The Obama Effect and the African Illusion
*This article was published in the Oct 30, 2008 edition of the Mount Holyoke News.
Many years from now people will talk about the “Obama Effect.”Generations will talk about the revolutionary movement ignited by one man’s fervent belief in people’s ability to come together to effect positive change. Should he win the election, he will be known as the first black President of the United States. Should fate decide to swing the pendulum in the other direction, he will go down as the first black democratic Presidential candidate in the United States. That is all good and dandy. What I do not want him to be known as is the knight in shining armor who rode past Africa when he became president.
True, Obama might not be caught dead wearing shining armor, and if he did, many Africans would probably stare at him in bemusement rather than despair. However, within the context of him being the savior many Africans have been awaiting for centuries, the probability of a major upset is certainly high. A BBC article dated Sept. 1 reported the seizure of about $630,000 raised at a gala by a Nigeria-based support group that calls itself ‘Africans for Obama.’ According to the leader of the group, Mrs. Ndi Okereke-Onyiuke - who also happens to be the chairman of the Nigerian Stock Exchange – there had been a miscommunication in media reports that the group had offered the money to the Obama campaign. Incidentally, the money was to be spent on adverts encouraging Nigerians based in the United States to vote for Obama. The Obama campaign declined the group’s generous offer and the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission in Nigeria has reported that it will return the money to the people who attended the gala.
I find it both amusing and shameful that many Africans can come together to raise this much money for a U.S. Presidential candidate, but readily claim to have no money when it comes to contributing to affairs in their respective countries. It is true that Obama has a Kenyan father and therefore has indisputable ties to Africa. It is also true that he is a black man and probably has experiences similar to many Africans or knows people who do. But does this mean that he is going to grind teeth and nail to ensure that Africa’s problems are solved during his presidency? The manner in which many Africans regard the U.S. Presidential candidate would have you believe so.
Don’t get me wrong, I have absolutely nothing against Obama. I am just as inspired by him as countless people across the globe are. The only difference here is while Obama’s allegiance lies with America, mine lies with my home continent Africa. As such I keep in mind that even if Obama does become the next U.S. President, I might still have to go from door to door in search of water when I return to Ghana. The problems that plague my continent will not disappear instantaneously at the magic words “Obama is President.”
Obama has outlined some plans for dealing with the African continent should he assume the role of President. Some of these include stopping the genocide in Darfur, fighting poverty and expanding prosperity. As is mentioned on the official website of his campaign, Obama has worked conscientiously on many challenges facing African countries. From demanding honesty on the HIV/AIDS situation in South Africa to helping develop a coherent stabilization policy in Somalia, Obama has shown that he is concerned about the African continent. But has his concern and admirable commitment to Africa changed the reality of the average Zimbabwean?
As my friend and fellow activist Omar Dibba puts it, “Africans have currently forgotten their own problems. Despite all relations to Africa, Obama is not going to be the President of Africa and will not develop Africa. There are priorities for the American people and their economy.” In addition, many Africans seem to forget that although Obama might be the head, there are still equally powerful individuals in government who will advise and criticize him and ultimately influence his decisions on foreign affairs. This is not to say that there is nothing to be learnt from the Obama effect. If nothing at all, Obama’s success so far should be an indication of the possibilities and inherent power that abound to everyone, regardless of origin. In order to avoid being slapped in the face with our respective realities, it is important that Africans continue to strive for their own solutions instead of awaiting Sir Obama. Until wishes become horses and beggars begin to ride, the resolution of Africa’s problems will remain the key responsibility of Africans themselves.