“Is there still anyone out there who still doubts that America is a place where all things are possible, who still wonders if the dream of our fathers is alive in our hearts, who still questions the power of our democracy? Tonight is your answer”. With these classic quotable lines, Barrack Hussein Obama opened his speech at a victory rally before 125,000 delirious supporters at Chicago’s Grand Park in the early hours of Wednesday November, 5, 2008 (late night Tuesday 4, in most parts of the U S). Several days on, the delirium has yet to let up as it has continued to reverberate among Obama supporters across the United States of America and elsewhere.
As Africans, the ancestral siblings of Obama, the son of a Kenyan father, we are welcome to celebrate with one of ‘our own’. Therefore, from Kogelo in Kenya to Mathlabathini in South Africa, from Garoua in Cameroun to Futta Jallon in Mali, from Kibongo in Rwanda to Nembe in Nigeria, let us all roll out the drums and revel in this moment of history. But as we do let us celebrate like we would with a sibling who has just succeeded in attaining some form of educational or professional qualification. You are free to share in a sibling’s success knowing that the qualification in question can only be used by your sibling and him alone. Sola Osofisan cannot, within the ambit of the law at least, claim, as part of his credentials the credentials and qualifications of an Osofisan sibling of his.
Let us be sincere enough to acknowledge that Obama will not be president of the black world. A Barack Obama presidency will not be radically different in foreign policy objective from any previous era in this regard. It will only be notably different from a Bush presidency, for instance in that Obama is a Democrat while Bush is a Republican. Any hope of more rewarding Afro-American relations should, therefore, only hinge on the fact that historically, the Democrats have had slightly more favourable foreign policy towards Africa than their Republican counterparts. Obama is well aware of the peculiar burden his historic feat hips on his shoulders; his racial origin may have been the reason the 2008 presidential polls in America have been the most followed in the history of America. It may, therefore, be imperative to also note that for this same reason, an Obama presidency could be the most scrutinized in the history of that country. And one thing the president-in-waiting would gladly do without is the potentially unsavoury tag of being seen as an American president for blacks.
Africans are free to be optimistic about how well an Obama presidency will mean to the continent. But we must also keep our expectations of him to as close to reality as possible, keeping in mind that when he is sworn-in as president of the most influential nation on earth, Barack Obama will be a father with many children, and there may be little or no room at all for any primordial sentiment or considerations. Obama will be faced with huge domestic issues, top of the bill of which should be healthcare reforms, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and, of course, the financial crisis at home. Even for the leader of the most powerful nation and the farthest reaching government in the world, these and other sundry issues should be more than enough to occupy his time, even over two terms.
Therefore, let us interpret Obama’s feat in a different light. Let us admire the ‘audacity’ in his ever hoping to become president of the United States of America and the power of the democracy that has given his hope the expression it has found. In his ‘audacity’, let Africa and underdogs the world over be inspired to dare to hope. Let the ‘audacity’ of his ultimately successful quest inspire us not only to hope but also to strive to turn our various African countries into places where the little man cannot just hope but where he can also be sure of sweating it out in a competitive but free and fair atmosphere. Obama’s and America’s demystification of such terms as ‘impossible’ or ‘difficult’ should trigger our own belief that Africa can live beyond sit-tight gluttonous and avaricious rulers, that we can indeed establish true democracy in Africa if only we would all be sincerely committed to that goal. As Obama’s name follows names like Geronimo (Goyaale), Giacomo Casanova Charles Boycott and Nicholas Chauvin into the lexicon of languages all over the world (how about ‘Obama’ meaning ‘making the impossible possible’ ‘impressive’, ‘tenacity’, ‘incredible’ or ‘breaking barriers’), Africa must realize that the responsibility for sorting out the political situations in Sudan or Zimbabwe for instance will not be a priority of Obama’s, neither will the power-sharing craze or most of our other troubles. It is the responsibility of the people of Africa to take a cue from what has happened in America this year to strive towards establishing responsible and sincere governments across the continent. In what has happened in America, let Africa learn how best to redistribute its vast wealth amongst its people instead of thinking that we can now go cap-in-hand to ‘our brother’ in America while many individual government officials back home get ever richer than most countries on the continent.
Come January 20, 2009, as Obama gets inaugurated we may deck ourselves in aso ebi in Nigeria, to celebrate with him. But whether we do so in ankara, adire, kente, Italian suit or aso oke sewn into Scottish quilt, the truth about an Obama presidency and Africa is that America can only meet us halfway. Whatever America will do for Africa in Obama’s time as president, will depend on our sincerity and proactive disposition to our own issues. Obama’s feat should open doors for blacks and the African continent but not take them through those doors.