"It wasn't me..." says Obama on behalf of the West

Like the rest of you, I so much looked forward to Obama's first visit to sub-Saharan Africa since his inauguration. As much as I secretly envied Ghana for getting first dibs at the international superstar, I couldn't help but share in their excitement. Were it not for poverty, I so would have been there.

In the excitement, I, admittedly, may have fallen into the trap of expecting a "miracle speech," as Akin puts it. Of course, it was not. But I believe I have sobered up a bit and realized the folly of my ways. However, lingering disappointments still remain.

The crux of Obama's message to the continent was that in essence Africa needs to shape up or shape out. According to the American president, several of Africa's modern day woes are largely due to its own mismanagement of its governance. He cursory acknowledged the role of colonialism, but largely placed blames on despotic regimes and leaders. By declaring such, Obama has opened a whole new debate on Africa - how we got here and where we are going. Obama has voiced the opinion of many in the West who, because of the overwhelming sense of "white guilt," would not dare voice such criticisms of Africa.

Yes, I do agree that Africa has on many an ocassion shot itself in the foot - perhaps one too many times. However, I find that Obama's speech was tantamount to absolving Western powers of their past and current role in the failure of several African states. Unfortunately, the privilege of having "African blood run through his veins," has provided additional fodder for Westerners to point all five fingers at the African continent. If the most powerful black leader in the world agrees that Africa is to blame for Africa, then who is the West, to counteract such.

In addition, Obama chooses Ghana as an example of Africans finally deciding to choose democracy over autocracy. In essence, Obama concludes, if Ghana can do it - there is no reason why other African nations cannot follow suit. it goes without saying that it is an impossible exercise to extrapolate the results of one African state's efforts at nation-building to another (different colonial histories, sociopolitical climates, etc). However, as I always say, echi di ime - tomorrow is pregnant - no one knows what tomorrow will bring. A few years ago, Obama could have chosen Ivory Coast or even his paternal home of Kenyan as that great democratic hope we should all aspire to (Please, I am not wishing ill to my brethren in Ghana - just merely stating a fact of life). I don't think there exists an African country in which its populace would rather choose chaos over stable and peacful governance that is responsible to it citizens. However, to ignore or rather deny the role of colonialism, followed by our independence which was not truly independent, serves to demonize a people in the eyes of a world that is already showing signs of wanting to give up on our continent. Like I mentioned in a comment on SSD's piece on the Obama speech, it is funny how Obama is willing to support affirmative action in the US, but does not recognize the need to equalize the playing field between Africa and a world that has spurned her. It is almost as if Obama looks at his ascendancy to to the American presidency as a self-made effort, and cannot imagine why other Africans cannot excel as he or his goat-herder-father-turned-graduate did.

Personally, I think Obama's message did further damage to the continent's PR campaign. I think I have said this before in my blog (or possibly in conversation), we cannot move forward without a thorough analysis of what brought us here to our current predicament in the first place. A man who does not know when the rain began to beat him, will truly remain lost***

I am tired of Bush-esque 15minute speeches sympathizing about the plight of the hapless Africans, and now growing tired of Obama-esque, "it is not our (the West) fault," lectures.
***Borrowed this from an Igbo proverb, which states "a man who does not know when the rain began to beat him, will not know where he dried his body."


  1. yinkuslolo said...:

    Obama's visit to ghana has raised brows of critics and will continue. I think ther eis no right approach/analysis of the situation

  1. My World said...:

    I am still tryn to find the right words to explain how I really feel about this issue.....
    But this is rili 'un-Obama' like!

  1. SOLOMONSYDELLE said...:


    Just over the weekend, a good friend of mine and I spoke about how little we were taught about Nigerian history in school. Yes, of course we learned about Tafawa Balewa and all but we didn't learn about our political history, what caused Nigeria to be what it is today. We glanced over it and some argue we continue to do so. As a lover of the subject of history, I believe that having a working understanding of history helps to prevent repeats of past failures and allows for an appreciation of prior successes which can then be replicated.

    I therefore believe that it is crucial to understand the historical political incidents and decisions that have contributed to create the Africa we see today. HAvng an understanding of these things does not necessitate a "blame the West" or blame colonialists attitude/approach, and that is something far too many people ignore, I believe. But in understanding the mistakes of those who came before us, maybe we Africans, just maybe, will not continue the depressing cycle of false starts and incomplete tasks. It would be foolhardy to think otherwise.

    As to Obama, I appreciate that he has a pulpit from which he can make things happen. But, I am not deceived into believing that his main objectives are to better American interests. That is what the better governments do, and I think I have said as such here. But, using the "don't blame the West" approach when telling Africans that they are equal partners, without some acknowledgment of the complex history that led to some distrust and a 'blame the west' attitude in the first place, is a little disingenuous. If we are going to practice "mutual respect" and "mutual responsibility", lets all admit our sins and get down to business. Besides, Obama has freely admitted America's faults in speeches to European allies (leading to some criticism) but yet he glosses over this when speaking to Africans.

    Nice post.

