Compared to Bush, Obama has failed the Africa test


President Barack Obama is facing a gargantuan political duel in his bid for the second term unlike his first bid in 2008 where he easily won against John McCain.

By all accounts, America was facing an economic slowdown in 2008 as many financial institutions and industries collapsed.

Many voters were tired of President George W Bush and by extension the Republican Party and, therefore, Obama’s message of hope and his vision for America were largely acceptable to a nation that was facing great financial difficulties and challenges.

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With a few weeks to November historic election, it’s no longer certain that Obama will win unlike few weeks ago when many opinion pollsters in US shown him having almost a ten-point lead over Governor Mitt Romney. His performance at the first presidential debate was arguably below par and has led to his popularity drop. Historically, many Presidential candidates in US who have lost in debates have consequently lost in the polls even if they were leading before.

Currently, many pollsters have shown that Mitt Romney is closing this gap and using the Pew Research Center Polls, both tie at 46 per cent on registered voters but on likely voters, Romney is slightly ahead with 49% whereas Obama has 45%.

In this regard, it is important that we look in depth whether President Obama has brought any paradigm shift in US policy in Africa or not, and whether Africans should be enthusiastic over his second bid or not. As a matter of fact, many Africans, voters and non voters, Americans and non-Americans widely supported Obama’s first bid and his win due to his African roots in Kenya.

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In particular, countries like Kenya even declared November 6th 2008 a holiday in order to celebrate Obama’s win. This enthusiasm by Africans was wide because many expected that Washington would improve its relations with Africa and not necessarily dole handouts or give special attentions to Africa.

Kenya Defence Forces

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In contrast, this was not the case. Compared to other past US Presidents and in particular President Bush who had very low approval levels when he left office, the Obama Administration has not in any way improved relations with Africa or has had any specific economic  and social policy favouring Africans. 

Bush introduced President’s Emergency Plan for Aids Relief (Pepfar) in 2003 which has immensely contributed in the global fight against HIV and Aids.

At the time, only 50,000 Africans were on anti-retroviral drugs. By the time Bush’s term was ending, over 1.3 million Africans suffering from HIV/Aids were on medication, much of it paid for by his administration.

Further, Bush’s malaria initiative saw the disease halved in over 14 African countries and also supported the Ethiopian invasion of Somalia to rid out radical Islamists. In contrast, the Obama administration refused to wholesomely assist the African Union fight Al Shabaab and was actually very skeptical and quietly opposed to the Kenya Defence Forces incursion into Somalia. In fact, the Kenyan forces have so far succeeded in Somalia where American forces failed.

President Bush’s efforts have comparatively been so far the best for Africa and factually, Obama has made no sincere efforts in having a meaningful African policy. Ironically, Bush was seen as having been successful more in African affairs than even his own countries affairs.

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As noted by aid activist and former rock star Bob Geldolf, “The Bush regime has been divisive — but not in Africa. I read it has been incompetent — but not in Africa. It has created bitterness — but not here in Africa. Here, his administration has saved millions of lives.” He further notes, “Although few expected such interest eight years ago, the president has clearly been deeply and personally committed to strengthening US-Africa relations.”

This is a clear manifestation of how other Presidents have been committed to African affairs unlike Obama, who partially won through great support of Africa-Americans and also his narrative of his humble life as a child of a Kenyan father.

President Bill Clinton

Instead, Obama administration has largely dwelt in funding forums and workshops to discuss democracy and governance especially in Kenya through dubious civil society groups and armchair activist   and therefore his one term African record remains opaque.

Notably, President Bill Clinton Administration had better policy for Africa than Obama’s first tenure. He pushed for African Growth and Opportunity Act which was Africa-focused foreign policy to help the continent gain access to the American market. This Act created a platform for African investors in selected businesses to sell their products.

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Therefore, as President Obama faces the epic battle in November, Africans enthusiasm is no more and there is little if any that Obama can show off in Africa.

The writer is a lawyer.

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