Friday, January 16, 2009

On the eve of welcoming a new American President, expectations of what Barack Obama will achieve as Commander in Chief are colossal. People from all corners of the earth followed Obama's campaign with close enthusiasm. His electoral victory was welcomed the globe over with jubilation and festivities usually reserved for religious celebrations. However, as Obama becomes the latest inhabitant of the White House, enthusiasts, and especially Nigerian enthusiasts, must remember that he is an 'unknown' upon whom high expectations must not rest.

Nigerians were arguably more clued in to the US presidential campaign than they had been for their internationally condemned elections of 2007 which brought President Yar'Adua to power. 66% wanted Obama to win the elections. Non-voting Nigerians also created highly visible organizations to show their support, such as the 'Africa Initiative for Obama', the 'Obama Nigeria Initiative' and the now infamous 'Africans for Obama'. These groups were just the tip of the iceberg in the respect and admiration Nigerians displayed for Barack Obama.

Admiration for Obama was at an all time high in May 2008 when the militant group Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) was duped into publicly considering a ceasefire because it received an email from a character claiming to be Obama. The group announced that it would stop attacks of oil installations due to the email request because Obama is "[a man] we respect and hold in high esteem." All this respect for an individual who is relatively new to the global scene and who has not had many, if any, public links with the country.

No matter how much Nigerians, and other Obama supporters around the world respect him, expectations of what Barack Obama will do and/or achieve must be tempered. Prior to the elections, Nigerians, like many other Africans, were not only excited at the prospect of an American President with direct African lineage, but they also believed that an Obama White House would be directly beneficial to the country. Unlike McCain who made absolutely no mention of his intentions for the African continent on his campaign website, Obama's website specified his ideas for addressing HIV/AIDS and fighting poverty through the doubling of foreign aid among other things. Additionally, Obama promised to "expand prosperity" by creating programs to improve African agriculture, fund small and medium sized businesses, and strengthen the African Growth and Opportunity Act to ensure that African producers can access the U.S. market. He also promised to encourage more American companies to invest in the [African] continent," words that were honey to most enterprising Nigerian's ears.

However, Obama is an American and as President, his main goal will always be to achieve purely American objectives. Therefore, Nigerians should not expect too much from an Obama White House. Besides, the current global economic depression has already forced Obama's team to publicly renege on his originally announced commitment to foreign aid assistance to Africa. This same economic downturn brings into question the promise made by President Bush in July 2005 to double humanitarian and development aid to the African continent by 2010, a vow that was welcomed by many Africans the continent over and various interest groups with something to gain.

Being that Obama is relatively new to the global political scene, there is little precedent to hint at what exact intentions his administration will have for Nigeria and indeed, the entire African continent. Nigerians should instead focus their attention on whether the economic downturn the country faces will spell further draconian measures for citizens. Additionally, they must not forget that their Senators must be persuaded to actually show up to work. Nigerians should also focus on whether or not an Obama White House will be in a position, for domestic and strategic reasons, to assist, and not detract from, the entrenchment of true democracy in Nigeria.

Just because Obama will soon become the most powerful man in the world does not mean that he can do anything and everything he pleases. Nigerians, like people the world over, must learn to temper their expectations because President Obama will be limited like every other human being that walks the earth. All Nigerians can hope for is to benefit from the decisions made by the Obama administration.

Related Articles of Interest:
- Is An 'Obama' Possible in Nigeria?
- Obama, Nigeria and 'Africans For Obama'
- In Search Of Democracy: Obama, Kenya & Nigeria
- Barack Obama & Kenya
- Barack Obama & America: Who Needs Who More (Dr. Joseph Okpaku, Sr.)
- Congratulations to Barack Obama

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Sugabelly said...

I totally agree. Obama is first an American, and in truth does not owe Africa, Nigeria, or even Kenya anything. Nigerians may draw inspiration from Obama, but that is where it must stop. We have our own set of unique problems and no messiah is going to swoop in and save us, particularly not an American one. WE need to solve OUR OWN problems, BY OURSELVES. This is the only way we can progress and appreciate the struggle it took to achieve that progress, and ergo maintain it.


@ Sugabelly: I couldn't have said it better. I personally believe in pulling oneself up by the bootstraps and Nigeria has that ability in droves if only the vision and commitment is there from all.

Hope all is well and thanks for starting the conversation.

Anonymous said...

At the risk of being mis-interpreted or possibly slated for my views - and i've had quite a bit over both already - my personal take is that too many people all over the world are reading too many nunances into an Obama Presidency. Granted he's a man of color, he's the rag-to-riches story we all wish we had, and he's part of an epoch making moment, a man of color in the "white" house (as one chap put it), but maybe we have been too quick to cast him in a "Messiah" context, THE ONE who is so going to change all thinngs for the better.... He has great abilities, but so onerous is the task at hand that he surely can do without the weight of the expectation around his neck....

Beauty said...

Nigeria should 1st put its home in order before heading out on fruitless courtesy call (yurk) visits with the beggar bowl to the White House. And unless Obama does the same, e.g. stop other people´s children going home to America in body bags, then he would be of no use to the world after the legacy of GWB The Bad.

Bush killed millions, cost $trillions, wrecked US & World and as such Obama won't be blamed for the state of things and in that sense has a honeymoon. But how long that would last depends on the way he fights thw Washington battles. Will he tell the industrial military machine to piss off and stop the corruption at home and abroad?

Muse said...

true, Obama is first and foremost, and American president. let us not forget that, for if we do, we will set ourselves upon a high hill of expectations from which we will, most unfortunately, come crashing down.

N.I.M.M.O said...

I sincerely do not think that any reasonable Nigerian expects much from Obama's presidency more than they expected form Dubya or even Clinton.

Rather, like most if not all humans on this planet at this time, I believe we are just basking in the euphoria of the historic significance of his election.

Personally, I believe the gesture has significantly increased the prestige and respect of Americans in the eyes of the whole world.

Success has a million fathers they say.

We just representin'

Anonymous said...

Who is afraid of an inauguration speech? To those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent, know that you are on the wrong side of history S, get ready for Aso Rock.

Chxta said...

Too many people are placing too many expectations on the man's shoulders. No better recipe for disappointment. I like the man, but I think we are setting him up to fail...

mingus said...

In my own opinion, I believe what people should be focused on is trying to encourage the ones growing up to see if naija can produce an Obama! It can be done, but the current orientation has to change. People have to start wanting to do something for the collective rather than the self - a great deal of selflessness will help move Nigeria forward! Nice write!

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