Obama And His African Brothers

Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta with Obama PHOTO: capitalfm.co.ke

Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta with Obama PHOTO: capitalfm.co.ke

AN African proverb says, “When a child is excited and repeatedly pointing in one direction, look closely; you will either find his mother or father there.” President Barack Obama’s African shuttles, four at the last count and the most by a sitting American president, is an obvious testament of his natural interest in the affairs of his father’s home continent. What is not so obvious is the impact of this interest on a continent whose values appear increasingly distant from those of their illustrious descendant.

In his address to the African Union Summit in Addis Ababa during the second leg of his most recent trip, the United States President obviously hit a home run when he said, “I love my job and would like to continue. I actually think I’m a pretty good president. I think if I ran I could win. But I can’t, because the law says so. And not even the president is above the law.”

Repeatedly interrupted by a cheering audience as he delivered those lines, Obama’s words clearly drove a dagger into the hearts of many sit-tight leaders around the continent which has become infamous for churning out presidents whose only wish is to die in office. Leaders like Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe, Yoweri Museveni of Uganda, Boni Yayi of Benin Republic and new kid on the block, Pierre Nkurunziza of Burundi.

In their hearts, these men would have crucified Mr. Obama a thousand times for making a public display of their private shame. Some would argue that Obama knows nothing about the objective realities of the African political condition and should therefore leave each country alone to evolve its own “home grown democracy.”

In truth however, most of these men have clearly overstayed their welcome and lost the hearts of their peoples. But they lack the character and wisdom to move on. Blinded by greed and incapable of envisioning a meaningful life outside the limelight, they become instruments of the devil in holding down their own peoples and constructing their own ignoble legacies. They become prisoners in power.

To help them out of their misery, Obama offers the following words, “I’m looking forward to life after being president. I won’t have such a big security detail all the time. It means I can go take a walk. I can spend time with my family. I can find other ways to serve.” If ever there is a rehabilitation home to help wean sit-tight leaders off their power addiction, I propose that those words be put on marble and posted at the entrance door for the benefit of inmates and guests alike. They strike at the very heart of the problem – a poor sense of balance and what is truly important. Obama’s words could someday become a mantra around Africa and perhaps his greatest legacy to his ancestral continent – like Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream…”

On other fronts, the American president appears to be much less successful. With his advocacy for the rights of LGBTs (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Trans-gender persons), Obama seems to have run into a brick wall in Africa. Appearing at a joint press conference with his Kenyan host, Uhuru Kenyatta, on Saturday July 25th, he had suggested that Kenya’s anti-gay laws encourage discrimination against a group of harmless people – just like racist laws did against black people. But the Kenyan leader promptly shot back that gay rights were a “non issue” among his people who face graver challenges in areas like public health, insecurity, etc. Perhaps when Kenyans overcome these challenges, he said, they might consider gay rights. It was a nice way of saying, “Back off.”

Uhuru Kenyatta’s repost is a dressed-up version of the real views of most Africans across socio-economic ranks. Poll after poll has shown gay rights disapproval rates of 96 to 98% across the continent except in South Africa. Many feel that in trying to appease minority groups, America’s first Black president overreached himself and committed an “abomination” by supporting same-sex legislation. Others believe that America’s new wave of “sexual liberalism” under Obama’s watch probably marks the beginning of the end of the American era in human civilization.

I have met many otherwise enlightened and “liberal” Africans who are unimpressed by Mr. Obama’s perspective on this matter. They acknowledge that LGBTs have been part of human society from the beginning. But they would rather that such “errant” sexual orientations (not the persons) be treated with shame and disapproval, not promoted to mainstream acceptability or even glamorized. If majority view is the spine of democracy, they say, then Western attempts to pressure Africa to change is classic hypocrisy.

• Victor Anazonwu, a marketing & advertising practitioner,

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