‘African Blood’ Saved Obama From Scrutiny in Ghana

New America Media, Commentary, Edwin Okong'o Posted: Jul 12, 2009

During his visit to Ghana, President Barack Obama laid out a U.S. policy that wasn’t any different from that of his predecessors. But because Obama’s father hailed from my home country of Kenya, and because blood –- African blood, especially -– is thicker than water, Africans exempted their son’s plan for the continent from the tough questions it warranted.

To understand how important blood lines are in Africa, we have to go back to May, when Obama announced his plans to visit Ghana. Euphoria gripped the continent so tightly that instead of talking about what kind of relationship Africa should have with the United States, we went after each other. We wondered why he chose Ghana. Kenyans –- who thought they had an inalienable right to Obama’s first visit as president –- complained that they had been snubbed. Nigeria wondered why Obama didn’t include the African giant in his itinerary. And, if you were Obama, wouldn’t you automatically pick the land that gave the world Nelson Mandela?

In sheer American fashion, Obama explained boldly that he picked Ghana because of the West African nation’s “democratic commitment.”

While Kenyans, Nigerians, South Africans and others were searching their souls, Ghanaians were preparing to do what we Africans do best: dress in colorful attire, sing, dance and chant in praise of presidents.

Although other African countries found their souls very quickly -– “democratic commitment” is such a clear message –- they couldn’t do so in time for Obama to add them to his itinerary. So they joined Ghana and made this “our visit” –- a visit to sub-Saharan Africa. After all, isn’t it blood that binds us, and doesn’t an African son belong to the village?

By the time Obama landed in Ghana, we were so unified by this son of Africa that we did not ask him to tell us what the real purpose of his visit to Ghana was, and how his new plan was different from that of his predecessors.

Because Obama is of African blood, no one stood up to tell him that “democratic commitment” is an American buzz phrase we have heard many times, and that, if indeed this was about democracy, Ghana wouldn’t have been the best choice. Doesn’t Ghana have a long history of coups? And didn’t products of those coups rule the country until as recently as 2001?

Couldn’t a better choice have been Tanzania -– where three presidents have left office voluntarily, and equal numbers of Muslims, Christians and indigenous believers have learned to coexist peacefully? (According to the CIA World Factbook, Tanzania’s economy grew by 7.1 percent in 2008.) Does the fact that a single party has mostly ruled Tanzania make it less of a democracy?

What about Zambia, where Frederick Chiluba -– a former president -– is facing charges for allegedly stealing taxpayers’ money? Yes, President Obama, a court in that supposedly corruption-ridden continent of great suffering has put a former president on trial.

And, by avoiding other African countries, isn’t Obama continuing America’s “old” policies of pitting nations against each other? Isn’t he contradicting the pledge he made on his inauguration day to open dialogue? Even George W. Bush, of “axis of evil” fame, visited five African countries. And, isn’t it stereotypical to slap the “corrupt” label on all African leaders?

“There are wars over land and wars over resources,” Obama said. But his African blood prevented us from asking him whether most of those resources (diamonds) end up in the hands of Africans. What about that other resource that has caused so much havoc in the Niger Delta? Is it because in Nigeria, “the rule of law gives way to the rule of brutality and bribery?” Do the multinationals that give these bribes have any role in this war over resources? And, is there any likelihood that a newfound resource (oil) off Ghana’s coast pushed the country higher on the American chart of “democratic commitment?”

“Africa is not the crude caricature of a continent at war,” Obama said, yet the son of Africa continues to push for the U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) –- the same policy of militarization we rejected under Bush. Why did his administration boost funding –- from $8.3 million in 2009 to $25.6 million in 2010 –- for sale of weapons to some of the same corrupt countries he avoided on his trip? The figure seems meager, but $25.6 million can put at least 25,000 M16 rifles in the hands of some of the corrupt countries. Also, according to Washington, D.C.-based African Security Research Project, the U.S. military is training several African countries including Kenya, Liberia, Rwanda, Uganda, Nigeria, and Ethiopia, under a program called International Military Education and Training (IMET). Obama has also proposed new IMET programs in Somalia, Equatorial Guinea, and Zimbabwe.

Because he has African blood, we were afraid to tell him that it takes more than a couple of brief visits to Africa to understand the continent. We agreed with him that, “Yes, a colonial map that made little sense helped to breed conflict.” But we failed to explain to him that many of the Africans who bring up colonialism do not do so to blame the West. That we have never denied that in Africa corruption exists in endemic proportions; that we mention colonialism for the sake of practicality; that we want the West to understand that a continent brutalized and looted for centuries cannot turn around in 50 years.

We want the United States to look at where it was 50 years after its independence. Were the African slaves free? Could women vote? Had the civil war even happened? Wasn’t corruption rampant in the new, free nation?

