Johannes Makar Correspondent
IN real terms, Obama’s engagement with Africa was a ratcheting up of US military activity on an unprecedented scale: 60 AFRICOM bases, a $100 million drone facility and the Libyan debacle.
Ultimately, trade, aid and American influence on the continent were the big losers.
I was probably the only journalist in Ghana, who refused to be wowed by President’s Obama’s beautiful speech in Accra, during his July 2009 trip to Ghana. In the article I wrote to welcome him, I said: “ . . . given its history of violence against the non-white world, the onus is upon the US to prove its sincerity. Africa has been treated very badly by the US and this is a fact that must be strongly brought home to the visiting Emperor.
“It is true that Brother Obama brought a whiff of inviting, cool and fresh air, necessary to purify the effluence of Bush and his gang of neocons, but the only changes that Obama has wrought so far are cosmetic at best. Zimbabwe continues to be sanctioned, even after it has satisfied demands for an inclusive government. Afghans, Pakistanis and Yemenis continue to be needlessly massacred by Western war machines. The rape of our resources continues unabated.”
I ended my article with a caution: “We shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that Emperor Obama did not visit us as a brother from the Diaspora: he visited us in his capacity as the president of the USA. His was not an emotional or sentimental journey to reunite with us. Were that to be the case, he’d have chosen Kenya, where his father was born and where his step-grandmother lives . . . I am not so naïve as to believe that his visit will do Ghana or Africa any good.”
Few men in history enjoyed the same overwhelming adulation that welcomed Barack Hussein Obama into the White House. All over the world, people danced for joy when the man who campaigned to effect “change we can believe in,” swept into office on January 20, 2009. TV screens showed grown-up men and women openly shedding tears, as they witnessed what they thought was a miracle — A Black Man in the White House! Even veteran stalwarts like Jesse Jackson and Oprah Winfrey wept like babies.
So much was the global expectation for a peace in our time under President Obama that the Nobel Prize Committee awarded him the Peace Prize in 2009.
As Obama enters the twilight of his political career, it is only fair to assess his performance and try to answer the central question of why he chose to squander all the global goodwill he had and ended up leaving the world in much worse shape than when he came into office.
Obama’s compatriots in his country are the best judge of his domestic policies, so we shall confine our analysis to his foreign policy.
Although we in Africa claimed and welcomed him as our brother, even the most rabid Obama admirer among us will be hard-pressed to name a single thing he did for our continent in his eight years in office.
Although we do not ask or beg for handouts, it nevertheless hurts to remember that our brother failed to render a helping hand when he was the most powerful human being on earth.
Although he delivered high-falutin rhetoric in his travels across the continent, Obama leaves no enduring legacy for which we shall fondly remember him by. We can contrast his lamentable legacy with those of his immediate two predecessors.
Thousands of Africans still reap benefits from the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) signed into law on May 2000 by President Bill Clinton. This was an initiative to help African businesses gain entrance into the US market.
And, as they travel on the George Bush Highway, Ghanaians will give praises to the much-maligned President George Bush Jr, who donated it to them.
It does not make us cheerful to note that while the Chinese are all over our continent building railroads, highways, seaports and other economic infrastructure to help lift our people out of poverty, our brother in Washington, along with his Western allies, continued to invest in the militarisation of our continent – see New African’s coverage of the militarisation of the Sahel region in the magazine’s January 2017 edition.
It is also instructive that the single largest piece of US infrastructure built in Africa under Obama was the $100 million drone facility in resource-rich, but impoverished Niger.
It is also perhaps not a coincidence that it was under our brother’s rule that the US military made its most significant inroads into Africa. From a handful of bases a few years ago, AFRICOM today has more than 60 outposts around the continent.
It is probably in the case of Libya that history will be most harsh on Barack Obama. We will never be told what led Obama to join France, Britain and the Netherlands to abuse a UN security council resolution to invade and destroy Libya.
Obama’s Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, was shown on TV gloating over the killing of a de jure and de facto leader of an African nation: “We came, we saw, he died.” That is an image that will forever blemish Obama’s legacy, even though he called his misadventure in Libya the greatest folly of his administration.
OK, granted, we are all capable of making mistakes, but what will condemn Obama in perpetuity is his not making amends for his grievous error in killing Muammar Gaddafi and rendering Libya a “Failed State”.
Ordinary people across the world, who were totally fed up with the social, economic, ecological and environmental devastation neocons and neo-liberalisms engendered, believed and trusted the man with a beatific smile, who promised us a change we can believe in.
According to investigative journalist, John Pilger in his documentary, “The Coming War on China”, Obama spent more money on modernising the American nuclear arsenal than any president in history. Obama’s geopolitical thinking was clearly spelt out by his Secretary of Defence Ashley Carter, who bluntly stated that: “US policy is to confront those who see America’s dominance and want to take that away from us.”
Although the US is technically not at war with any country, Obama continued to keep the military-industrial complex on a nice roll: “In President Obama’s last year in office, the US dropped 26 171 bombs in seven countries. This estimate is undoubtedly low, considering reliable data is only available for air strikes in Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, and Libya, and a single ‘strike,’ according to the Pentagon’s definition, can involve multiple bombs or munitions.”
That was in the time of a man who told the world in his speech at the University of Cairo in June 2009: “The people of the world can live together in peace. We know that is God’s vision. Now that must be our work here on Earth. Thank you. And may God’s peace be upon you. Thank you very much.”
Those who touted Obama as a brilliant scholar will have to explain how the Russian leader, Vladimir Putin, managed to make him look like a clumsy, clueless, unimaginative amateur in all their encounters in the international arena.
Take the case of Syria. Obama drew a line in the Syrian sand over the use of chemical weapons. When it came to actuating his threat, he managed to peeve even his Western allies.
Putin came to his rescue with a masterstroke — agreeing to ship the chemicals out of Syria. That was the beginning of the end of US relevance in Syria.
Today, Putin is emphatically calling the shots in Syria, so much so that a critical meeting to settle the Syrian crisis is going ahead without US participation.
Obama might not be the architect of the US debacle in the Middle East, but it was under him that Russia and to a lesser extent China, became a major player once again in the region once considered the exclusive preserve of the US.
Observers also need to note that under Obama, the US lost the respect of many once considered solid allies.
The Philippines shifted their gaze to China, with their president using very foul language in describing Obama. Turkey and Egypt have pivoted towards Russia. Even client-states like Israel treat Obama with utter condescension.
Outwitted, outclassed and outplayed by the Russian leader, Obama was reduced to sulking and acting like a petulant schoolyard bully.
It will take years before social scientists will be able to unravel the mystery of why and how Obama managed to scam so many people. There is no denying the fact that he faced many obstacles, but, were his mind on it, he could easily have accomplished a lot more for those who believed in him.
Sadly, the Obama illusion has left the black world reeling from a huge disappointment and vividly recalls the lamentations of the great sociologist WEB Du Bois, in his classic work,” The Souls of Black Folk”: “The Nation has not yet found peace from its sins; the freedman has not yet found in freedom his promised land. Whatever of good may have come in these years of change, the shadow of a deep disappointment rests upon the Negro people, — a disappointment all the more bitter because the unattained ideal was unbound save by the simple ignorance of a lowly people.”
It is probable that Obama did not set out to create any enduring legacy for himself in the world at large, but the election of Donald Trump ensures that whatever domestic legacy he wishes to be remembered for will be speedily repudiated. At least, that much the erratic Trump has promised us. — New African magazine.