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President Barack Obama And Global Africa
Prof. Ali A. Mazrui
Barack Obama’s Africa policy may become more active in a positive sense in the months and years ahead. But on the evidence so far it does seem credible that the African continent itself would have been better off if Hillary Clinton had become President of the United States.
On the other hand, if we examine the Black world as a whole instead of just the African continent, Obama’s election to the presidency of the United States has set a remarkable precedent in upward political mobility. The United States is only the first white majority country to have elected a man of color to its highest office in the land. This American precedent may lead on to the election of a Black Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, a Black President of France, and even a Black Chancellor of Germany before the end of this 21st century.
A Somali Prime Minister of Italy in another 50 years is no longer inconceivable. After all, the United States has had a Luo President sooner than has Kenya, which has a population of several million Luo.
It is also not often realized that Obama is not only the most powerful Black man in world politics today, but the most powerful man of color in the history of civilization. He is more powerful than the Pharaoh who forced Moses out of Egypt, more powerful than the Ethiopian Emperor who defeated the Italians in 1896, more powerful than Shaka Zulu who ‘stands out as the greatest of them all. His legend has captured the imagination of European and African writers, inspiring novels, biographies, and historical studies in several tongues.
When we say Obama is more powerful than Shaka Zulu, Ramses II of Egypt, and Menelik II of Ethiopia, we do not mean that Obama is greater than any of them. We do not know yet how great Barack Obama is likely to be. What we do know is that he is the Commander in Chief of US forces, which are greater than all the African armies in history added together. Currently it is estimated that the United States has 1000 military bases overseas.
In sheer power, there is therefore no doubt that Barack Obama is in a class by himself among Black leaders in the history of civilization. But what about Obama’s impact upon African-Americans?
Black voters in the United States voted for Obama in percentages of over 90 per cent — after some hesitation in the early stages of his primary campaign for the presidency. But in the course of his first 100 days there was some Black disenchantment because Obama was perceived as being in denial about the importance of such African-American concerns as affirmative action and reparations for past injustices. At African-American public meetings to grade Obama’s performance during those 100 days, some graded him as low as C- others gave him an Incomplete.
But in fairness to President Obama some of his most important policies are bound to benefit millions of African-Americans, although the policies were not specifically focused on African-Americans. His aspiration to make health service as affordable and universal as possible is bound to benefit hundreds of thousands of uninsured African-Americans. His plan to make college education more affordable is also bound to benefit generations of young Blacks, if Obama succeeded. Indeed, many of these policies are likely to yield greater benefits to African-Americans than even affirmative action which has tended to benefit white women more than Black Americans.
With regard to health policies affecting the African continent, Obama has a tough act to follow when compared with George W. Bush. Perhaps at a moment of weakness, President Bush persuaded Congress to allocate billions of dollars to combat HIV-Aids in Africa and the Caribbean countries. Bush’s strategy against HIV-Aids abroad was arguably his most enlightened policy, though his accompanying condition of sexual abstinence was naive and often honored more in the breach than the observance.
We have now transitioned from Obama’s credentials of performance to his credentials of pledges. The pursuit of affordable health care and affordable education are pledges in the process of implementation. The beneficiaries of these pledges are bound to include millions of African-Americans.
Prof. Mazrui teaches political science and African studies at State
University New York