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Obama and Africa: I do not see much reason to celebrate yet

All this celebratory talk of Obama and how great he will be for Africa; a tad early to celebrate. I hated Bush and am no Republican supporter and I am glad Obama won the election, but I can see no reason why we in Africa should think another Democrat would be great for Africa.

We should never forget that Rwanda’s genocide happened under Clinton’s watch where the USA refused to acknowledge the genocide and hampered peace-keeping through gross charges for armored troop transport. Even Clinton later admitted to mistakes and lamented doing nothing. The USA will do as it does for its benefit regardless of the race of its president. Obama’s “blackness” will not influence his policies towards Africa and to argue it will is a crude form of racialisation. Just because he is black does not mean he has a substantive connection to Africa or will do anything exceptional for the continent.

I can’t help but feel that everybody is so caught up in this historic moment (and it is) that they have gone a little over board. He is no Mandela as other blogs here have inferred or outright stated and will hardly impact on American foreign policy in meaningful ways. Israel will continue to dodge UN resolutions, Iraq will remain a mess, foreign aid to Africa will decrease in light of the global economic slowdown, and USA administration’s arrogance and assumptions of their own nation-state’s superiority will continue unabated into the future.

On a domestic front, Obama is no lefty (despite McCain’s campaign claims). His campaign may have garnered money from the “ordinary people” as stated, but he owes much more to corporate America than people acknowledge. And let’s be honest, despite his skin colour blacks in America will remain by and large marginalised, poorer than the average and their lot will hardly change. In fact his election may add fuel to the fire of those advocating for the end of affirmative action in the USA. The American healthcare system is and will remain expensive and out of reach for many as will decent free education.

I am certain that the USA is a better place with Obama at the helm. I am excited for the future of the USA, but I do couch it in cautionary tones. The American political system is one of the most difficult to institute new policy and for the president to make sweeping changes. Even as he promises change, he is mired in an inefficient political system with some very powerful lobby groups arrayed against changes he wishes to make.

Let’s watch what he does, hold him to his promises, but don’t hold our breath. And let’s hope he makes history for more reasons that just being black.


  • I have returned to South Africa. I now teach Economic History and Development Studies at the University of KwaZulu-Natal. I am happy to be back after a couple years away. I had been teaching anthropology at a Canadian University, but Africa called and I returned.


  1. Lyndall Beddy Lyndall Beddy 11 November 2008

    “…racism is alive and well WITHIN Africa. In the mid-1980s, the largely Arab and Berber government of Mauritania expelled thousands of dark-skinned Sengalese workers and traders…Fifteen years later, the same government refused to accept a resident representative from the World Bank because he was black…Elsewhere on the continent, in Sudan and other countries, slavery and forced labour survive to this day…The Hutu slaughter of 800,000 Tsutsis in 800 days in 1994 was not the fault of the international community…Instead it was the product of decades of imagined and real slights. Western influence, including a century of missionary activity, were powerless in the face of ethnic hatred. The forces at work were larger than Christianity…Peacekeeping forces might have saved some lives in Rwanda, but they would not have altered the basic equation. This is not mere opinion; it is borne out by subsequent events…..a new war soon emerged in Central Africa, provoked in part by the overflow of ethnic hostilities in Rwanda. Almost four million people have since died from fighting or famine in that struggle.”

    “The Trouble With Africa” by Robert Calderisi (pg 94/95)

    Quite apart from the fact that the UN can’t intervene unless asked to do so by the AU – ask Morgan of the MDC in Zimbabwe.

  2. Canada Canada 11 November 2008

    And what is your point ?

  3. Alisdair Budd Alisdair Budd 12 November 2008

    Dear Sir,

    Obama might not have had any effect on Africa, yet.

    But he has moved the British Parliament to hold a Speaker’s Conference as to why the spread of MPs doesn’t reflect the population, since they are too male and too white.

    Such an enquiry happens only every quarter of a century or so and one of the first resulted in Women being given the vote.

    So Obama has made the British Question, off their own bat, as to how they could make it more likely that they could get a Black or Aisan Prime Minister.

  4. Alisdair Budd Alisdair Budd 12 November 2008

    Perhaps South Africa might start questioning how likely it is that they get a female president?

  5. Gavin Foster Gavin Foster 12 November 2008

    “I hated Bush and am no Republican supporter.” What a start! What response would a blog invoke that substituted “Obama” and “Democrat” for Obama and Republican?

  6. Michael Francis Michael Francis 13 November 2008

    Racism in the north-west of Africa is atrocious and the deafening silence on chattel slavery in Mauritania, Niger, and a few others is unforgiveable. Leadership from within the AU on these issues is lacking.

    As for Rwanda it was not a simple ethnic or tribal clash. Historically Hutus could become Tutsi and vice versa and the categories were hardened by colonial rule. The UN was already in Rwanda and was hampered by American geo-politics. Romeo Dallaire the Canadian general clearly articulated the need for support and thata genocide was underway. He was chastised and told not to use that word. I suggest reading Shake Hands with the Devil by Dellaire about the peace keeping as well as I wish to inform you that tomorrow we will be killed with our families (I can’t remeber the author) and it is a damning indictment of the international communities lack of response. Of course Rwandans played a role and I am not just blaming the West. I am just pointing out that a democrat in the White house is not neccesarily good for Africa and we should not assume because of his race he will do anything special in this fraught land of ours.

    Canada: I think my point is quite clear so perhaps you are refering to Lyndall?

  7. Matthews Mooketsane Bantsijang Matthews Mooketsane Bantsijang 14 November 2008

    “Let’s watch what he does, hold him to his promises, but don’t hold our breath. And let’s hope he makes history for more reasons that just being black.’ Not really, we first celebrate the victory of a BLACK skin going to white house and those things that he will do, we will still celebrate as they unfold!

  8. Lyndall Beddy Lyndall Beddy 22 November 2008

    Michael Francis

    Rwanda was not as much a racial conflict as a class conflict – Tutsis were the chieftain class, and Hutus the peasant class.

    Imagine a fantasy: Where a fleet of spaceships with aliens from the planet Neurotic landed in Tudor England (Henry V111, Queen Mary, and Elizabeth 1) and “colonised” them with their superior nuclear weapons. Then they established “modern” hospitals, schools and infrastructure, using the peasants as labour, and the Tudors and the aristocracy as their agents. However they then told the Tudors that according to their religion called Democracy the social order must reverse and the majority (peasants) must rule. Having totally messed up the social order, they then decided to leave and hand back control to “the people”. What do you think the Tudors and aristocrats would have done after the last spaceship departed back to planet Neurotic? Try to re-establish their power. That is what the Ttsusis did.

  9. Khadija Khadija 5 December 2008

    Mr Francis, what do you think of Gen James Jones as Obama’s new pick for national security advisor?

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