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« Barack Obama - Paul Biya: The Waltz of the Weird | Main | Amnesty International Special Report: Cameroon Impunity Underpins Persistent Abuse »

January 28, 2009


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One of the most convincing arguments for "Africanizing" the Obama phenomenon rather depending on it to work miracles for Africa and Africans

Dr A A Agbormbai

I beg to disagree with the thrust of this article, which suggests that Obama can have no real direct impact on changing the governments of Africa except through the people of Africa copying and applying his methods to gain power in their own countries.

There is much more to the reasons why Obama was able to succeed, against all odds, than meets the eye; and almost everyone who writes on this issue merely scrapes the surface without showing real insight into the reasons for his success.

The reasons lie in strategies and tactics as well as the nature of the political environment (which is completely different from the environment of African dictatorships). However, I am not going to go into these.

Obama did not win because he was lucky or because God put him there. He won because he applied winning strategies and tactics, resulting from out-of-the-box thinking. Obama did everything wrong, according to the conventional wisdom of US political experts, YET HE WON!

Now, before heaping praise on Obama for his sublime strategic and tactical skills, just remember that they weren't his ideas... I am not going to go into whose ideas they were.

It is true that Obama can let down the people of Africa by choosing to do nothing about their dictatorships and half-democracies.

If he were to make such a grotesque error then Africa would have no hope in him. And one would therefore question why Africa would ever again want one of its own sons to ascend to the highest gov't position in the world.

On the other hand, if Obama were to choose to do something about Africa's dictators and half-democracies then his powerful position gives him the ammunition to do so... provided he knows how to use it.

It is one thing to gain power but it is another thing to use it. Most people who have power either abuse it or are ignorant of its use. With the thoughtful and smart use of power, Obama can achieve anything he wants in Africa or elsewhere in the world.

For one thing, I know that you cannot produce positive change in a dictatorship or half-democracy without puting great heat on its manipulative leader. These leaders tend to hide behind a so-called 'sovereignty' to take great advantage of their people. This situation cannot be tolerated!

There is no truly sovereign nation in this world. All nations are interdependent, and some nations are more powerful than others and are therefore more influential in dictating world policy.

Obama will have to play 'hard ball,' while also knowing when to play 'soft ball'. It is true that past US Presidents have not always been great examples of the productive and efficient use of power.

Michael White

Hi Dr. Agbotrmbai,

By the end of this article, you actually rally to the main thrust of this blog post. You state that "you cannot produce positive change in a dictatorship or half-democracy without puting great heat on its manipulative leader." But that is exactly the point of this article. Obama will not just start "putting heat" on any African leader out of the blue. There must first be action on the ground. In other words, the action of the US can only be complementary to those of activists on the ground. Remember how ambassador Frances Cook worked with pro-democracy activists in Cameroon in the early 1990s?

So the bottom line is that African will be saved by Africans and not by Obama. And it is up to Africans to see how they can adapt that "out of the box" thinking which you refer to in order to begin pulling down the authoritarian systems in Africa.

Obama may be of African descent but in the final analysis, he is the president of the United States and with all the goodwill in the world, he is hemmed in by the institutional limitations and strategic imperatives of that great country's foreign policy.

So while I don't agree entirely with this article, I think it is refreshing in that it has carried out a succint "institutional analysis" of how US foreign policy works. It is not really about the president but about policies and institutions.


what are the institutional and other limitations on an(y) American president in the field of foreign policy. How far can an American president go in terms of effecting regime change in areas that have only a marginal strategic interest to the US and where American involvement will be driven primarily by human rights and democracy concerns.

These are the two most significant questions when discussing what obama or any other US president can do with regards to African regimes, particularly those who are not in what may generally be considered America's sphere of influence.

From this perspective, it is more than likely that the US will continue to cuddle the sanguinary regime in Equatorial Guinea where it has strategic oil interests while hitting hard on the equally brutal dictatorship of Robert Mugabe...

Ma Mary

In the end, Obama's benefit is indirect: inspirational- yes we can! But the doing after the affirmation is ours and ours alone.

That inspiration, that confidence is important, even crucial but does not close the deal. Thank you Obama!

Now, fellows, burn those wish lists.

Ma Mary

Rightly or wrongly, some have read lots of double entendres in Obama's speech, in that he is not just referring to the enemy without, but to those Americans in the other big party who embraced authoritarian methods. When Obama was senator, he took a trip to his father's home district, and upon being asked for all kinds of help, he reminded people that he was senator from Illinois and that the people of that area have their own capable representatives to the government of Kenya. That way of looking at things will not change. Middle East, especially Israel will still get disproportionate attention from the US. That is in part due to US strategic interests and in part due to the powerful influence of well-healed Jewish Americans. Moral: succeed in the US, and you could influence US foreign policy towards the old country. Africans are the most educated community, immigrant or otherwise in the USA, although at this time it is not reflected in their wealth. http://www.inmotionaame.org/migrations/landing.cfm?migration=13
As that changes over time, internal clout would translate into influence over US policy.

It still amounts to quid pro quo.

