It would be quite the statement to say that the euphoria and the emotional legacy of an Obama victory in the recent US elections are over. Indeed, the world is just getting set to witness the daily invasion of their print and electronic media with images of an African-looking individual as President of the United States. If you thought that the run-up to the November 4 elections offered a deluge of media-infused frenzy across humanity due to the Obama phenomenon; get ready to experience a world focused on one individual whose presence to some extent is expected by the “hopeful” to exacerbate the pains of the current financial crisis, end racial disharmony and bring world peace! Don’t read too much into my cynical sarcasm; it’s just that too many people are emotionally invested in an American presidency that they have not weighed the impact of reality of what he is able to do, not do or willing to not do. As a caveat before I proceed with my diatribe, I did not vote in the US elections so I do not have a preference for Republicans over Democrats or vice-versa. As we say, wetin concern me!
As a Nigerian, I am more concerned about the impact of an Obama presidency’s foreign policy decisions on our economy, national security and cultural identity. I am less impressed by the weak assumptions and false aspirations of those who believe that Obama would be an asset to Africa and Africans because (as in the words of gluteus maximus kissing NSE boss, Ndi-Okereke Onyuike) he is “our brother”. Anyone who has lived in and studied the evolution of American society and its politics, understands that such an assumption is unjustifiable as the average American politician bears no allegiance to no entity other than to the American people. Although debatable in the context of an overwhelmingly military-industrial complex and corporation driven foreign and economic policy, the American people are paramount in their decisions; so although virtually every American can trace their ancestry to some other continent; there exists an undiluted commitment to the preservation of the “American Way” with little or no regard for others. Obama would be no different as he on January 20, 2009 would declare an unbridled commitment to uphold the US constitution and defend American interests ANYWHERE on the planet.
There would be no special exemption for Africa because his father was reared in some goat-herding community somewhere in Kenya; neither would Moslem dominated Indonesia be free from the tentacles of American “war-on-terror” policies because that country hosted him in his formative years. Indeed, his mere skin color and cultural background would prevent him from delving into the cultural bonding that African and Asian cultures expect of their offspring. His rebuttal of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and other minority groups during his presidential campaign came across to many African Americans and Latinos as a slap-in-the-face from the first minority candidate with a credible shot at the White House. It should not have been a shocker. Barack Obama was running for the presidency of a nation with the most powerful military, strongest economic infrastructure and a dynamic and osmotic foreign policy. The vagaries of peddling to interest groups such as minority organizations were way down his list of priorities if he was to occupy that lofty office in the West Wing. To expect that Obama would be actively working to improve the livelihoods of Africans because of his ethnic ties to us is not only optimistic but grossly foolish.
With an economic crisis that afflicts the majority of American families and a military quagmire in Afghanistan and Iraq, the new president should (as every American citizen has the right to anticipate) focus strictly on resolving domestic issues and keep playing to the foreign gallery with a message of renewed American diplomacy, rather than doing real work. Compared to outgoing President George W. Bush, I am eager to see what practical contributions and commitments he would make to Africa. For all the misadventures and misaligned economic and foreign policy decisions of the Bush Administration, George Bush was the first US president in almost three decades that made and then implemented a $15 billion AIDS package for the most vulnerable of our fellow brothers and sisters. Although it could be argued that Bush simultaneously started setting up AFRICOM as a way to secure future energy supplies for the oil-addicted American consumer, the fact is that the man was a departure from US administrations from Republican Ronald Reagan to Democrat Bill Clinton, who paid little more than lip service to helping those afflicted with HIV on our continent.
Many people around the world have the impression that Obama’s foreign policy would be a radical departure from the Bush doctrine on American diplomacy. I posit that yes there would be a departure from the neoconservative version of American foreign policy but it would be by no means, a radical one. It would be subtle in nature with America using so-called “soft diplomacy” to further its global interests. A clear indicator of an Obama doctrine was his recent nomination of Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State in his upcoming administration. If there ever was a hawk dressed in the garb of a dove, the Clinton idea of diplomacy is about to expand its wings. If we all remember during the tough campaigning season, Hillary Clinton on numerous occasions was asked about her plans for the withdrawal of American troops from the Middle East and skirted the topic so many times that many people wondered if she actually had a concrete plan to bring the troops home. Unlike fellow then-rivals John Edwards and Dennis Kucinich who made it absolutely clear that a withdrawal would be initiated upon assumption of office; Obama and Clinton retorted to hypothetical scenarios and bizarre withdrawal schedules that probably made Karl Rove blush. We should all be watching to see if the Obama-Clinton team would take a decisive stand for or against the development of AFRICOM as a military buffer and oil-route maiguard in Africa. If they support it and justify its establishment on African soil with the rhetoric of the Bush Administration, it should not surprise us who we are now dealing with.
What is the challenge for Nigerian foreign policy advocates and the Yar’Adua Administration? There has to be a distinct approach to defending our national interests when interacting with a country such as the US that is vital to our economic interests. This should not be considered a strategy to counter American influence over our lives but a blueprint to solidify Nigerian identity and further our interests IRRESPECTIVE of the nation we are dealing with. If Nigeria allows the US influence our OPEC production quotas to achieve price levels that keep their economic engines running while our people wallow in poverty, if Nigeria allows AFRICOM become a reality on African soil and not just in the ECOWAS region, if Nigerian leaders forget that the Nigerian people are the ultimate winners and losers of poor leadership and an inferiority complex in the presence of foreign big boys, if Nigeria adopts trade policies that hamper our local industries because the WTO (which the US would disregard with little consequence) imposes harmful economic standards on our people and if Nigeria allows herself to fall into the complacency of passive foreign policy because “our brother” is now president; we have failed not only ourselves but the continent of Africa.
Let us all decide to face the reality that a change in personality does not mean a change in the efficacy of the American presidency in the context of protecting American national interests. Let us get over the fact that Obama carries black blood in his veins (by the way, he is as white as he is black- let us stop denying white people the privilege of ‘claiming’ him as theirs too) and deal with the fact that his commitment to America and its people would NEVER take second place to our emotional expectations. It would not be easy to wean ourselves off the emotional attachments of an “African American” presidency but abeg make we try, no be say im sabi any of us sef. It is said that power concedes nothing without a demand, let us demand a Nigerian oriented approach to foreign policy from our leaders if we wish to retain the bits of national dignity that we still maintain. GOD bless the Federal Republic of Nigeria.