ALMOST everyone has been seized with the Barak Obama fever.
He has become a phenomenon from the day he dared the American Dream.
He told fellow Americans: yes, we can. They have. President-elect Obama will be the first African-American to rise to that post from the race of former slaves. Africans have every reason to be proud, and to celebrate with his family and America.
Expectations from this man are varied, but the best that Obama can do for America is to reduce the Bush wars. From his campaign messages, he appeared to appease America’s youth, weary of deadly wars in the two Bush administrations which have hurt the American economy and damaged its image abroad. He has indicated that he is prepared to talk to Iran. He would talk to Al-Qaeda and the Talibans if he could. Trouble is he can’t “talk” to Israel.
If it were in his power, he would immediately end the Bush wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, wars Americans loathe. But they also love cheap fuel, and the green lobby won’t let anyone violate Alaska for oil. So we can expect bloody wars in the Middle East so long as there are profits for corporate America. There is little Obama can do.
He will need to tread cautiously in his engagement with China and Russia which are on the rise and in search of resources. America is still the sole superpower but one in decline, not in ascendancy. It is in decline economically, militarily and morally. Such a superpower no longer inspires fear. Its arrogance provokes acts of bravado from Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez to Iran’s Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to North Korea’s Kim Jong-il. Rather than show fear, these small states want to embarrass America and quicken its decline.
Will Obama be the man to slow down this process by presiding over an America which is less belligerent and earns the world’s respect?
America has been less of a problem in Western Europe. It is suffered as a Big Brother providing a shield against a Russia slowly growing confident of itself and aggressive against any acts it perceives as American bullying. Europe gets irritated with America’s unilateralism because it understands the overwhelming power of collective decision and action in an interdependent world, which we disconnected third worlders mistake for moral correctness, hence ascribe a moral superiority to the Western world.
Europe’s position is simply that it is not another state of the United States. So no headache there for Obama. In fact, beyond the pale of colour, millions of Europeans love him.
So do Africans, only for different reasons, if not motives. Africa is a beggar state – a vast state convulsed by genocidal strife, hunger and disease. But it is primarily a black continent seeing something akin to itself at Pennsylvania Avenue. It is a continent in desperate need of trade and aid, but more often it gets more guns to fight itself for control of its natural resources by the developed world.
Africa is a prostrate rich drunk giant whose pockets are constantly looted by world powers to sustain their affluence. Can Obama change that? No.
Obama is entering the White House to take charge of a System. Africans should not expect a golden era because of his Kenyan roots. While he may not start fresh wars, those already under way in the DRC and Somalia will continue. More will die in Darfur.
While Obama is inclined towards positive engagement with all nations, his attitudes will be influenced by the System more than by the colour of his skin. The key is not what he thinks but the messages he is fed by the “intelligents” overseas who have determined and dictated US foreign policy throughout the blood-soaked era of the cold war and beyond. These “intelligents” have created a wall around the White House few American presidents have dared climb over since 1945. It is unlikely Obama will be the first to jump out to read the world independently for him to make “informed decisions” because he is black
Africa puts the same value on colour as the African-Americans in the US. It is a perception I find demeaning of Obama’s colour-blind charisma. Due to our colonial past, colour is a staple diet in Africa but less damaging than tribalism, ethnicity and regionalism. It would have been a decisive factor had Obama been unfortunate to try his luck in an African country. African democracy has no room for minorities. America has just demonstrated that all are allowed to dream.
However, in celebrating Obama’s victory, African-Americans appear to be reverting to type as if they were the majority tribe in the US. There is unnecessary emphasis on Obama’s blackness which runs the danger of reigniting the centuries-old racial prejudices and stereotypes which Obama’s campaign sought to gloss over. It is as if he must do something special for blacks because he is one of us, begging whites to rue why they voted for a black president instead of an American.
American governments generally do well for their citizens. That is why when they attack foreign leaders for human rights violations, they accuse them of committing crime against “their own people”, a sin in America. Save for exceptional cases, Americans are a protected species. So Obama was voted for by all America, including white states such as Washington and Indiana.
He spoke to an America fed up with the Bush wars. The financial crisis was a godsend which dealt the Republicans a coup de grace. Obama spoke to the future; he spoke the language of transformative rather than substitutive change represented by John McCain. He spoke a language which said there is a new broom in America. What is historic about his victory is that he shattered the vile mental enslavement to white power which still afflicts us back in Africa, to dare the American Dream. He overcame the burden of his blackness to become a president for all Americans.
By Joram Nyathi