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."
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