Monday, June 8, 2009

Even before becoming President, Obama's favorability was high in Africa. Kenyan's lauded him as one of their own, Tanzanians wore his face emblazoned on traditional clothes and fabrics and 66% of Nigerians wanted him to win the Presidential election. Such popularity was the norm across the continent. And when it was revealed that he would be visiting the continent, some thought it was an acknowledgment of the continent's importance, others, like many Nigerians, felt snubbed by his decision to not visit that nation, and others yet, were happy that he would specifically visit their countries. But despite the support Obama receives and the excitement he generates, Obama's first official trip to the African continent is a missed opportunity to endorse the very democratic change he championed on the African continent. On a continent where many countries are struggling to create systems of democratic representation that work for them, this missed opportunity could have dire consequences.
Obama visited Egypt and will visit Ghana in July. Egypt sits at the intersection between the African continent and the Middle East and has been a key partner to the United States for many years. However, even before his trip, there was criticism that the visit to Egypt would be seen as tacit support for the Egyptian President. Hosni Mubarak is considered by some to be an African dictator that "has governed the country for nearly three decades with scant tolerance for political opposition."

While in Egypt, Obama reached out to the Muslim world and sought to change perceptions that America is at war with Muslims. His focus on Muslim/Arab relations while in Egypt, is a reflection of the ongoing war against terrorism. The tragedy of 9/11 transformed the way America relates to the Middle East, radical Islam, Muslims and perceived threats in general. Consequently, the Obama administration forwent an opportunity to emphasize the need for democracy, and chose instead to focus on transforming America's image and reputation.

Ghana's history of democratic elections since the transition from military rule is heralded as an African political success story. Unfortunately, Ghana is increasingly considered an "illicit producer of cannabis [and a] major transit hub for Southwest and Southeast Asian heroin." Yet, Ghana's oil deposits, though small in comparison to other top oil producers, make it a strategic energy partner for oil-hungry America. American owned oil company, Chevron, is building the West African Gas Pipeline which will run from the Niger Delta in Nigeria to Ghana, and the West African Gas Pipeline Company is headquartered in Ghana's capital, Accra. Considering America's need for oil, the importance of the energy- and resource-rich West African region, and Ghana's success at democracy, it is not surprising that Obama would visit. Yet, it would be a shame if during his July trip to Ghana, Obama failed to focus on the need for democracy across the continent. His popularity plus the fact that he is America's President gives him the capacity to empower pro-democracy activists and help in building a foundation for political reform in many African countries.

Obama's decision to not visit Nigeria is a lost opportunity to encourage a better democratic system that does not completely ignore the will of the people. It is well recognized that the last Nigerian presidential elections were flawed. And, in fact, a report revealed that the ultimate acceptance of Nigeria's 'election' results by the international community encouraged Kenya's political leaders to effectively declare a winner in their Presidential elections even before the elections ended. A visit from Obama, who is so well respected that a spoofed letter from an Obama-imitator caused Nigerian militants to declare a ceasefire, could have been instrumental in advancing the cause of pro-democracy advocates in Nigeria and around the continent.

Additionally, the recent engagement between the Nigerian military and the Niger Delta militants is a situation that directly affects America's access to non-Arab oil and deserves that nation's immediate attention. 44% of Nigeria's oil product went to the U.S. in 2008, and that percentage is expected to grow. Even a powerful American Senator recommended that Obama intercede in the current Delta violence. While there is no word on what, if anything, Obama thinks about the growing violence, a visit from him, and/or attention from his administration, could definitely lead to a ceasefire and encourage alternative means of bringing peace to the Niger Delta region. This peace is necessary because the stability of that nation directly impacts the daily activities of everyday Americans. Nigeria is the United State's largest trading partner in sub-saharan Africa, and the U.S. is home to a growing number of Nigerians in the diaspora. The U.S. is also the largest foreign investor in the country.