Dr A A Agbormbai

Personally, I will like to see Obama give an interview to an African TV medium telling Africans where he stands on the continent's issues. We want to know what plans he has for the continent. This would dispel all the speculation.

I don't buy any arguments that suggest that he can do nothing.


Hi Doc,

Nobody said Obama can do NOTHING. Obama can do something for Africa. In fact, he can and will do a lot for Africa. However, in the final analysis, it will be up to Africans to create an enabling environment for change which the Obama administration may or may not support with America's might and resources. There will be no miracles and the Messiah is not yet here. That's all we're saying. In other words, Africans should reduce their expectations and be more realistic.


Hillary Clinton Outlines Obama’s Africa Policy

By Charles W. Corey
Staff Writer

Washington — The foreign policy objectives of the Obama administration in Africa are rooted in security, political, economic and humanitarian interests, Secretary of State–designate Hillary Clinton told a U.S. Senate committee January 13.

In testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Clinton said the Obama administration’s foreign policy objectives for Africa also include “combating al-Qaida's efforts to seek safe havens in failed states in the Horn of Africa; helping African nations to conserve their natural resources and reap fair benefits from them; stopping war in Congo; [and] ending autocracy in Zimbabwe and human devastation in Darfur.”

Additionally, she said the United States will support African democracies like South Africa and Ghana, which just had its second peaceful change of power following democratic elections.

“We must work hard with our African friends to reach the Millennium Development Goals in health, education and economic opportunities,” she added, referring to a set of goals set out by the United Nations that seek to end poverty and hunger; instill universal education, gender equality, and child and maternal health; combat HIV/AIDS; and promote environmental sustainability and global partnerships.

“The Obama administration recognizes that even when we cannot fully agree with some governments, we share a bond of humanity with their people. By investing in that common humanity, we advance our common security,” she told the committee. That panel will report its recommendation to the full Senate, which then must vote on the nomination.

Clinton underscored the importance of U.S. involvement in the continued global fight against HIV/AIDS. “Now, thanks to a variety of efforts, including President Bush's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief — as well as the work of [nongovernmental organizations] and foundations — the United States enjoys widespread support in public opinion polls in many African countries. Even among Muslim populations in Tanzania and Kenya, America is seen as a leader in the fight against AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis,” she said.

The secretary-designate said the United States has a chance to build on this success by partnering with nongovernmental organizations to expand health clinics in Africa, giving more people access to life-saving drugs and ensuring fewer mothers transmit HIV to their children and fewer lives are lost.


Hillary Clinton walks with South African President Nelson Mandela during a tour of Robben Island, South Africa, on March 20, 1997.Equally important to the Obama administration, Clinton said, will be a continued focus on Darfur.

“This is an area of great concern to me, as it is to the president-elect. We are putting together the options that we think are available and workable. It is done in conjunction, as you would assume, with the Department of Defense. There is a great need for us to sound the alarm again about Darfur. It is a terrible humanitarian crisis, compounded by a corrupt and very cruel regime in Khartoum, and it's important that the world know that we intend to address this in the most effective way possible once we have completed our review, and that we intend to bring along as many people as we can to fulfill the mission of the U.N.-AU force, which is not yet up to speed and fully deployed. …

“We are going to work to try to effectuate it,” she pledged.

Clinton acknowledged that chaos — such as piracy — flows from failed states like Somalia. Add to that Zimbabwe, she said, where the regime of Robert Mugabe has so mistreated its people, and the anarchy and violence in Eastern Congo, and this chaos continues to pose problems for the continent.

She called those countries “breeding grounds not only for the worst abuses of human beings, from mass murders to rapes to indifference toward disease and other terrible calamities, but they are [also] invitations to terrorists to find refuge amidst the chaos.”


On education and social investment, Clinton said the United States can generate more good will by partnering with international groups and nongovernmental organizations to build schools and train teachers.

“The president-elect supports a global education fund to bolster secular education around the world. I want to emphasize the importance to us of this bottom-up approach. The president-elect and I believe in this so strongly. Investing in our common humanity through social development is not marginal to our foreign policy but essential to the realization of our goals.”

Clinton also stressed the importance of microfinance.

“As a personal aside, I want to mention that President-elect Obama's mother, Ann Dunham, was a pioneer in microfinance in Indonesia. In my own work on microfinance around the world, from Bangladesh to Chile to Vietnam to South Africa and many other countries, I've seen firsthand how small loans given to poor women to start businesses can raise standards of living and transform local economies. The president-elect's mother had planned to attend a microfinance forum at the Beijing Women's Conference in 1995 that I participated in. Unfortunately, she was very ill and couldn't travel, and sadly passed away a few months later.

“But I think it's fair to say that her work in international development, the care and concern she showed for women and for poor people around the world, mattered greatly to her son, our president- elect. And I believe that it has certainly informed his views and his vision. We will be honored to carry on Ann Dunham's work in the years ahead,” Clinton said.



Try to tell to the world that Obama must be carefull with Kagame and his RPF party. They can involve him in their abuses and crimes.

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