Obama Rhetoric versus the African Reality

The difference between my first story about Cameroonian politicians and Obama’s lecture in Ghana; one was positive action – a powerful dose of radioactive chemotherapy targeted at a malignant tumour. The second was a near-empty rhetoric; an ordinary message made profound by the status of the messenger, but devoid of specific policy.


Obama Rhetoric versus the African Reality


On June 2009, a contact drew my attention to a very innocuous news item. I was so excited at the information at my disposal that against my custom, I posted the information on my website without confirming its authenticity.


That news item was so hot that within a short item, my phones were ringing, my email was abuzz, the piece in question immediately shot up to the sixth most popular article on my site.

I am not the only one excited at the news then, the feedback was extremely positive. At this juncture you might be wondering, what is this all about? The news is simply that there are indications that President Barack Obama has ordered the withdrawal of US Visa from some named Cameroon Politicians; that some U.S. agencies are investigating their bank accounts in the United States found to be disproportionate to their income in Cameroon.  

On Friday July 13, 2009, president Obama delivered an “excellent” speech generally hailed as “tough love”. Many Africans were happy that Obama’s message was simple: “Africa‘s future is up to Africans… the world will be what you make of it.” The speech was positively described as “few home truths only an African brother” could deliver.


Yet, many discerning observers did not fail to note the difference between my first story about Cameroonian politicians and Obama’s lecture in Ghana; one was positive action – a powerful dose of radioactive chemotherapy targeted at a malignant tumour, but the second was a near-empty rhetoric; an ordinary message only made profound by the status of the messenger, but devoid of specific policy.


Moreover not a few Africans were disappointed that in a speech focused on good governance, Obama failed to acknowledge the US role in supporting dictators during the Cold War, thus marginalizing Africa’s history of struggle for democracy.


In my dissatisfaction with the Obama homily, I penned my take: Obama Should apologise to Africa. I pointed out that Obama apologised to Europe during his trip to France in April 2009, apologised to Muslims in his speech in Cairo, Egypt. But in Ghana, Obama did not have the courage to admit and take full responsibility for the role of America in the ruination of the continent.


The response to this article was swift in coming. In all my years of delving into opinion writing, I have never been subjected to such personal abuse: stupid, foolish, and an idiot!


One respondent suggested I’d rather “buy an apology machine, something that will say “sorry” each time you walk past or look at it”.


Another said that “Obama is black, so an apology from him would be an aberration.


However, I daresay that such extreme negative reaction to my piece was misguided. The reason is that as one of my few supporters said; “an apology means you accept responsibility and is ready to right the wrong you caused whoever you apologise to”.

On April 6, 2009, I penned an article entitled, Barack Obama and the Corruption of African Leaders. Therein I said: To those waiting with fascination to see how Barrack Obama would handle the case of the rampant corruption in Africa, we are happy that Obama has indicated that he would be bold enough to tell African leaders to their face to tackle corruption, to stop looting the country’s resources and to lift their people out of poverty.   

I added that while white Western leaders might be sensitive to African feelings when discussing corruption with African leaders, Obama with his black African roots might not have such inhibitions.   

However, I was dismayed that when the time came for Obama to address this most fundamental of the problems facing Africa, his approach, while well- targeted, was short-sighted.


In saying that Obama should apologise to Africans, my use of the word ‘apology’ was deliberate. Those that chaffed at my suggesting apology from Obama were misguided.


They failed to understand that an apology (from America not Obama in his personal capacity as Barack Obama) means that you appreciate and accept responsibility and are ready to right the wrong you caused. 

We are not just asking Obama to tell Africans: sorry for slavery, sorry for American imperialism and sorry for CIA murderous interventions in Africa or for the rape by their multinational companies. 


Even Obama himself realises that in telling Europe; “there have been times where America has shown arrogance and been dismissive, even derisive” he was apologising for past US arrogance towards Europe.


