Challenges for Africa in The Obama Presidency
By Ajong Mbapndah L*
Judging by the wave of enthusiasm that started building up cautiously at the beginning but grew up it frenzic proportions as he grabbed the democratic ticket and led in the polls till his election, one will think that Senator Barack Obama was running as President of Africa and not the USA.While many see in his election a break through for blacks in America and the rest of the world, others see in his election, a potentially new dawn for Africa. While it may be fool hardy to see in his election some portion to soothe away the myriad of problems confronting the African continent, Africa has the possibility of changing its fortunes through the Obama presidency.This can be possible not through aid much of which has only ended lining the pockets of unscrupulous leaders leaving the people in a never ending spiral of indebtedness, but by Africans learning vital lessons from the story book experience of Senator Obama and using that to overcome the very surmountable challenges that the continent faces today.
Kenya from where his father hails from was earlier in year plunged into severe political crisis formented by a leader who in full public glare rigged elections to remain in power. Chaos led to destruction of property in huge proportions and lost of lives in several hundreds. A full blown civil war was only averted thanks to diplomatic tact of former United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan who succeed to broker a power sharing agreement between the government and opposition leader Raila Odinga who is Prime Minister today. Yet this is a country with great economic potentials.President Kibaki whose election rigging antics threw the country into turmoil was quick to declare a national holiday in honor of Barack Obama’s victory.President Yar’Adua of Nigeria whose election since 2007 is still in dispute at the Supreme Court, saw in Barack Obama’s victory a huge break through in racial barriers while affirming that his own country had a lot to learn from it.
Obama’s message of change that took him from a very humble start when he launched his presidentially bid and eventually engulfed the whole country, is strongly needed in the continent today. With sit tight leaders like Paul Biya of Cameroon in power since 1982, Obiang Nguema of Equatorial Guinea since 1979 ,Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe since 1980, Omar Bongo of Gabon since 1967 just to cite a few, the continent cuts a pathetic figure especially with the porous balance sheet that most of these leaders can boast of after such lengthy sojourns in power.Africa therefore needs a strong generational shift in leadership.The old order has to change , the contrast in American politics was sharp between the youthful enthusiasm and exuberance of Barack Obama and the age of his Republican opponent Senator John Mccain.Look at the youth that is exhibited by Nicholas Sarkozy of France, take a look at the impressive track records of leaders like Tony Blair when he was Prime Minister of Great Britain and Bill Clinton when he served as President of the USA. But in a continent where elections are more often than not rigged and with the government and ruling parties in control of everything how is this possible? Obama’s strategy and eventual victory should serve as a worthy example .
Of all the candidates in the democratic primaries, he was the youngest and has gone down in history as the youngest President of the USA. He certainly was not well connected, did not have a privileged background but he was daring enough and the dividends are there for all to see. Many maybe right to believe that men as gifted as Obama only come along once in a life time but in Africa , there should be people who can be inspired by his experience.The thirst for change in America was just so strong that little could stand in the way of the fiece conviction with which Obama delivered his message.The warmth with which Americans embraced the message was amazing. There are few regions in the world that change is more needed than in Africa today. His victory should serve as a source of courage to opposition parties discouraged in their bids to provide viable alternatives through the all too frequent ignoble art of election rigging by ruling parties. Going back to the drawing board and coming up with better strategies and stronger messages could be helpful.
The amount of money that was spent in the Presidential race this year was scarily huge.The Obama campaign repeatedly indicated that the bulk of its money came from small donors, but when it was all summed up, it turned out to be very huge. In most African countries especially the ones managed by sit tight dictators, while the opposition is generally starved of funds, there is often little distinction between the public treasury and that of the ruling party.Could the opposition in Africa borrow a leaf from the fund raising operations here? As tough as it may be in Africa people should know that contributions no matter how small to a candidate or party which meets their aspirations turn out to make a huge difference.
The participation of the youth and the women was also impressive in the recent American elections. A look at Africa today reveals that youth and women constitute a huge chunk of the population and can potentially tilt the balance in any election.These two groups are however amongst the most marginalised and politically underrepresented .Could the impact that women and the youth had on the election of Barack Obama serve as a lesson.With talented and educated youth wasting away in joblessness, the vote remains an indispensable tool for them to bring down leaderships which do not meet their aspirations. Sidney Poitier the famed American actor was certainly right in saying that the vote remains the most useful weapon in the hands of the oppressed . Instead of the general state of apathy which is fueled by the scourge of flawed elections, Obama’s victory should serve as a wakeup call to them. Old and incompetent leaders who still lord it in many African countries should not be allowed to continue with the ominous picture that they continue to paint for generations of dynamic young Africans eager to break free.
The excitement generated by the political exploits of Barack Obama is understandable, we see the USA once more making history. If the race was to be decided by race alone, Senator Obama will certainly not have made it, but Americans saw talent, and put aside race, religion, and others to give him a chance. Africa can learn from this, could it be possible for Shonas in Zimbabwe to give talent from Ndebele a chance? Could a Muslim from Norhern Nigeria shed religious barriers and give an Ibo man from the South a chance if trully he has the ability and deserves it? Could a Francophone in Cameroon give an Anglophone a chance if he deserves it? More often than not political decisions fueled by religious or clan affinities have had disastrous consequences for African countries. As excited as Africans are about the victory of Barack Obama , sobber reflection should make them realise that had it been for blacks or the African American vote alone, he may never have made it.
As America sets the standards high for the world with a most salutary ground shaking example, Africa must learn as many lessons from this as possible. The political realities in the USA and Africa are not exactly the same at all but the victory of Senator Obama should spur Africans to action.It should make them conscious of their abilities and potentials to bring change in their own countries. Wars, tribalism, flawed elections et al are not the kind of things which will make him proud, pouring in more aid alone will not transform the continent, the people must use this opportunity to sharpen their ability and resolve to take destiny into their own hands. Many think that the Presidency election in the USA was in some way a referendum on the Presidency of George Bush which did not meet the aspirations of many.Is it not time Africans learn from this example and sacrifice more to put a stop to the trend where leaderships with grossly disappointing performances continue to stay in power.This is the time for Cameroonians to put an end to the affront from a leader like President Paul Biya who in 2004 made about four campaign stops and won a landslide in the presidential elections. Inspiration from an Obama victory should help the people work harder to put an end to such insults to the collective intelligence of Africans.
Prof Pat Utomi a 2007 Presidential election candidate in Nigeria says he believes that transparent governance can also be possible in Nigeria and his country must change or risk collapse.”So, as we celebrate the great triumph of America’s democratic ethos, we must challenge the Nigeria spirit to rise to the fact that true democracy can give us leadership that can transform Nigeria for the good of all Nigerians whether they live in Birinin Kebbi, Oloibiri, Ihiala, Awe or Gboko, or whether they be young or old, animist; Christian or Moslim,” Prof Utomi said while paying tribute to Obama.The Presidency of Obama offers Africans the possibility of making a fresh start, it offers them the opportunity to have renewed faith in their ability and potentials to to stop at nothing short of leaderships which meet their aspirations.By doing this Africa and Africans will not only show that trully they are proud of the exploits of Senator Obama but will also make him proud of the impact that his feat had on the continent of his father.With huge challenges at home in the USA for him, and with Russia, Iraq, Iran, North Korea, Afghanistan certain to dorminate foreign policy, not much time maybe left Africa. The inspiration and lessons that Africans draw from his amazing political story and success could make a huge difference in transforming the fortunes of the continent.It is a debt Africans owe him, themselves, and America for this great moment in history.
*The author is editor of the online monthly publication Pan African Visions www.panafricanvisions.com