By Ange Ngu Thomas with reports from Frank Garriba in Abuja, Nigeria
When Barack Hussein Obama was first elected US President in November 2008, the entire African continent broke out in rapturous applause, breaking cola-nuts and celebrating that one of “theirs” was now the 44th president of the USA, the most powerful politician on earth.
He was the product of an African father from Kenya. This week, the first “African American” president will be visiting Sub Saharan Africa for only the second time in his first five years as president. The first was a whistle stop 20 hour visit to Ghana in 2009.
This time, he will visit Senegal, Tanzania and South Africa. (He might be in SA long enough to see a very sick Nelson Mandela). Strangely, he will not even visit Kenya, the land of his father and this might have something to do with the fact that New Kenyan president Uhuru Kenyatta and his deputy William Ruto are facing charges before the International Criminal Court (ICC) in the Hague.
President Obama will be visiting Africa at a time the Chinese have technically “invaded” the continent and America’s influence is waning. Obama’s visit begins in Senegal tomorrow July26 with a stop over in Tanzania. The visit ends in South Africa on July 3.
During the five years he has been president, little has changed in Africa. The continent might now boast of the fastest economic growth around the world but little of that gets to the average African.
The continent is still ravaged by diseases, wars and “ sit tight” presidents like Zimbabwe’s Mugabe, Cameroon’s Paul Biya and Uganda’s Museveni who are clinging to power by hook or crook. But a few things have also changed on the continent while Obama has been president.
On the eve of his visit, we ask Africans in and out of the continent if Obama has been good or bad for the continent and what he can still do to change things in the last three years of his presidency. Read On.
Fidele Hetman, 35, CEO Fidele Enterprises, Germany (Originally from Nigeria)
I think Obama has not done enough for Africa. I think he is not giving Africa the attention he should considering that he is a son of an African. He is not treating the present problems the continent is facing seriously like the fighting in Mali and Central African Republic. To me, European powers are more concerned with these crises than America which is the only remaining super power.
The Obama Administration turned its back on Central Africans, they sat and watched as rebels walked into the capital and took over from the president. Obama is not being himself now. He has too many ideologies he copied from John Kennedy and Abraham Lincoln and by so doing, forgets where he came from. He wants to be somebody else and not himself. He needs to change and do the things he believes in with the use of the executive powers bestowed on him as leader of the free world.
For the next three years, Obama can still help Africa. He should do something about these presidents who have been in power for the last thirty, forty years. I know he has limitations but he can make some changes, put pressure on these long term leaders. He fought to liberate Libya and so can do same in Sub Saharan Africa. He needs to help poor hungry Africans in East Africa where he came from. He should also look on resolving the problem the new Kenyan president and his deputy have with the International Criminal court.
Christopher Achobang, human rights activists, translator and teacher, Buea, Cameroon
The Arab Spring came after Obama toured parts of Africa in 2009 culminating in his declaration at Independence Square in Accra, Ghana that Africa needed strong institutions and not strong men. He also said it was time for young Africans to take their independence into their hands. It was no coincidence that young Africans started the Arab Spring using social media and spreading their revolutionary ideas widely.
Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, Algeria have begun profound change. In Sub-Saharan Africa, nobody knows how or when the wind of change will blow.
We have erratic signals with strong men coming to power and staying there. There is power change in Senegal, Kenya and Ghana, but the rest of Africa remains in the hands of “Strong men” the type of people Obama said have past their sell-by dates..
Economically, Africa while witnessing the fastest growth is still not able to canalize it’s vast wealth for the development of its citizenry. More and more oil and gas reserves are being discovered and mined. Africa’s vast and uneducated populations remain poor, sick and still depend on hand-outs.
Africa is still to see any considerable contribution from Obama towards his continent of origin. Perhaps, we should not lose sight of the fact that; any real economic impetus for development will come with a new cream of patriotic leaders in Africa, made up of people of integrity. Even if Obama channelled billions of dollars to Africa today, that money will be embezzled. It might be necessary to push for greater political change and integrity, and the other things will follow.
Tyrone Robinson, African-American, English Language teacher, Philippines
Well, Obama has been in power for close to five years and I think he has done quite much in my opinion. Diplomatically, he led the way in African conflict resolutions, particularly with the peaceful creation of South Sudan after decades of fighting between Sudan’s Muslim north and Christian and animist South. I think we can realistically also say he has added economic growth by encouraging peaceful transfer of power in the Ivory Coast, Nigeria, Senegal and Malawi. He in no small way played a role in the relatively peaceful elections in Kenya.