And in telling Muslims: “More recently, tension has been fed by colonialism that denied rights and opportunities to many Muslims, and a Cold War in which Muslim—majority countries were too often treated as proxies without regard to their own aspirations… I’ve come here to Cairo to seek a new beginning,” He was apologising to Muslims, more especially for George Bush’s demonisation of Islam in the ‘war on terror’’ and promising to make a fresh start.


Like Obama indicated to Europe and the Arabs, accepting this responsibility means he is ready to right the wrongs America caused through specific actions. But when Obama told Africa that “the West is not responsible for the destruction of the Zimbabwean economy over the last decade”, it means he fails to truly appreciate, in his own words; “full well the tragic past that has sometimes haunted this part of the world”, which tragic past includes slavery and colonialism.


Thus Obama is bound to continue the mistakes of his predecessors and in their wrong steps. It is therefore no surprise that after admitting that, “the West has often approached Africa as a patron, rather than a partner”, Obama still said in his Ghana speech: “I have pledged substantial increases in our foreign assistance, which is in Africa‘s interest and America‘s”.

Obama has thus indicated he would continue with the West’s bankrupt policy of doling out foreign Aid which Dambisa Moyo argues is designed to “distract attention from the trade barriers they have erected, which cost Africa $500bn every year”.  

Obama also said that in doling out American Aid, “We have a responsibility to support those who act responsibly and to isolate those who don’t, and that is exactly what America will do”. Precisely what they are doing in Saudi Arabia and Egypt?


But if Obama had fully appreciated that the tripartite shadow of evil that hangs over Africa includes not only bad and inept leadership but also powerful multi-national companies that ravage Africa and influences government policy and international organisations that impose the wrong policies on Africa, it would shape his approach.

Acknowledging for example, America’s $31bn in subsidies for US farmers which squeeze some African farmers out of the market and accepting responsibility for the US role in supporting dictators during the Cold War- an apology many Africans would like to hear, would produce a holistic approach leading to a specific, targeted policy.  

Policies that may include:

1. Speaking out against Barclays Bank establishing a tax haven in Ghana, warning against such vehicle being used for tax evasion and money laundering – in support of transparency and anti-corruption efforts, to  expand cooperation in intelligence gathering and sharing and reigning in the vicarious liability of tax havens and offshore banks.


2. Pushing the boundaries of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) (passed by the US Congress before his tenure) to have the expanded power to bite both givers and takers of bribes – both American multi-national countries and kleptomaniac African leaders?

3. Stopping and Withdrawing US Visa from corrupt African politicians – to stop them spending their looted funds in America; thereby stopping the marketplace for high stakes elite bribery?

Without doubt, anyone that fails to appreciate this history of Africa and their lopsided relationship with the west, a huge stone that hangs on the neck of the distraught masses of Africa like albatross is misled. Let me mention just three.


Firstly, we are swimming against the tide of a debilitating inferior complex imposed by centuries of slavery, colonialism, neo-colonialism, western imperialism and dehumanisation.


For centuries, Africa and Africans were dehumanised, debased and made less than a wild monkey. Africans came to internalise the erroneous belief that anything white was godly, holy and good but anything black was satanic, evil and bad!


Even Obama himself despite Harvard, Capitol Hill and White House could not be entirely extricated from this destructive complex. Otherwise which other American President has ever bowed to a Saudi King or the Queen of England. Thus illustrating the truism that you could take a man out of Africa but you cannot take Africa out of a man!


Secondly, we are swimming against the tide of tribalism and a forced relationship. Even Obama himself admitted that “a colonial map that made little sense bred conflict”. This is not an entirely African phenomenon.  


Thirdly, we are fighting the might of an international system that tells Africa: You are not one of us, you don’t belong, and if you dare as much as challenge the status quo, we smash your skull!

A lot of today’s’ internet addicts are not so old, so forgive their ignorance of such great personage as Patrice Lumumba. But I am sure many will be old enough to know Thomas Sankara.  

