sense of realism has gradually set in. For many people in his ancestral Nyanza Province and beyond, the disenchantment with the performance of the Kenyan coalition government has dampened Obama-mania. Almost a year into the coalition government, all that the Kenyan public has experienced is a rise in the cost of living and an increasingly draconian state. There is now less a feeling that the world will change as a result of Obama’s victory than there is one of pride that ‘one of their own’ sits on top of the world.


?“I don’t think people are expecting much to change,” says Steve Sande, a Kisumu resident and a youth activist. “People here are very proud that one of our own is in the White House, but nobody is thinking that doors are suddenly going to open as a result. Obama will have a lot on his plate, including sorting out the mess in Gaza. He will have very little time to turn his attention to us.”?


Poverty and possibilities


?Nyanza Province in western Kenya, from where Obama’s father hailed, remains one of the most neglected parts of the country, with one of the highest levels of poverty in the country. Having produced a disproportionate share of Kenya’s dissidents during the eras of Jomo Kenyatta, Daniel arap Moi and Mwai Kibaki, it was ‘denied’ development by successive Kenyan governments. ?


Will a US economy in trouble have the political capital available to extend programmes like the African Growth and Opportunity Act? Can it deepen its trade links with the continent beyond oil imports, potentially at the expense of American jobs? Will the new president have much time to spare for the rest of the world, given the huge clear-up job he has been handed at home??


Ultimately the most important news may be a change of tone from the US and the importance of the president as a symbol. Children growing up today in Asia, the US, Europe and Africa will see a black man running the most powerful country in the world. Old prejudice will melt, self-confidence will be released – two powerful gifts to take forward. ?


As one text message doing the rounds across Nigeria had it: “Rosa Parks sat so that Martin Luther King could march, Martin Luther King marched so that Obama could run and Obama ran so that our children could fly.”

Niger Delta: A dangerous masquerade

Gemma Ware


The declining price of oil changes the balance of power in the Niger Delta, while central government casts around for a way of managing the situation


With oil accounting for 95% of its economy, the shrinking price of crude oil has begun to spell trouble for Nigeria, the fifth largest producer in OPEC. The drop in price of more than $100 per barrel since July has already reduced the flows of foreign exchange into the government’s coffers by billions of dollars. The fall in foreign currency reserves and the weakening of the naira have begun to put harsh pressure on President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, who came to office in 2007 with ambitious plans to diversify the economy away from oil.?


Seen from the Niger Delta, the source of most of Nigeria’s oil and gas, the idea of breaking the country’s long-running dependence on oil appears unimaginable, and yet some experts believe that the decline in oil prices could present an opportunity for a break with oil dependence and the combustible politics that go with it. But others are not so confident, largely because the sheer complexity of Delta militancy carries the risk of getting out of hand. With its recent history of protests, kidnappings, bombings and attacks on infrastructure, the insecurity in the Delta has begun to pose a threat to the stability of the whole of Nigeria.?

Interview: Don 'Smokey' Gold
Former Niger Delta militant


The Delta’s unrest grew out of a background of disputes between oil companies and communities – which in many areas like Ogoniland have dragged on for decades – but it is now led not only by militants with clear political motivations, but also by criminal gangs. The militant movements have their roots in fraternal orders, cults and youth groups, from which militant leaders and criminal gangsters find it easy to recruit new members.?


When oil fetched more than $100 a barrel, the instability and losses were accepted by the industry as part of the price of doing business. Although, for now, there is the appearance of calm – or at least a fairly predictable level of disruption, mayhem and occasional murder – industry analysts are already predicting that if the global oil price drops below $30, then the oil business in Nigeria could become untenable for most operators. This could have unforeseen consequences.?


Over the past four years, the main onshore producer, Shell Petroleum Development Company, has been repeatedly forced to suspend production from various onshore facilities, reducing output at times by as much as 250,000 barrels a day. Shell and the other major companies, including Chevron and Exxon, have frequently called on the federal government for additional troops to protect their facilities, and it is no secret that Shell has even begun to consider the possibility of a complete withdrawal from its onshore operations in the Delta.


?Behind the current appearance of relative calm lies a complex mix of deals between the Delta’s politicians and militants. Delta State governor Emmanuel Uduaghan champions a policy of accommodating armed groups rather than carrying out military operations to disarm and disrupt them. In January 2008, a key militant leader, Tom ‘Government’ Pollo, was awarded a N6.7bn (approximately $50m) oil pipeline contract.?