Having said that, I think China has been more adventurous, stepping up investment in various domains like agriculture, IT, mining, trade, construction in Africa. So, I think the Chinese have made their presence felt more in Africa than America has. I read somewhere that most African leaders who do not have clean human rights records prefer to do business with China because trade relations there is not usually linked to corruption or human rights.
Look at the Chinese population working or doing business in Africa, the numbers are staggering.. Chinese interest in Africa is paying off .
Sooner or later, China will tilt the economic balance of power to the dissatisfaction of the US.
I may be African-American but I have never really been to Africa though I follow what goes on in the continent. I know Africa is still miles behind in many sectors and it will take time before it can measure up or even compete with other continents.
Gene Lucio, Clerical Assistant, Menji-Fontem, Cameroon
I don’t think President Obama has done anything more than his predecessors, at least to the best of my knowledge. Many, including me thought that, as a descendant from Africa, Obama would do more to help the continent develop. Some even hoped at the time that he would hold some of the reigning dictators in Africa to account, yet they are still hanging on. Except for his intervention in Libya, there is no outstanding achievement that he has done to Africa. Would you consider his two earlier visits to the continent as an achievement? I don’t think so. It may be it is thanks to his warning and watchful eye that Kenya had the last presidential election without violence. Some Africans, especially Kenyans might count that as an achievement.
The only thing President Obama can still do for Africa is to help the African countries grow and get rid of dictators and also to influence American businesses to invest more in Africa. I would like to ask the US government the criterion that is used to select countries that the president visits. No American president has ever been to my country Cameroon and I don’t know why.
Paul Ugah, 38, journalist, Makurdi, Nigeria
US President Barack Obama has not been good to Africa because of his same sex policy where he said that any African country that did not embrace same sex relationships would not benefit from US assistance during his time in office. Homosexuality is un-African.
Secondly, he has not done enough for Africa to justify the support and the joy that heralded his election as the first Black American to be elected President of America.
He should assist African countries in the respect of democratic principles and job creation, while ensuring security and support for Africa to fight corruption during his last three years in power.
Yakubu Busari, 35, media practitioner, Jos, Nigeria
Actually, since Barack Obama became President of the USA, he has concentrated his attention on the West. He has not helped Africa in tackling terrorist activities as the Republican Party did during the time they were in power. However, Obama can still make a U-turn to help Africa, particularly concerning security matters.
Elder Joseph Agadagba, a retired civil servant, Jos, Nigeria
Well, Obama has both been good and bad in his policies towards Africa. He has not been forth coming in terms of helping the continent financially and on security matters. He has maintained a sit-down-and-look approach. But there is still hope that he may have a change of heart; after all, he has his African origin to take into account.
Akintaro Pomile, 42, school proprietor
To me, Barack Obama’s non-attention to Africa is saying that African countries themselves should wake up and do the right thing. That is, Africa cannot remain a baby forever. I am sure that Barack Obama will play his part in the development of Africa when he sees that Africans themselves are ready to tackle their insecurity problems in very practical ways. This will include addressing its multiple problems like poverty and good governance.
Emmanuel Mallo, Internet Entrepreneur, California, USA
So far Obama has been an incredibly powerful politician and president. He has lived beyond my wildest expectation as an African American first black president. Obama will be remembered as one of the most charismatic leaders in history.
America is the greatest economy in the world with the greatest history of enslaving and discriminating against black people. In 2008, the greatest economy in the world crashed with almost the highest unemployment rate in America since the great depression. The largest financial institutions in the world came crashing. No expert in the entire world had a solution or a blue print to the problem.
The Obama came along whose ideas and political savvy paved the way for African-Americans to finally grab the highest political office in the world. We should not forget that the white house was the last segregated office in the US and it is now multi-racial.
President Obama inherited the most challenging problems of the greatest nation in the world. When he rose to power I predicted in a portrait I painted who he was and what he was going to do.
There are more than 120 important achievements of Obama ranging from the rescue of the economy on the brink of another great depression to the rescue of the American auto industry. We should not forget that Obama’s achievement some of which are listed below happened without the support of Republicans. They actively opposed, directly or indirectly through obstruction, every single item listed below. We should not forget that the Republicans succeeded in killing a Cap and Trade bill in the Senate after it had passed through the House. Above all under a very tough economy he still beat the republicans in a General election and had a second term in office.
Obama has had domestic and international problems he has managed effectively. Africans should be proud to have one of theirs the strongest man on earth.