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Opinion: Africa needs tough love from Obama

Published date:
Saturday, 10 January 2009

Africans are yet to recover from the pinnacle of euphoria that they engulfed themselves with after the election of their "son", Senator Barack Obama, as President of the United States of America.

It would be insane to argue that Africans were the only ones celebrating: here in America, we know that more 69.5 million people voted for Obama, a number who joined in celebrating his election, apart from the scenes from all over the world showing millions also celebrating this incredible achievement of a "son" of Africa.

With the euphoria comes unrealistic expectations: President Obama will drastically change American policy towards Africa.

However, before we examine these expectations on our part as Africans, we must also examine our part, if any, in making Obama's dreams realizable. Let's from the outset acknowledge that Obama's father is an African from Kenya. But in terms of claiming fatherhood, should we as Africans be proud of a man who abandoned his son when he was barely two years old, forcing his abandoned white wife to resort to food stamps to feed the son he caused to be brought into the world?

I was amazed at the level of celebrations in Kenya on Obama's win - declaring national holidays - without as much as expressing any kind of remorse about how their real son, Barack Obama, Sr. had lousily mistreated this "son" of Africa.

The fact we have to reiterate here is that our new President was raised by his single mother, Stanley Ann Dunham, and then mostly by his white grandparents. What has been said above could also be said of African American claims to Obama: Obama chose to be African American --okay forced by his 50% Black blood-- after he decided to move to Chicago to become a community organizer.

Added to the fact that he married a beautiful, brilliant, high-achieving African American woman who has given him two beautiful children, in which case we can say that the African Americans have better claim to Obama than the nebulous African claim to our "son".

In addition, African Americans voted en masse, 96%, to elect Obama, and contributed massively financially to his election campaign. Africans cannot make the same claim --okay, my family contributed a total of $1,050-- and I used the pages of the African Sun Times and the www.africanamedia. com in promoting his candidacy. I have no doubt that others did more, including voting for him. But on the scale of others, psst.

The question really is what should Africans and the African continent realistically expect from the President Barack Obama administration. My answer to that is tough love. During the primaries and during the election, it was difficult to discern any specific articulated policy by Obama that would allay our fears or increase our optimism about actions his Administration would take, except the generalized opposition to what is going on in Darfur, as well as calling for the ouster of Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe.

There are already some African experts who are expressing fears and sounding alarms about those who Obama has chosen to head his economic and foreign policy teams. Patrick Bond, director of the Centre for Civil Society in Durban, South Africa, is credited with saying that "One of Barack Obama's leading advisors has done more damage to Africa, its economies and its people than anyone I can think of in world history, including even Cecil John Rhodes."

Mr. Bond was referring to Mr. Paul Volcker, who Obama has picked to head his New Economic Panel.

Bond accused Volcker, the Federal Reserve Chairman from 1979-1987, of increasing "the cost of African debt precipitously, delivering the newly independent states into at least 20 years of indentured labor." "It was after the ‘Volcker Shock’ that Brazil's debt exploded, doubling from $50 billion to $100 billion, and that of Nigeria from $9 billion to $29 billion," noted the journalist Naomi Klein, author of the book “Shock Doctrine.”

Laurence Summers, former Clinton Treasury Secretary, who Obama announced will head his Council of Economic Advisers, has been accused of advocating, in a private World Bank note: “I think the economic logic behind dumping a load of toxic waste in the lowest-wage country is impeccable and we should face up to that----I’ve always thought that under populated countries in Africa are vastly under-polluted, their air quality is vastly inefficiently low… African’s aesthetic concerns with air pollution are not likely to be as substantive as they are for wealthy northerners.”

It would also be recalled that it was during the Clinton administration that Somalia became a failed state, as well as the atrocious genocide in Rwanda, that claimed more than 800,000 lives. But it would be an injustice if we failed to acknowledge that it was President Clinton who brought us the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA), a successful act that continues to be renewed under President Bush.

What should Africans expect from the incoming Secretary of State, Senator Hillary Clinton?

And the ambivalence of appreciation and respect shown by African leaders towards Bush, despite American and world condemnation of his policies, is because African leaders have come to believe that the Bush administration has done more for Africa than any other American president. They cite the Millennium Development Goal, although an U.N. initiative; but more specifically the huge amount of money he has allocated towards the HIV-AIDS pandemic in Africa.

Africans will be happy if the Obama Administration were to equal what Bush has accomplished. But in his first meeting with African leaders, perhaps to address the African Union heads of state meeting, or in a meeting of the current Chair of the African Union, President Jakaya Kikwete of Tanzania, President Obama must be brutally frank in telling them that:

(1) Africa should look to itself to solve its problems, economically/ financially, politically and culturally; preventing ethnic wars.

(2) Tell the leaders in no unmistakable terms that just because a "son" of Africa is President of the US, its does not mean that the purse strings of the US government is going to loosen.

(3) The foot-dragging among African leaders --many afraid of skeletons in their own cupboard-- in ousting dictatorial leaders must have to stop. The embarrassing situation in Zimbabwe, where the opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai won the presidential election, only for Mugabe to reverse it in an one-man election, should not be tolerated. Obama should tell African leaders that it was time for them to abide by the new constitutive act of the Africa Union, which calls for the Union to intervene with force, in a situation where the masses of the population are being oppressed. That situation exists today in Zimbabwe.

(4) The Obama Administration will not tolerate looting of the treasuries by leaders and siphoning those funds to Europe. Obama must also warn European nations to desist from accepting these illegitimate funds, and there should be serious punishment for that.

President Obama is in a position to tell African leaders these tough love statements as their "son", because he is embarrassed as a Black man that Africa is looked upon as the ignorant child by the rest of the world, incapable of taking care of itself.

It is time for tough love. Obama is very good at that. During the campaign, he chastised black American leaders for acts unbecoming of good citizenships. It is the same epiphany he has to bring to Africa. Anything less would be a failure of his Administration.

Black Star News columnist Onyeani is publisher of The African Sun Times

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