  1. Akin said...:


    Whilst I agree that it might be difficult the extrapolate the successes of democracy in one African country to others for their differing histories and demographics, the fact is the speech did also mention democratic dividends in Botswana.

    Between Ghana and Botswana, I think there is a broad spectrum for hopeful extrapolation.



  1. ...beautiful post!...you bring up some really good points...a question i like to ask that most people don't like is one that asks who deemed democracy as the perfect way to govern a people?...when did we decide as world citizens that it is the only way?...i don't think i have much hope for obama...i was losing it before he even took office-with his stance on cuba- and it has slowly been washing away as i watch and hear more about his stances on different issues...africans, and not those that have the us' interests at heart, must preserve and resurrect our beautiful africa ourselves...

  1. Don Thieme said...:

    An excellent post, which I have linked to. I believe that the speech had much passion but seemed to have written hastily without enough careful thought.

  1. nneoma said...:

    @yinkusolo - I hear you. I think the most productive result of his speech is the debate that ensued about our past and how to get to a better future

    @my world - as for what is Obama-like and un-Obama like, I think only time will tell

    @SSD - I whole-heartedly agree with your take that in order to get to our destined future we need to understand the past in order to prevent the same mistakes. Even I would even venture far enough to say that in nation-building we should also learn from the mistakes of other nations - both on the continent and outside. I guess why I harp on "let's not forget colonialism" is because I am very afraid of how we are and will manage our interactions with emerging superpowers such as China. It is a bit disconcerting our track-record so far. So forgive me if I go on and on about the West the West....maybe in the future I will post more about the East....I kid. But yes, we need to balance our discussion with the past with that of the present and the solutions that we need.

    @Akin - My dear, Botswana is a whole different ball game from any other African country I have seen on our continent...its people, culture and its interaction with colonialists (which I have admired) has largely shaped its present....so to compare the trajectory of a country in which the number of cows exceeds its populace to Nigeria, a nation bursting at the seams would not be appropriate. Again, culture, particularly the homogeniety of its culture (though this does not always lead to success), could also be used to explain its success....anyway, I digress. The success of the countries mentioned (and as I mention no one knows tomorrow) lies in large part to their historical trajectory...which cannot be ignored. One day, i may muster up the patience to discuss this further in a post

    @gnigeriana - nice to see you around these parts again. so you picked up on my statement "don't think there exists an African country in which its populace would rather choose chaos over stable and peacful governance that is responsible to it citizens..." and the fact that I did not specifically mention democracy. nice...

    @Don thieme - thanks. yeah, i also wonder what Obama was thinking when he glanced over the speech for the first time. I would really like to know if his words were deliberate....but there is a part of me that believes that he knew he would ruffle a few feathers amongst Africans.

  1. Anonymous said...:

    My final take on this is that Africa received the Obama treatment. This seems to be standard for him: he takes a problematic issue that the people affected by are already talking about (even though outsiders may not realise it) and then makes a tough speech about it thus making it seem like he is willing to deliver the hard truth to his 'brethren'. This wouldn't be the first time he's used this approach: his speech on fatherhood to African-Americans follows the same format. Someone talked about political point scoring and i think that's exactly what it is.

    @ Akin, i don't think you can compare Botswana to any other African country. Colonialism barely disrupted their traditional institutions and structures because the country was not that important to British interests in the area so there was little official interference in contrast to what was done in other countries. This relative lack of impact is a very important factor in Botswana's stability today. See An African Success Story (Acemoglu et al, http://econ-www.mit.edu/files/284) for more about this.

  1. nneoma said...:

    @culturesoup - actually you make a good point....almost forgot about some of his pre-inauguration speeches. nice point.
    thanks for the link to the paper....on took a peek at the abstract but will look into more at another time. actually, bookmarking it now.

  1. KG said...:

    You know, I wasn't even planning to take a look at the Obama speech but this has definitely piqued my interest. If that's the message he sent *ahem* well, that's pretty damaging. This essentially gives the Western powers that be a get out of jail free card.

    SSD & nneoma, you ladies make excellent points about history, foresight and learning from past mistakes. Unfortunately, as Africans (past and present) our track record is abysmal. Nneoma, you also bring up a very interesting point about China. I really hope history does not repeat itself. Africans have always put loot first and foremost and in the process compromised ourselves with regards to self-rule, freedom etc.

    And still on the topic of history, it seems Obama hasn't studied African history thoroughly. There are deep issues that have prevented African nations from 'self-making' it; corrupt leaders notwithstanding.
    Just cos he has African blood running through his veins does not mean he has a clue about the complexities of the continent.

    Disclosure: I'm a huge Obama fan.

  1. I got caught up in Obamamania, then I sobered up, so... Fuck Obama forreal. He's nothing but another pawn, as all other presidents have been over the last 40 or so years. Change and hope were all words to get the world worked up, his skin color was a history maker, but he has no ethics, no politics behind him. Its all a sham, and until the people of not just the US, but of the WORLD wake up to what's really happening, we are all destined for doom when the end result of all of this is unleashed. There's a movie called The Obama Deception, might I suggest you all watch it and take heed...