Typifying the confusion in policy is the record of bodies like the Delta Waterways Security Committee (DWSC). Created to mediate disputes between communities and oil companies, and to keep the creeks safe for shipping, the DWSC is now suspected of involvement in both violence and oil theft in order to justify its own budget, which runs into millions of naira every month. Even the military Joint Task Force (JTF), charged with tackling the militants in the region, has expressed concerns about the DWSC.


A situation ‘under control’


?In one recent incident on 2 January this year, the JTF commander, Brigadier General Wuyep Rimtip, blamed local youths rather than militants for blowing up a pipeline operated by Italy’s Agip near Burutu, Delta State. For its part, the DWSC sent a delegation that it said would “investigate and bring the situation under control”.?


The theft and ‘bunkering’ (loading) of oil involves both militants and government officials. For his part, one former militant, Don ‘Smokey’ Gold, says: “Government and company officials are the biggest bunkerers of oil... Government and company vehicles and other equipment are involved, not only in bunkering but also in other crimes.”?


Militancy in the Delta involves two distinct interest groups. The hard core is made up of well-trained and well-armed forces with an ideological mission. Militant leaders like ‘Government’ Pollo can call on several thousand heavily armed irregular fighters, billeted in at least six permanent training camps and capable of carrying out rapid attacks on oil infrastructure, then disappearing into the creeks.?


The other interest group is the criminal gangs – such as those led by Ateke Tom and Soboma George – who like to claim affinity to the militant ideology of the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND), but whose most profitable activity has been the bunkering of stolen oil in the innumerable creeks of the Delta.?


Symbols of resistance?


Through press statements and emails, MEND has become a rallying point for armed resistance to the status quo, but it recruits its members from criminal gangs, youth groups, cults and even some NGOs. Figures identified with MEND such as Dokubo Asari and Henry Okah remain important to the movement as symbols of resistance more than as day-to-day leaders and ideologues, but the leadership remains deliberately obscure, even to its own rank-and-file adherents.


?Community rights campaigners on the ground say there are tens of thousands of potential recruits, attracted by the promise of ready money, who would join in any renewed crime wave that may accompany any further meltdown in the Delta.?


As world oil prices soared, the combination of armed insurrection and criminal violence was highly profitable for those with links in both camps but, with oil prices sliding, this may no longer be sustainable. The days when a single militant’s phone call to a news agency led to an oil price spike are over.?Damka Pueba, a community rights activist from the Delta-based Stakeholder Democracy Network, describes the atmosphere in early 2009 thus: “It’s not peace, it’s just quiet. At the end of the day, things are going to spill over.”?


The recent ‘business as usual’ that keeps the crisis in the Delta on hold fails to address the urgent need for roads, schools, jobs and the diversification that could break the dependence on oil, community advocates like Pueba say. ?


Nigerian journalist and Delta native Ibiba Don Pedro believes that while there is a new set of political players in Delta politics, they are busy creating new business opportunities for themselves. “On the surface it looks like we are moving away from the [former President Olusegun] Obasanjo years of corruption. But in Rivers State, civil servants are still not being paid. The looting is still going on. Officials are still using banks for money laundering.” She adds: “Public/private partnerships have been announced but there is nothing yet on ground.” ?


The Niger Delta has waited for decades for investment in public services and infrastructure like electricity and transport that could help bring about the region’s renaissance, and it is still waiting. There was a major setback for development projects when Nigeria’s best-known construction firm, Julius Berger, pulled out of the Delta in mid-2008 after concerted attacks on its personnel. The current decline in federal and state oil income means that even less new investment is likely to happen in 2009.?


As formal and illicit revenue streams start to dry up, affecting the security in the Delta and the stability of the oil sector, life in the region could become even more risky. If the corrupt revenue flowing into the militant networks starts to run out at the same time as their hundreds of thousands of potential new recruits see their firebrand leaders growing rich, this could feed a very dangerous cycle.?Ibiba Don Pedro says the military JTF has been chasing the smaller militant groups but leaving the bigger oil thieves alone, and she notes: “People are not speaking out. People are not asking questions.”?


The JTF has to appear to be doing something in order to justify its existence, as, like many of the other political actors in the Delta, it is accused of having a vested interest in maintaining a stalemate. But its leaders know that if they attack the main MEND leadership, the latter could shut down all production within days and spark a conflict that could last for years.?


Unlike kidnapping and other criminal rackets, militant violence in the Delta is for the most part a form of non-lethal political theatre. None of the players seriously wants a war. Yet if the cycle of poverty, desperation and envy fills the militant training camps, the final act could yet end in a tragedy without a script.?