I happened to watch a documentary of Thomas Sankara on France 24 last year and I was literally shedding tears, my heart bled for Africa.


The revolution Sankara led between 1983 and 1987 was one of the most creative and radical that Africa has produced in the decades since independence. He started to blaze a trail that other African countries might follow, a genuine alternative to Western-style modernization – and, like other radical African leaders such as Patrice Lumumba and Amilcar Cabral, was murdered. His murder was sponsored and orchestrated by France through Ivory Coast.


Till date, His murderer and second in command, the impostor and French stooge, Blaise Compaore still dominates Burkia Fasso.  Twenty two years later, Compaore still pursues self-enrichment and politics as usual – and has been fêted by the West for his compliance.  


Tomorrow another French fool might come down to Africa to lecture us on democracy, good governance and Africa corruption!  


Anyone purporting to tackle Africa’s multifarious problems without addressing these salient issues is either being an ignoramus or simply being mischievous. And anyone that denies this history of Africa is not a “son of Africa”.

After reading dreams from my father, I believed that Barack Obama gets Africa. He agonises over why this continent, full of smart, energetic people and rich in resources cannot get its act together. But having watched Obama for the past six months, I am coming to the painful realisation that whereas his presidency will boost Africa’s self-belief, where it is really cool to be African, but where Black and African issues are concerned, Obama might turn out to be a ‘politically correct’ politician.   

Thus when Obama visited the Cape Coast where you have the slave camp; he could not bring himself to say anything.  

Yet, In Cairo, Obama talked about what Islamic culture had given to the world — timeless poetry, cherished music, elegant calligraphy etc. He talked about an unbreakable bond with Israel based on cultural and historical ties. The parallels are stark. Nowhere else can one better acknowledge humanity’s collective debt in relation to culture, music, multiculturalism, and the coexistence of diverse cultures than in Africa 

As pointed out by Charles Abugre, a Ghanaian economist, “if anyone will acknowledge what Africa offers to the rest of the world other than mineral resources, it has to be a “son of Africa.”


It will be good to hear that Africa doesn’t only export poverty and conflict. There’s much more in the history between Africa and America to make the bonds “unbreakable.” But Obama’s tongue was tied in Ghana.

Abugre added: “In Cairo, Obama acknowledged America‘s wrongs against Iran, especially the role the CIA played in the overthrow of a democratically elected government there.  Similarly, Obama should apologize for the CIA’s role in overthrowing the democratically elected government of Ghanaian leader Kwame Nkrumah in 1966 to satisfy Cold War strategic interests.  

While he’s at it, he should apologize for the role the CIA played in removing Patrice Lumumba from power in 1960 and the resulting mess that is today’s Democratic Republic of the Congo. Military coups in Africa — the biggest threat to democracy and good governance — was introduced by the CIA and other western intelligence agencies.

To not acknowledge that, in a speech focused on good governance, would marginalize Africa‘s history of struggle for democracy. A good son of Africa couldn’t possibly do that”. 

Obama’s speech should have broken from the paternalism of his predecessors and yet lays grounds for U.S. interests based on Africa‘s progress.  

Charles Abugre also said; He should acknowledge the history of U.S.-African relations, for the past shapes the present. His Cairo speech, directed largely at the “Muslim world,” should have served as an excellent model.

There, he acknowledged that today’s realities are rooted in centuries of coexistence as well as in conflicts and wars.   

In Cairo, Obama acknowledged America‘s wrongs against Iran, especially the role the CIA played in the overthrow of a democratically elected government there.  If he said that in Cairo, why not in Accra?

Yes, Obama is right to emphasize the personal responsibility of African leaders and African people. He is right to call on the continent’s leaders to do more with what they have, take their destiny in his hands, stamp out corruption and disdain dictatorship. 

But to herald a new beginning, he should have acknowledged Africa’s history and establish a new relationship built on positive action, mutual respect and mutual interests.

Read also Obama should apologise to Africa