What Did President Obama Do for Africa?
Obama Special - Democratise, Institutionalise! Here's the Message Obama Leaves for Africa As He Hands Over Power
When Obama visited Africa for the first time as America’s President in July 2009, he gave an eloquent speech to the Ghanaian House of Representatives in Accra. For me, unlike most Africans who had hoped for material presents and aid from his administration, his legacy is wholly in that address. It has been seven, perhaps eight years today but the words in that speech are as valid and relevant as in 2009. Obama’s legacy lies and shall continue so, in his political philosophy on Africa, not otherwise.
A lawyer and true believer of the principles of democracy and rule of law himself, Barack Obama’s biggest message to Africa has always been that we must democratize and institutionalize the gains from such processes. At the Accra Internationa Conference Center’s address to the Ghanaian Parliament as well as the continent of Africa, Obama recounted and remarked ‘I have the blood of Africa within me’ and ‘Africa needs strong institutions, not strong men’! It feels me with great pleasure to have had Obama, a grand son of a Kenyan who merely served as a cook for the British, successfully become the President of the United States of America. He has raised us hugely high!
My admiration of him was many-fold. He was born in Honolulu, Hawaii and decided to come out to become Senator for Illinois from 1996 to 2008.
He loved and believed in his family to the level of confessing that he had become a ‘feminist’. Further, his being a keen follower of African politics to the level of sponsoring a Senatorial Bill for DRC Relief, Security and Democracy Promotion in 2006 when the constitution of the DRC was also being promulgated in Kinshasa. I can dare claim that Obama has a calibre and attitude of his own, rare in most of humanity!
Regarding his legacy to the African continent, there is plenty! First, his urge that Africa must respect constitutional term limits is a homework to us. From Equatorial Guinea to Angola to Uganda to Rwanda, where Presidents Teodoro Obiang Nguema and Jose Eduardo Dos Santos have ruled for 37 years each; to Zimbabwe and Cameroon where presidents Robert Gabriel Mugabe and Paul Biya are 36 and 33 years in power, Africa is in dire need of the promulgation of and respect for constitutional term limits. To expand the list, Yoweri Kaguta Museveni and King Mswati III are 30 years into presidency in Uganda and Swaziland respectively.
Historically, Africa has made records of presidents ruling for overly long. Ethiopia’s Emperor King Haile Selassie was ousted from power in 1974 after he had ruled for 44 years. Likewise, Muammar Gaddafi of Libya had to be killed while he was still president in 2011 after he had ruled as Head of state in Libya for 42 years since 1969.
In the same year, the West African state of Gabon saw the demise of president Omar Bongo Ondimba after he was president for 41 years. For lack of an alternative successor, President Bongo’s son Ali, took over as the new president of Gabon, which has had one family at state house since 1967.
President Ali Bongo himself has had two disputed elections ever since and there are no indications that he may be planning to transfer power peacefully in the foreaseable future. This is exactly what Obama spend time opposing in his eight years of his administration. But shall we behave differently on this? We should, I wish!
Interms of what Obama could not manage to accomplish, it may have been out of the level of institutionalization that America is today. It may suffice to repeat a popular saying in the streets of Dar es Salaam, Kampala or Lusaka – ‘America is not Africa!’.
Some people may have expected too much from Obama when he became president in 2008. I could hear people celebrate thinking that he could order this or that to go to Africa as he wished. At least this has been a lesson on us – no president can do as he wishes in the USA. At some point, I even symphathize with newly elected president Donald Trump, for wanting to undo every bit of the Obama legacy.
As you may be aware, Trump has vowed to undo nearly all the creations of Obama, including Obamacare, which is already benefiting millions of Americans. I bet he will have tough times securing the approval of the institutions of representation, especially Congress.
For me, the American history has been remade, alraedy. Obama will go down in the lasting memoires of the United States as the 44th president of that country and one of the best of those. I wish the Obamas the best of their ‘life after White House’!
Deus M Kibamba is a political and international relations commentator based in Dar es Salaam.