Enough is enough with our junk president

Schalk van Zuydam/AP/SIPA

South African comedian Conrad Koch poses for a photograph with his puppet, Chester Missing, at his home in Cape Town. Photo: Schalk van Zuydam/AP/SIPA.

While America has its 45th president and purportedly its second one of colour – because orange is a colour – we in South Africa are on our fourth democratically elected president. The West often only really seems to know about two African leaders: Nelson Mandela and The Lion King, and sometimes they seem to think Nelson Mandela is actually Morgan Freeman.

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Book: 100 Years of Struggle: Mandela's ANC

altAs the African National Congress moves into its centenary year, author and journalist Heidi Holland has written a fluid and accessible history of South Africa's liberation movement.



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Editorial: The Kogelo-Washington Axis

The jubilation greeting Barack Obama’s election to the US presidency was as loud in Africa as it was at the victory rally in Grant Park, Chicago. The triumph of Obama, the grandson of Mama Sarah of Kogelo in western Kenya, is a dynamic new axis between Africa and the US. The people of Kogelo, who were connected to Kenya’s national electricity grid for the first time to watch the election results, believe they are already seeing tangible benefits from the association.


?Obama’s success may have other effects too. Voters in different countries can assess the chances of a youngish politician of modest means from a minority group becoming their head of state: nowhere in Europe leaps to mind; it’s unlikely in Asia and, sadly, all too improbable in Africa.??


Obama’s inauguration in Washington, D.C. on 20 January will nevertheless be a joyous moment for Africa and the US, a celebration of his dual heritage and also of the universal ideals of liberté, fraternité et égalité. The hard policy calculations are already being made. As Kenyan Prime Minister Raila Odinga told The Africa Report, Obama’s first duty will be to promote American interests even if he has much more knowledge and experience of Africa than his predecessors. Odinga wants Africa to receive more attention as a place for investment than as a humanitarian case. ?


Taking over a US Treasury that has just bailed out recalcitrant banks to the tune of over $700bn and financed a $1trn war in Iraq, the Obama administration will not be sprinkling largesse in Africa. But the new economic strategists could cut some of the subsidies that rich countries pay to their farmers, which suppress the world price of Africa’s agricultural exports. If the US gives a lead, the more serious subsidy violators in Europe and Japan would be under pressure to follow. ??


Foreign policy advisors around Obama have long-dismissed George Bush’s ‘war on terror’ concept and speak of a more nuanced and multilateral approach to crises. Sudan and Somalia will be near the top of the Africa priority list. Both urgently need heavyweight diplomacy, hard-headed political analysis and well-targeted development funds. Obama has already made commitments on material and diplomatic support for the peacekeepers in Darfur. The credibility of Washington’s commitment to punish war criminals would be boosted if the US finally signed up to the International Criminal Court.?


Inevitably, the Obama era will nurture the ties of the more than 30m African-Americans with the mother continent: this offers a great opportunity for African businesses to bring in the investment, technology transfer and research capability that is so badly needed.


??Such possibilities could light up the continent as Charlayne Hunter-Gault reports with a detailed analysis from Atlanta of the Obama win. Our correspondent in Johannesburg, William Gumede, tells the cautionary tale of the ructions in the African National Congress; as the political landscape changes, an exciting election looms in early 2009.?


Elections in Ethiopia have been more troubled still but Premier Meles Zenawi insists in an exclusive interview with The Africa Report that there will be no repeat in the next elections of the violence that left about 200 dead after the 2005 polls. From Harare, Charles Rukuni and Christopher Thompson report on prospects for resolving the political stalemate and economic meltdown. Oladipo Salimonu reads the political tea-leaves in Nigeria. ?


Attacking a broader canvas, Managing Editor Nicholas Norbrook and Editorial Assistant Gemma Ware go in search of the effects of the West’s financial crisis and reach unexpected conclusions, with the help of senior experts and economists. Finally, our pièce de résistance is the 53 country-by-country analysis of Africa’s prospects in 2009.

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