The familiar village-level masquerade – the role-play of the social and cosmic order – is in many ways being replicated on a larger scale in the political games being enacted across the Delta. The risk is that the masks that key actors wore when oil was at record highs may not suit a hastily-revised script. It is this sense of uncertainty and danger – as the symbols of power in Nigeria change once again and the actors are forced to improvise – that may spark a shooting war by accident rather than by design.


Niger Delta militant attacks 2008

Message to Obama from Nigeria

Gemma Ware

Donu Kogbara, consultant, Nigeria



“Nigerians, both here and abroad, phoned each other to scream “We’ve won!” Euphoric text messages were sent by Obama fans in Kano, Jos, Enugu and Lagos. We have, since that jubilant morning, constantly reminded ourselves that Obama is American, not African – despite his touching willingness to identify with the Kenyan roots he inherited from his largely absent and – let’s face it – negligent father.


The thing about typical Nigerians – regardless of class or tribe – is that they don’t generally expect salvation from external forces, don’t particularly want some foreign leader to interfere in their affairs, don’t share the Arab view that America is the ‘Great Satan’ and are more interested in partnering with Halliburton executives than in getting them jailed or excluded!”


Back to other messages for Obama

Obama: Enter the great communicator

Gemma Ware

The first-ever black candidate for the US presidency succeeded on his first attempt, thanks to an articulate and positive style, clear values and his powerful communications strategy


“This is an unbelievable moment in our history,” was the response to Obama’s victory from Georgia congressman John Lewis, a civil rights movement hero. “This is a great distance from when I was walking across that bridge [in Selma, Alabama] 43 years ago when we were beaten, left bloody and unconscious. Last night something came over me. I just jumped up and kept jumping up. Tears came down my face.”?


Barack Hussein Obama did it! He scaled the walls of doubt and cynicism, racism and religious bigotry, hysteria and hate, and on 4 November walked into history, appealing to the ‘angels of our better nature’, by getting elected to become the 44th President of the United States. Almost a century and a half after the US Constitution erased the designation of a black man as ‘three-fifths of a person’, on 20 January 2009, the 47-year-old Obama will become America’s First Citizen, his wife, Michelle, a descendant of slaves, its First Lady, and their children, Malia and Shasha, will become as well known as other First Children before them.?


Over the years, many black people have crashed down the barriers to become Firsts, but this was the Ultimate First. Yet, as voters in America and people around the world came to see, Barack Obama is not just any black man. He comes with the credentials of a multi-racial heritage, a multinational upbringing and a 21st century vision that gives him a unique view of a complex time, a complex world and America’s place in it.?

Obama's foreign policy team


Diplomats and policy
professionals. Read more


So how did he get there and what difference will it make to have him at the helm of the world’s leading, though wounded, industrial nation? Like Hansel’s breadcrumbs in the forest, clues abound, including from the man himself. “I think there is a great hunger for change in this country, and not just policy change,” he said in early 2007. “What I also think they are looking for is change in tone and a return to some notion of the common good and some sense of cooperation, of pragmatism over ideology. I’m a stand-in for that right now.”?


The values that have helped Obama capture the White House derive from his peripatetic childhood on two continents – America and Asia – and an identification with a third – Africa, and they have carried him through the thicket of two bruising national campaigns and helped create a superior strategy, combining substance and style.?


Giving voice to virtues


?Barack Obama’s road to the White House was paved initially with the values of his white American mother, Ann Dunham, and her Midwestern parents who helped raise him. In his autobiography, Dreams from My Father, he writes of his mother’s advice: “If you want to grow into a human being, you’re going to need some values,” and they included honesty, fairness, straight-talk and independent judgement – “giv[ing] voice to the virtues of her Midwestern past”.?


Equally, there are links to the values of his Kenyan father, also named Barack Hussein Obama, who left when Obama was two. Dunham told the young Obama of the “distant authority” of his father, who also attended Harvard – “how he had grown up poor, in a poor country, in a poor continent; how his life had been hard ...he hadn’t cut corners, though, or played the angles”.?


Dan Johnson-Weinberger, who studied voting rights under Obama at the University of Chicago, told the New York Times Magazine recently that Obama won not by playing the angles, but by understanding the playing field, specifically that “voters in African-American Congressional districts would have a disproportionate impact in selecting the nominee”.?


Obama “grasped the structural path to victory”, said his former student. He wasted no time in persuading the black community he was indeed “black enough”, acknowledging he stood on the shoulders of the civil rights movement’s pioneers. But while he walked the walk, he often talked a different talk from that era’s leaders, recognising class and race, speaking of the common burden of both poor and middle-class whites as well as blacks. And he called for “get[ing] past the racial stalemate we’ve been in for years” and for “forging alliances to walk the path to a more perfect union... binding our particular grievances – for better healthcare and better schools and better jobs – to the larger aspirations of all Americans”.?


