Amupanda on the Obama question

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Political scientist and University of Namibia lecturer for political studies Job Amupanda shares his views on outgoing US President Barack Obama and his controversial incoming successor Donald Trump.

New Era: From an African, or even Namibian, perspective, what legacy does Obama leave behind?

Job Amupanda: “The legacy of Obama depends on where one stands – whether one is interested in form or substance. For black Americans, they can now believe that there is space and scope for a black people in American politics. If the photos of American presidents are to be displayed, it will no longer be the same white male faces.

There will now be a face of a child born of Kenyan extraction. This is the form that characterises the Obama legacy.

In May last year I was in Gambia and on my way I stopped in Dakar, Senegal, where the youth spoke to me about what is called the “back way” – referring to the exodus of African youth that are leaving Africa for Europe as illegal immigrants searching for economic opportunities.

“In these conversations, the name Obama is dropped as a symbol of prospects, making it on the other side. While this may appear like a mediocre interpretation on the part of African youth in that part of Africa, it is part of the Obama legacy that is characterised by the narrative of hope and making the impossible possible. In terms of substance, there was an unnecessary expectation from Africans about the Obama presidency. Obama was never an African president. Africans were foolish to expect miracles from Obama. It is for this reason that they didn’t see participation in the assassination of Colonel Gaddafi coming because they were busy with sentimentalism and thinking Obama is their tribesman. Africans got a rude awakening.”

New Era: What did you admire about him as president and what were his obvious flaws?

Job Amupanda: “What I admired about him is his approach to generational conflict that is prevalent in Africa where greedy and ever angry politicians have remained in power for decades; decades of having their toothbrush and toilet papers bought by taxpayers’ money. In all his speeches in Africa, in Ghana, Kenya and South Africa, he prioritised the youth. He even engaged with African young leaders through programs such the Mandela Washington Fellowship and Young African Leadership Program. The only noticeable moment with the ever angry and power holding politicians is photo sessions. That stood out for me. The other thing that stood out was his minor appetite and propensity to go to war. He gave the world therapy following the 10 years of warmonger George W. Bush. He remained committed to PEPFAR and Agoa. Those were good choices.

“His obvious shortcomings include failing to respond to the demands of people who were aroused by his ascendancy to the White House. More black youth were shot by white police officers and he is not recorded having done anything authoritative. America is now more racist than it was when he took over. He failed in race relations. His presidency, particularly his last term, was characterised by the polarisation in race relations. This partly explains the “Make America Great Again” narrative. For something to be made “great again” means it was once great before “something” happened. Is this “something” Obama? Some argue that such is the understanding of most Trump supporters.”

New Era: What can Namibia (and Africa) expect from the Trump presidency?

Job Amupanda: “I don’t think Africa occupies a major part in Trump’s mind. It will not be surprising if we are to discover that Trump has never mentioned the name Namibia over the past five years. I don’t think we are part of his imagination yet.

It is not only Trump but Americans in general. I met officials in the Bureau of African Affairs last year when I was in Washington. They speak of Namibia as part of the international community. For Africa, I suspect that there will be little funding coming its way during the Trump presidency. Trump wants value for money and has little inclination for crybabies and people wanting freebies.

President Hage Geingob always likes to cry to the world that we must be described as poor – you can imagine what Trump’s response will be. Trump’s Africa policy is, however, not clear yet. Let’s make room for all possibilities given this gab!”

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