Although Middle East relations is a key issue requiring the utmost attention from the American government, Africa's strategic importance to the United States must not be ignored. For too long, America's relationship with Africa has unequal and plagued with inconsistency. The African continent has many growing economies, is a source of many essential natural resources and unfortunately, many people for whom true democratic representation could be very beneficial. Nevertheless, the reality is that Africans cannot wait on Obama or anyone else to help push the continent towards democracy and improved standards of living. It is upon Africans themselves to make that happen, despite the tribulations, natural and man-made, that stand in the way.

Related Articles of Interest:
- The Glaring Omission
- Barack Obama & America: Who Needs Who More (written by guest writer, Dr. Joseph Okpaku, Sr.)

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Agegelabs said...

I have to say that I don't think it really matters which African country Obama visits first. If anything, Kenya also really needs him right now - their coalition government is on the brink of collapse as I understand. Then think of Zimbabwe and the list goes on.

“Nevertheless, the reality is that Africans cannot wait on Obama or anyone else to help push the continent towards democracy and improved standards of living”

You nailed it right there! I totally agree with you.

Onyeka said...

Maybe I'm just ignorant... but what is the magical essence of a visit by Obama? What could he POSSIBLY do by placing his feet on local soil? All the other past US presidents that visited... did our country suddenly begin to prosper?

Of what use is Obama coming here and saying something like, he condemns the violence in Niger Delta? Beyond shaking hands and having lunch with our half-dead, incompetent president and maybe signing a treaty or two, why do we care so much if this man comes to our country? Is he bringing with him special powers of healing and government restoration?

I. JUST. DONT. GET. IT. Someone tell me what the big deal is. Nigeria's problems are bigger and deeper than a cordial visit by an already over-tasked foreign leader.

Danny Bagucci said...

A visit from Obama would be mere symbolism - devoid of any real impact in my humble opinion, except perhaps to bolster the already flagging morale of a moribund government that has excelled at demonstrating a clear lack of direction.

Your last parapgraph captures my thinking on the subject. Africa has to develop its own solutions - not wait for the West to provide solutions. If the West were really sincere in helping resolve Africa's problems - perhaps a good place to start would be to define a frame work where all the countless billions illegally stashed in Banks in Switzerland, the UK and the US are used to develop a back bone of infrastructure.

Anyways -- who is a beggar to choose?


@ AL: The post actually started out as a comment on the brouhaha in the Naija press about whether the 'Beloved One' (I am being sarcastic) snubbed the country or not.

Ultimately, I believe that it is crucial for we Africans to take matters into our own hands. But, the reality is that the US has paid an unfortunately crucial role in shaping a lot of the continent. Good and bad. Nevertheless, it is up to us to create our own future.

Thanks for taking the time to swing by!

@ Onyeka: my sista...there is no magical essence to Obama, lol! I understand where you are coming from. Believe me.

The unfortunate reality is that at this moment in time, and in my opinion, Obama's stupendous popularity literally makes him somewhat of a necessary evil for those hoping that the US (and other countries) will not interfere in progress on the continent. I realize I should have added this bit into the post, but i rewrote it in 30 minutes at 1am this morning and frankly shouldn't have put it up until I was completely ready.

Oh well. As much as I strongly detest the interference of others in 'our' business, the reality is that these 'others' are knee deep in the poop that is causing the continent to fester. If we the people can get anything positive from that I am all for it. And if not...

Thanks for sharing your concerns and taking the time to join the discussion. Your opinion is always appreciated.

@ Mr. bagucci: good to see you. I agree that Obama's visit could be mere symbolism, but I am of the opinion that symbolism is super important in this modern world of rapid communication, information exchange and transformation. In fact, Obama used symbolism tactfully to his advantage when running for President and continues to do so.

Symbolism could be a useful too if manipulated properly. In the case of Nigeria and the need for democracy, the right symbolism could be one of many pressure points needed to bolster pro-democracy activists and those working tirelessly for better conditions and less corruption.

Do I believe that Obama is some savior who will solve Africa's problems? The mere concept of that question is laughable and I believe that my final sentences encapsulate how I truly feel.

