Obama Wants Africa to Help Itself, but Says Its Farmers Deserve a Better Deal from West

Cape Times (South Africa), November 10, 2008 | Go to article overview
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Obama Wants Africa to Help Itself, but Says Its Farmers Deserve a Better Deal from West


"Tough love" may describe Barack Obama's approach to Africa when he becomes president of the United States on January 20.

Obama won Tuesday's presidential election because he was a different kind of African-American candidate. He did not play the race card. He contested as an "ordinary" (though extraordinary) American who just happened to be (half) black.

His approach to Africa also looks similarly different from that of many African-Americans, who tend to sentimentalise the continent and to indulge bad leaders. When Obama visited South Africa in August 2006 as the junior senator from Illinois, he sharply criticised then-president Thabo Mbeki's government for its indulgent policy on Zimbabwe and its loony views on Aids.

In Kenya, he also annoyed President Mwai Kibaki's government by criticising official corruption, tribalism and attacks on the press.

Back home, he was widely criticised by African-Americans for his "typically American arrogance" in telling African governments what to do, which they regarded as particularly unbecoming for an African-American.

But perhaps his approach was more real because it derived from his closer links with Africa. Most African-Americans have only a general continent-wide sense of their African roots as their lineages were tragically severed by slavery. Obama has a specific sense of his roots: his father was born in Kenya and was, moreover, a minority Luo, and Obama has visited his grandmother, who lives in his ancestral village.

So he knows his father's people have often suffered at the hands of bad governments. That perhaps gives him a legitimate empathy with the millions of Africans, more generally, who continue to suffer at the hands of bad governments.

Before leaving on that 2006 African trip, he said he planned to talk about the responsibility of Africans to take action against "a lack of basic rule of law and accountability that has hampered the ability of countries with enormous natural resources".

He also emphasised that Africans ultimately must be responsible for helping themselves by insisting on honest government, elevating the role of women, and setting aside tribal conflicts.

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