Sunday, June 30, 2013

Barack Obama's visit says more of Africa than himself.

Ahmednasir Abdullahi is right: Africa has never been a priority for the United States (Sunday Nation, 30/06/13). But he is wrong that Barack Obama's presidency has been an abject failure. In 2008, Barack Obama inherited a nation that was fighting two declared wars, an economy that was in the shitter, a foreign reputation that was largely hostile and a domestic political situation that had become more divided under eight years of Republican dominance. Mr Obama is to be judged based not on the promises he made on the campaign trail but on whether, generally, the United States is better off today than it was five years ago. On that score, he has largely succeeded.

While politics is still bitterly divided, and the US government is still divided with the Republicans controlling the House of Representatives and the Democrats controlling the Senate and the White House, Mr Obama managed to ram through major changes to US healthcare, to wind down the war in Iraq and generally, to improve the image of the United States overseas.

Mr Obama cannot be measured using the same matrices that we use to measure the leadership in Africa's democracies or authoritarian regimes. In the United States it is not simply that the President lifts a finger and people hop to it. It is institutions and the rule of law that determines what gets done and what does not. In Africa, whether it is a democracy or an non-democracy, it is the will of the President that determines whether things will get done or not. Take for example, Uhuru Kenyatta's declaration of a "war" against drugs or corruption, and you will see what this author means.

This author has argued previously that presidential directives mean shit. When he declared a war on corruption, this author argued that within a hundred days the President would be forced to eat his words when the first major corruption scandal erupts in his government. The same will be the case with his declaration of a war on drugs. It is just a matter of time before the gutter press start publishing stories of high government officials engaged in the drugs business. If you think this is far-fetched, remember the senior General Service Unit who was mysteriously  "murdered" because he refused to play ball with how the billions of shillings worth of cocaine that had been seized in Kenya or the Saitoti report on the drugs business in Kenya that is yet to be published and which many believe is directly linked to the mysterious crash of a police helicopter that killed both him and Orwa Ojode, his assistant minister?

We should all remember that the US President will do everything in his power to secure the interests of the United States, and only after will he take into account the interests of the rest of the world. It is why the United States is yet to ratify the Kyoto Protocol, the Rome Statute or the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. Ironically, the United States was at the forefront of the development of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. It is in fact based on an existing US federal law. But it will not get ratified by the Senate if the US senators feel that it will somehow compromise the interests of the United States.

Candidate Obama successfully campaigned using rhetoric to promise US citizens, and the world, the moon. President Obama must govern pragmatically. It is why he has stepped up the military engagements overseas, spied on his nation's enemies and friends alike, and advanced the business interests of his nation at the expense of everyone else. That is his sworn duty: to protect the interests of the United States. It is a lesson that African leaders must learn and learn well.

Kenya has traditionally gone with its begging bowl to development partners for assistance in one programme or the other. We are among the biggest beneficiaries of the George Bush-era Africa Growth and Opportunity Act and the Presidential Emergency Fund for AIDS Relief. Regarding the latter, President Kibaki famously pardoned the head of the AIDS programme in Kenya who had stolen millions from the programme. Rather that sympathise with the hundreds of thousands of Kenyans who would have benefitted from free or subsidised anti-retroviral drugs, President Kibaki sided with a person who had endangered the lives of millions of Kenyans.

Barack Obama is not an African President; he is an American one. Whether he is judged successful, that is a judgment to be left in the hands of American historians. We must start examining whether our presidents, prime ministers and coup leaders are good for us or not. On balance, our leadership, whether political, business, intellectual or social have been abject failures. The proof is in the continued poverty and violence that stalks the content of Africa. We are, for all intents and purposes, the Dark Continent.

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