“Change you can believe in” was the Obama mantra that resonated with so many of the disillusioned of all races, and awakened the sleeping giant of the youth across America. Together they rallied to the beat of Will-I -Am’s “Yes We Can” with Obama telling them: “America is ready to turn the page. America is ready for a new set of challenges. This is our time. A new generation is prepared to lead.”


?‘No drama obama’?


Obama has innovated in the ways he communicates. He pioneered a virtual campaign for the digital age generation at home on the internet, Facebook and YouTube. And the message drove the money – from contributions of as little as $5. No campaign in history has raised as much as Obama’s did – more than $600m. A notice to supporters to send in their mobile numbers and pass along the message to others if they wanted to be the first to know Obama’s choice of vice-president generated thousands of additional contacts. Gordon Davis, a New York lawyer and a major fundraiser for Obama, explained: “The fundraising was a basic tool to get people involved in the campaign.”  ?


From outhouse to White House


Dancing in the streets
of Atlanta. Read more

Even his opponents credit him with running a sophisticated campaign. And he did it while being labelled ‘No Drama Obama’, rarely losing his cool, his face lit up with a broad smile when attacked, a style some supporters found frustrating. But while he insisted he could deliver a hard punch if needed, that went against his natural instincts and style – which also created one of the most harmonious campaign organisations in recent memory. Davis, also a former New York City politician, said: “No internal divisions, fights among consultants, backstabbing or getting off-message... driven as much from the bottom up as the top down.”


?One close campaign advisor said: “He’s not the lone ranger, but he is the leader.” Obama is also a listener, who takes in all points of view before coming out with his own. And he assembled a team that was encouraged to voice their own opinions, including some 300 foreign policy advisors, the area that was initially his weakest. He has promised a phased withdrawal of troops from Iraq, with an end-point of 2010, and telegraphed his plans for new approaches to America’s old enemies, saying, while there would be a need for staff preparation, he would meet with them without preconditions. And he is expected to appoint an administration mixed with both seasoned Washington veterans and new faces who share his vision.?


Despite his legendary confidence and the well-chosen backfield that bolsters it, Obama has been dealt a tough hand – two wars, a sick economy and potentially bitter losers among the Americans he must now attempt to lead. This comes along with a host of other 21st century problems requiring global solutions at a time when America’s image is at one of its lowest points ever, having lost much of the moral authority and leadership it once enjoyed.


?International affairs expert John Stremlau said: “Here’s a case of a black person set up to fail, but no better person to rally the country and the world at a time like this.”?


African roots and Africa policy


Hopes for a new direction.
Read more

The reception Obama has enjoyed at places like the Berlin Wall and from world leaders, as well as the pride he has generated throughout the African continent, give him at least a running start.?


As far back as 2006, when his presidential aspirations seemed more than a distant dream to many, Obama told New York magazine: “I want to be a really great president. And then I’d worry about all the other stuff.”?


Despite “all that other stuff”, Barack Obama’s election has affirmed the audacity of hope.

Obama's foreign policy team

Gemma Ware


Although Barack Obama won support for his stance against the Iraq war, foreign policy was meant to be the strength of his Republican opponent John McCain, who backed the invasion. To counter McCain, the Obama campaign built up a team led by policy professionals Susan Rice and Anthony Lake, both of whom served in ex-President Bill Clinton’s administration and have extensive experience in Africa. Rice was assistant secretary of state for Africa and Lake was national security advisor during South Africa’s transition from apartheid to majority rule.


?Lake introduced Obama to the diplomatic circuit about four years ago, after which Obama quickly assembled a group of advisors from a wide range of backgrounds: veteran diplomat and ex-ambassador to the UN, Bill Richardson; Samantha Power, the author of the seminal analysis of genocide A Problem from Hell and a campaigner on Darfur; former navy secretary Richard Danzig; and retired Air Force major general Scott Gration, who grew up in Africa.?


Washington insiders tip Richardson for secretary of state and Rice for the national security advisor; and there is competition for the assistant secretary of state for Africa post – given the President is expected to have a special interest in it. In the running are the two co-chairs of the Obama campaign’s Africa policy group: Michelle Gavin and Witney Schneidman. Among the professional diplomats there is support for former ambassador to Nairobi, Johnnie Carson. Stephen Morrison, Africa director at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, is also in the running.


Back to Obama: enter the great communicator

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