Obama’s legacy regarding Africa can still be reshaped before leaving office

When the verdict is finally taken in November next year, President Barack Hussein Obama, at the end of his eight year term, will not have scored very well on his African achievements.

Nothing in Africa stands out as prominent as Obama’s removal of a five decade US diplomatic and trade embargo on Cuba in the Latin American front. Sino-American relations have been stable and rewarding to both countries all through Obama’s administration.

The Europeans do not seem to have any major complaints against the US during the Obama presidency. At no time has the youthful president tried to outdo or outshine his counterparts in Europe on the international stage. So what did Africa expect from the US under Obama?

As the first African-American President, Africans had very high expectations from Obama. There was hope, right from the beginning, that Obama would set up a powerful Africa/US Consultation Forum to review US-African relations since the Civil Rights movement in the 1960s.

This would have helped take stock of where we are today and where we ought to be in the context of a progressive US foreign policy. There were many African universities and foreign affairs Think Tanks which were prepared to work on this jointly with counterparts in the US. Unfortunately all feelers sent across the Atlantic met with little attention.

If anything, US diplomatic missions in Africa were unduly oversensitive about Africans attempting “to domesticate” the Obama presidency. It follows therefore that few symposia, or “moments of reflection”, were held in Africa to “think through” some foreign policy innovations that would come from the US vis-a-vis Africa following Obama’s election.

By the time Obama held a summit with African presidents in Washington during his second term, the general feeling in Africa was that this was, rather unfortunately, too little too late.

The usual suspect subjects were high on the agenda; the importance of the private sector as “a driver” for development; putting trade before aid in African-US relations; some fresh initiatives in AGOA; democracy and good governance as the vital political context for development.

What followed after that was nothing remarkable. There is little evidence that US investments in Africa have gone up appreciably since that well-orchestrated summit. Whether it was just a gimmick or a manipulative diplomatic exercise is for the architects to tell us before November 2016.

Finally Obama visited his motherland Kenya in June 2015. He had been long awaited. He had no doubt been held back from coming to Kenya due to the cases facing Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta and his deputy William Ruto at the International Criminal Court (ICC). Uhuru got off the hook in 2014.

Ruto’s case continues at The Hague with an uncertain future. Obama was careful not to mention anything about the ICC while in Kenya, notwithstanding his ardent concern with human rights issues globally. Kenyans expected a statement about the victims of Kenya’s Post-Election Violence (PEV) of 2007/8. After all, no democrat and human rights crusader can forget the 1,300 lives lost, women violated and families disrupted.

As one of Kenya’s most successful global politician, it will be sad for him to leave the political stage without doing anything about the PEV victims.

Even the high stakes he put on the fight against corruption has seen more smoke than fire come from the Kenya Government since he left. Little is known—or remembered—about the joint policy initiative that was to be unveiled simultaneously in Nairobi and Washington after he left Nairobi.

Obama’s programme for developing a new generation of young leaders in Africa is based on his faith that Africa’s democratic transformation lies in the hands of the progressive youth.

Picking up young leaders and taking them to the US for democratic political education is seen as a way of achieving this goal. This reminds me of the Moral Rearmament movement that was initiated by the US State Department in Africa in the sixties. It had a Euro-Christian/American right wing Puritanism that sought to inculcate a morality in young Africans which was to be pro-capitalist and antithetical to socialism/communism.

This time around a more secular ideology and world view is to be inculcated which is much more in keeping with the politic context of our time. This secular ideology is democratic liberalism. Kudos to Obama.

I would, however, have preferred a different approach. Rather than airlift young African leaders for “political education in the US”, a more practical home grown process of political socialisation would have a deeper effect. There are many progressive African-American scholars and post-graduate students hungry to come to Africa and share knowledge with their brothers and sisters in Africa.

Obama should boldly have come up with “a summer school of cultural exchange and political education” in which these African-Americans would come to Africa to teach and hold tutorials with young Africans. Similarly, Africans would also go to the US to teach and hold tutorials with young African-Americans. One key subject to be discussed in both summer schools would be “the democratic experience in Africa and the USA.”

It is not too late for Barack Obama to put this proposal into practice. I do believe that he is in the process of setting up the Barack Hussein Obama Foundation. This foundation could take up this project as a continuation of what the President was doing, or hoping to do, while in office.

Many African scholars of my hue and political persuasion would be ready to lend some intellectual input into the fleshing up of this idea if and when the President decides to take it seriously. This is because we strongly believe that the democratic discourse in the USA remains incomplete without the integration of the African-American/Africa “problematique”.

Africans and African-Americans paid dearly for the primitive accumulation of capital in the USA. Racism continues with the modern face of this primitive accumulation with the degradation of African-American labour in capitalist America. When this labour is not extracted “sur place” in the work place, it is driven from very early age to populate prisons—public and private—where it becomes a modern form of chattel slavery.

The Free Market and political liberalism may therefore mean very little to the African-American born in Detroit today. His counterpart in Mathare in Nairobi may be better off due to a more accommodative cultural place to feel at home. Hence the need for the cross cultural studies we need to have with our African-American brothers and sisters. Will the real Barack Hussein Obama please stand up.