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The politics of President Obama in Africa


Cementing his role as the African Diaspora president and hero of everywhere Africans, President Barack Obama spoke recently to a huge audience at the African Union headquarters in Addis Abba, Ethiopia. This was the headquarters featuring the great statue of Pan Africanist Kwame Nkrumah outside welcoming guests in, and the headquarters built for the African Union by the Chinese. The latter is part of the reason Mr. Obama was there.

The U.S.A. had waning influence in Africa in the 30 years before Obama became POTUS.

Most African involvement during the pre-Obama days was either military or aid-granting related.

Under President Obama, Africa has become a valued partner in economic trade, investment and the international anti-terrorism fight.

Mr. Obama both chided and praised Africa during this current visit, the last, he stated, before he is termed out of office. Before he is done, the U.S. head of state said he intends to establish a mutually beneficial U.S.A.-Africa connection that will continue long after his presidency is over.

Before his Ethiopian speech, Obama visited Kenya and spoke very positively about that country’s recent demonstration of successful democratic transfer of power and the strength of Kenya’s new constitution. He had also, however, not been able to visit the gravesite of his Kenyan father nor the village of his grandmother, due to the military threat of an Al-Shabaab attack. The latter is an Al-Qaeda-related terrorist group which has killed many Kenyans in recent years.

In Kenya, Mr. Obama joked about being there to look for his birth certificate and that he was the first Kenyan-American President of the U.S.A. He also spoke highly of the Kenyan educational system and the country’s vast potential for foreign investment and regional/international trade. While his presence and speeches, which were shown by cable all over the country, were very warmly received, he did hit one big sour note when he urged Kenyans and all Africans to treat homosexuals with equality and dignity under the law. Kenya’s president, Uhuru Kenyatta, publicly voiced his dismay at that comment, and said that homosexual rights was not an issue to be addressed in Kenya.

At the African Union a few days later, not only did Mr. Obama’s visit raise the stature and public notice for that most important institution, it also provided Mr. Obama a platform to both congratulate Africa for the developmental path it is now on, and to pinpoint two of Africa’s most recalcitrant current problems: pervasive governmental corruption and the refusal of too many current leaders to leave office when due. The former continually siphons off resources that could be better used for infrastructure projects, improved medical care, and food security. As an example of the level of continued corruption, Mr. Obama noted that virtually all of the current African presidents were listed among the world’s richest people. This was particularly the case for those heads of state who had been in office longer than 10 years. They and their retinues had drained the treasuries of too many countries.

The second issue was a raging crisis during his time in Ethiopia. The two-term president of Ethiopia’s East African neighbor, Burundi, Pierre Nkurunziza, had just forcibly put himself on a presidential ballot to be re-elected for a third term, in spite of that position being a legal violation, and, some say, unconstitutional in that country.

Mr. Nkurunziza was re-elected while President Obama was still in Africa, and the USA commander-in-chief railed against such bad government as anti-democratic and said that once that slippery slope had been started, it would be very easy for citizens in a country like Burundi to again forego democratic institutions and depend on violence, intertribal conflict and gun-barrel reprisals instead of a modern government. He cited the example of the new country of South Sudan, with its continuing civil unrest because authorities had not been able to convince the citizenry of the credibility and strength of a democratic government.

Currently, almost 20 of Africa’s current heads of state have been in office for more than 15 years, with 10 of them being in office for more than 20 years. President Obama said that was wrong-headed, selfish and bad for those countries. Fresh leadership is virtually always better for countries than leadership in dotage. And leadership which follows the constitutional rules of a country is always the way to go. President Obama used his own situation as an example: he said he was pretty sure he could win a third term in office if he attempted it, but the country’s 22nd amendment to the constitution does not allow it. He, therefore, has to follow the law—do the right thing—and retire from office, when that date arrives. He should not stay beyond his assigned time, no matter how good a job he thinks he is doing. Obama said other African leaders needed to do the same thing. They have to resist the egotism of believing that only they can lead their countries.

President Obama got more than 75 standing ovations during his speech to the African Union. He got the loudest and most sustained from the comments he made on leaders who outstay their welcome. Unfortunately, most of the African heads of state who fit that situation were not in attendance. They were home busily oppressing their own people and enriching themselves.

Professor David L. Horne is founder and executive director of PAPPEI, the Pan African Public Policy and Ethical Institute, which is a new 501(c)(3) pending community-based organization or non-governmental organization (NGO). It is the stepparent organization for the California Black Think Tank which still operates and which meets every fourth Friday.

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