Obama's Africa Trip Can Be More Effective Since He's No Longer Seen As 'The Messiah'
It's good that President Barack Obama is visiting Africa again today, not as a Messiah, but as leader of the remaining super power.
When he traveled to Ghana he had only been in office a few months. Much of the world still believed he could walk on water and also part the oceans. The burden of fantastic expectations must have weighed heavy.
Obama had achieved a historic presidential election victory in the United States.
He was the first Black man to win the Democratic Primary. His victory over John McCain made him the first African American president of the United States. People rejoiced all over the world. No more so than African Americans and Africans on the continent.
When Obama traveled to Ghana many Africans believed he could somehow wave a magical wand and solve many of the continent's challenges. They're principally: political tyranny which drives many Africans into exile, lands more into prisons, and dispatches more six-feet under; corruption and embezzlement of state resources by illegitimate rulers and their families; mismanagement of national economies thereby exacerbating poverty; high rates of unemployment, driving Africans abroad as economic refugees, with many perishing on perilous trips across the Sahara or the Mediterranean; and, the collapse of infrastructure, including roads, bridges, hospitals and schools.
Many Africans believed a Black president with a direct connection to Africa through his Kenyan father, in The White House, would quickly make many of the continent's problems disappear. These were fantastic expectations.
Obama is president of the United States of America -- not president of Africa.
Critics forget that when Obama came into office he inherited an economy on the brink of collapse. It was shedding nearly 800,000 jobs a month, the stock market was in free fall and most analysts predicted an end of American car manufacturing.
And within months of taking office, Obama was locked in near mortal combat with the Republican Party and its more extreme wing, the Tea-Party, in Congress. The extremists showed up at rallies to oppose Obama's signature domestic proposal, healthcare reform, carrying weapons and holding up posters of the president with a Hitler-mustache.
Was this really the time for the president of the United States, the first Black president at that, to be visiting African countries and promising U.S. assistance to resolve political and economic woes in Africa?
That's why given the unique circumstances he faced, it's absurd to compare whatever he did, or failed to do, relative to Africa, with Bill Clinton's and George W. Bush's records. The former paved the way for African exports into the U.S. through the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) and the latter pumped billions of dollars for combating HIV/Aids through Pepfar.
Perhaps Obama's biggest mistake in Africa was to be drawn into the disastrous intervention in Libya. This was primarily promoted and desired by former colonial powers in Africa, Britain and France. The NATO war destroyed the Libyan state and led to the summary execution of Muammar al-Quathafi. It was proclaimed as a war to introduce democracy. Libya is in shambles, ruled by Somalia-type militias. Even Britain and France aren't enjoying the hoped-for preferential oil concessions that had motivated their push for war.
The spillover effect has destabilized Mali, parts of Nigeria, and other areas.
It's hard to peg NATO's intervention on alleged desire to stop bloodshed, when Africans see how the U.S. and Britain work closely with Uganda's Gen. Yoweri Museveni and Rwanda's Gen. Paul Kagame. An estimated 10 million Congolese have died as a result of their recurrent invasion of the country driven by their insatiable appetite for plunder.
What's more, it would have been awkward for Obama to visit South Africa shortly after the Libya intervention. NATO had ignored the peace deal brokered by South Africa's President Jacob Zuma. And Nelson Mandela himself had a close relationship and friendship with al-Quathafi arising from the massive financial support Libya provided to the ANC during the anti-Apartheid struggle.
In retrospect, now that the U.S. economy has made a remarkable recovery compared to 2008, Obama's trip to Africa comes at the best possible time.
China has emerged as a dominant player on the continent; Obama can even justify his travel to hostile Republicans as a move to counter-China before it corners the market for vital raw resources.
And for Africa? Obama's trip can now be analyzed, stripped of the unrealistic expectations people had when Obama was viewed as the Messiah.
Obama's made concrete proposals and strong statements. He's repeated his call for an end to strong man rule in Africa, which he first made in Accra; he has urged African Youth to take the initiative; he has leant the weight of his presidency to encourage more business between the U.S. and Africa, clearly mindful of inroads made by China, Brazil, India and Turkey; and he has offered a real initiative -- the $7 billion commitment to help double the number of Africans with access to electricity.
Today in Tanzania President Obama also became directly engaged in the bloody mineral-wealth fueled conflict in Congo by calling on Rwanda and Uganda to stop meddling in their giant neighbor's affairs.
Africa doesn't need a magic wand. It needs serious and practical engagement with the United States in the same manner in which it's dealing with China, Brazil, India and Turkey.