Did Africa expect too much from Obama?
YES. Obama is a Kenyan American, not an American Kenyan. As such, like all other American presidents before him, Obama’s first priority has been to promote and protect US diplomatic, economic and security interests around the globe. Consider, for instance, how US interests have shaped Obama’s foreign trips in his eight years in office. While he has made five trips to Germany, Mexico and the United Kingdom, he has only visited Africa four times. Why? Because America has far more crucial ties with these three countries than with Africa. In 2015, for instance, bilateral US-Germany trade was worth $173 billion while that between the US and all sub-Saharan African countries was valued at only $37 billion. Nevertheless, Obama has visited Africa more than many other sitting US presidents to promote American interests such as the need to counter fast-rising Chinese influence in Africa. Simultaneously, he has supported Africa by building on Bill Clinton and George Bush’s initiatives and by launching his own Power Africa and Young African Leaders Initiative despite stiff opposition from the Republican-controlled US Congress. But beyond the question of what Obama has or has not done for Africa is the more critical need for the continent to stand up for its own interests. ● Kefa M. Otiso, President, Kenya Scholars & Studies Association, US
NO. Africans and Africans abroad expected a fair shake, not a handout. Of course Africans celebrated Obama’s election. People danced in the streets! Kenya declared 20 January 2009 a public holiday so wananchi [the people] could celebrate the inauguration of the 44th President of the United States. Obama became both the sign and the signifier of the progress that Africans and people of African descent have made across the world. Celebrating the symbol and his achievements, however, does not mean that we expected a handout. African intellectuals were clear-headed when it came to their expectations. Scholars such as Achille Mbembe and Georges Nzongola-Ntalaja agreed that Obama would be obligated to reify the interests of the US. They also argued that an Obama presidency could provide access to the highest levels of policy-making in the US. Unfortunately, we were deeply disappointed with the Obama administration’s adoption of George Bush’s national security approach that focused on terrorism and counter-terrorism. Obama talked of transforming the relationship between Africa and the US during the US-Africa Summit in 2014, but his Security Governance Initiative proposed combining economic and military policies to create a secure environment for US investors. In the final analysis, Obama failed to break out of the mould of both Republican and Democratic foreign-policy perspectives since World War II. ● Francis Nesbitt, Associate Professor of Africana Studies, San Diego State University, US
From the November 2016 print edition