However, I believe in effective strategy and using what one has given the current situations/conditions, to get what one wants. As a result, Obama might be a necessary evil. But what do I know? Ultimately, if those who control power on the continent maintain their firm grip on it, no amount of outside interference will help - it hasn't yet, right.

Oh well, thank so much for joining the discussion.

Spesh said...

I concur with your last paragraph and somewhat agree with Wole Soyinka's stand that we dont deserve an Obama visit.

Afronuts said...

To visit Nigeria or not to visit?

That is the question.

Does it really make that much of a difference?

Anonymous said...

solomon,sincerely speaking nigeria is the most important country in
africa,so the sub saharan issue is a mere immature factor.whether
obama visits us or not it should be known that our political image in
this country has been tanished which makes leaders like obama trying
to avoid coming.This does not mean obama or usa don't appreciate our
effort,but i think its a lesson for us to get things done.The past
administation's wasn't democratic at all and all effort made by the
latter has been hindered due to some hinderances at the 3rd and 4th
level of the nigerian government chain of command,if you knom what i
mean!!!!!!!!.Obama coming or not, the solution to our canaanland lies
on our individual thoughts towards building a great nation.CASE


NigeriaPolitricks.com said...

Great article, but I think we all just need to take a step back and look at the bigger picture; instead of being stuck on spewing the same political rhetoric of yesteryears…we are in a new era and a new political dispensation in terms of global politics! When Obama won, the earth moved…and so is the dynamics of politics and the United States political alliances and trying to court new alliances and curb the violence, hatred and mistrust built from the last GW Bush administration in the Middle East!

There are far too many bigger problems plaguing the US & the rest of the world for anyone to be so concerned about Obama’s visit to Africa, or what nation he visited first and what impact his visit could have on the continent or it’s regimes…I would be generous enough to tell you to please forget it; or better yet stop living in that dream lala land of Obama’s visit! In as much as we would want to move African countries towards democratic governments; what has been the dividends of democracy since Nigeria has been practicing one for the last 10 plus years?

However, by choosing to focus on transforming America's image and reputation in Middle East, rather than emphasizing the need for democracy; Obama is trying to maneuver through a tough political dance. This is a tougher battle to fight, because democracy alone can’t stop violent extremism, terrorism or corruption and the Nigerian government is well aware of this fact; hence the Rebrand Nigeria project!!! But it will do the Yar’dua govt. a lot of good to engage the people of the Niger Deltan, to win their hearts and minds; as was the purpose of Obama’s visit to Egypt, rather than fighting a contained “civil war” with militants to steal their god-given natural resources. Bush tried this strategy with Iraq and it didn't work!!!!

Why wouldn’t Obama visit Ghana first? Mind you, he is the president of the United States first; so looking out for American interest by courting a new oil producing African nation as a business ally; while Nigeria is mired in an “oil war” imbroglio, would be his top most priority. Besides, his presence in Ghana would be a celebration of the continent’s first free & fair unrigged civilian-to-civilian democracy. To top it all off; Ghana just celebrated 10 years of uninterrupted power supply; and there is so much to be proud of about Ghana’s nascent democracy.
So why would Obama want to intercede in the current Niger Delta violence when Ghana is thriving politically and peacefully and the US can’t get all of it’s oils from Ghana once they go into production? It beats me; but if you’re political savvy, this is Obama's best move to showcase US alliance with a democratic African govt. while avoiding hotbeds African countries like Nigeria; or even Kenya. Mind you, his visit to Egypt was to reach out to the broader Middle East!!!

Conclusively, I do believe that no amount of visit from Obama, and/or attention from his administration, would lead to a ceasefire and encourage alternative means of bringing peace to the Niger Delta region. Nigeria’s or Africa’s problem should be solved by Africans regardless of our strategic importance to the United States.
It is time we disengage ourselves from this false believe of looking out to the western world and the US to solve all of Africa’s problem. The only solution to Africa’s problem today is us; Africans, and rightfully so Obama is part of the solution being an African, but not all the solution!!!


FreeMicrosoft said...

Eh, bad move on Obama's part since he was applauded and had so much support, sad to see him turn the other cheek.

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