Namibians on Obama’s African legacy … Was the outgoing president a hit or miss?

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Windhoek – American President Barack Obama delivered his farewell speech to his country and the world this week, with exactly a week remaining before his rightist successor – property billionaire Donald Trump – is sworn in as America’s 45th head of state.

When Obama, fathered by a Kenyan native, was sworn into the presidency the entire world watched with hope and expectation. The descendants of his father, Africans, were particularly – perhaps in naivety – ecstatic.

Africans, even those dwelling in remote villages, hung their TV aerials on trees to ensure they did not miss a minute of the momentous occasion when a first black person became the first president of the world’s most powerful nation.

It was a unique event with a unique history.

Many Africans expected Obama, not necessary because he is black and of African heritage, to surpass his predecessors’ initiatives in Africa, such as the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA), mothered by President Bill Clinton, or even the controversial establishment of the so-called United States Africa Command (AFRICOM) – the U.S. military headquarters for the continent – by President George W. Bush.

While a few liberal-minded Africans predicted at the time that Obama would prioritise his country rather than open floodgates for African aid and other forms of assistance, African conservatives and those with little literacy expected the exact opposite.

To hordes of Africans, Obama’s election would mean the end of civil strife in Darfur, Somalia, DRC and other places.

Yet Obama, apart from American first, was no panacea to whatever is eating Africa from within. He was, quite frankly, no panacea to even the problems of America.

Kenya, and one cannot blame them, declared 5 November a national holiday in recognition of Obama’s election that month in 2007.

But elsewhere on the continent, reality started trickling in after Obama’s first visit to Africa, specifically to Ghana, in July 2009.

Addressing the parliament of Ghana, Obama affirmed: “Africa’s future is up to Africans.”

This must have been a shock to those whose lifeline is embedded in being spoonfed by foreign aid and were under the illusion Obama was the ultimate saviour for the continent.

“Now, it’s easy to point fingers and to pin the blame for these problems on others. Yes, a colonial map that made little sense helped to breed conflict. The West has often approached Africa as a patron or a source of resources, rather than a partner. But the West is not responsible for the destruction of the Zimbabwean economy over the last decade, or wars in which children are enlisted as combatants. In my father’s life, it was partly tribalism and patronage and nepotism in an independent Kenya that for a long stretch derailed his career, and we know that this kind of corruption is still a daily fact of life for far too many,” the then fresh-faced head of state said.

The Centre for International Governance Innovation, an international think tank, said at the time that if Obama remains true to the objectives identified in his election campaign, three items could be expected on his African agenda: accelerate Africa’s integration into the global economy; enhance peace and security in Africa; and strengthen relations with African governments to deepen democracy and accountability.

Today, as the curtain comes down on Obama’s presidency, two Namibian thinkers delved into how the former governor of Illinois fares as far as his work in Africa goes.

“All I have seen during Obama’s administration, with regard to Africa, is a spectacular failure surpassing many presidencies,” Dr Charles Mubita, who holds a PhD in international relations from the University of Southern California, told New Era.

“Yes, his name has been splashed on many Cuba shops, bars, roads, even baby names. If that is a good legacy then he deserves all the accolades,” Mubita continued.

“Obama did not develop a single policy to help Africa succeed. Not that it was his mandate to do so, but surely given his roots and ancestry he should have done better. Instead, he cut off funding for a number of projects put in place by his predecessors, including a successful project set up by George Bush, the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief.”

Obama’s agenda to have African governments deepen democracy and accountability has, some might argue, failed for it has created chaos in parts of Africa, including Libya where anarchy has replaced what he considered a dictatorial regime.

“I will always remember that it was during his administration, under his watch, that an indefatigable African hero, Muamar Gaddafi, was killed. In addition, it was under his tutelage that ISIS was established, armed and made stronger,” Mubita stated.

The Namibian scholar said Africa should do away with the habit of expecting solutions imported from overseas, and warned that that the ride could even be bumpier when Trump ascends to power from next week.

“Trump looks and sounds like someone who is more concerned about the welfare of the American people and monopoly capital, securing as much trade deals for USA companies as he possibly can. We should be braced for a severe cut in foreign aid. He is not a fan of foreign aid.”

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