But rather than ask this son of Africa to look at history, we let him spit the same Western rhetoric that implies that any African who utters the word “colonialism” wants Africa to wait 200 years for a strong “democratic commitment.” Because Obama is of our blood, we let him continue to push the same flawed, condescending idea that every African is in dire need of water, food and medicine. “And that's why," he said, "my administration has committed $63 billion to meet these challenges.”

Or that Africans lack education, when in fact the continent is full of highly educated people capable of solving Africa’s problems. African blood makes us hush instead of telling Obama that what Africans need is an end to the policies that allow multinationals to bribe governments to let them to continue stripping the continent of its wealth.

We cheered when we heard Obama say that America “will put more resources in the hands of those who need it,” even though we know that most of that aid will end up in the hands of our not-so-democratically-committed African-born sons. We applauded when Obama said, “Wealthy nations must open our doors to goods and services from Africa in a meaningful way,” although it’s no secret that even if the entire world opened its market to Africa, most of us would have nothing to sell.

Ironically, Obama's African blood has made us too blind to see that the heart that pumps it through his veins is American.

Edwin Okong'o is an associate editor at New America Media.


Related Articles:

Obama Ghana Visit Ignites Africa

Obama's Visit to Ghana Must Be More than Just Promises



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Jsmith on Jul 17, 2009 at 05:11:37 said:

"While Kenyans, Nigerians, South Africans and others were searching their souls, Ghanaians were preparing to do what we Africans do best: dress in colorful attire, sing, dance and chant in praise of presidents."

LOL. Not sure I agree, but I respect the writer's craft in putting this line together!

"We want the United States to look at where it was 50 years after its independence. Were the African slaves free?"

No, but slave owners of African descent were free. Not all slaves were black and not all slave owners were white. It's a fascinating time in American history, as you will find when you begin to study it.


Jsmith on Jul 17, 2009 at 05:00:30 said:

"While Kenyans, Nigerians, South Africans and others were searching their souls, Ghanaians were preparing to do what we Africans do best: dress in colorful attire, sing, dance and chant in praise of presidents."

Excellent wording -- not sure I agree, but I appreciate the writer's craft.

"We want the United States to look at where it was 50 years after its independence. Were the African slaves free?"

No, but slave owners descended from Africans were free. Not all blacks were slaves, and not all slave-owners were white in America. It's an interesting period of history, should you decided to study it.


carmob on Jul 13, 2009 at 14:33:20 said:

In writing your article, one senses an effort in trying too hard. It is poorly conceived, if not flawed in its logic, and lacking in facts.
First, as a journalist, your endeavor to establish in advance that Obama comes from your home country is juvenile, to say the least, but also typical of systemic inferiority in part/some Africans - that this raises you up a notch in your credibility as a critic of Obama. The same inferiority that led most countries to question \'why not them\', when Obama announced his visit to Ghana, as you ably put it yourself. Reminds me of the Whitehouse press conferences where some journalists try to be hard on the president, not for the substance of it, but so they may seem that they are not \'in bed with him\' as the conservatives put it. It bespeaks to your person as opposed to the one you are critiquing or the audience you are writing for.
That aside, some of the points you raised have an element of importance in them, but it is your certitude in their explanation that renders one to think that you either do not understand their gist, or you haven\'t given thorough thought to their implications.
Much as Obama, first and foremost, and rightly so, represents American interests, the authority with which he spoke of Africa, its promise and what bedevils it, cannot be equated with George Bush\'s.
However, let\'s start with your lede. In part you say, \"...Africans exempted their son’s plan for the continent from the tough questions it warranted\". You do understand, or have by now realized that this was not a press conference? Or a public forum where ordinary Ghanaian citizen could ask president Obama questions? To insinuate that this was a probability and no one took up the challenge in misleading.
You say, \"...\"democratic commitment” is an American buzz phrase we have heard many times...\" As a western educated (as if that matters with a mind like yours) you seem to be cynical of the idea of democracy. Democracy does hold the same underlying ideals regardless of where it is being practiced. Having gone through some of your articles from the past, I have read countless times where you decry African leadership for their lack of commitment to democratic ideals. So this comes off as hypocrisy when you circumvent and call \"democratic commitment\" a buzz phrase.

In another paragraph you write, \"...by avoiding other African countries, isn’t Obama continuing America’s “old” policies of pitting nations against each other?\" How do you qualify this statement? By Obama choosing to visit one nation as opposed to 53 of them he is pitting them rest against each other? Is your logic that each nation was entitled to his visit but one nation talked him out? I am yet to come to grips with your reasoning in this.
You continue, \"And, isn’t it stereotypical to slap the “corrupt” label on all African leaders?\" This are words that you can eat...from your past writings you have intimated as such. However, I did not read anywhere where Obama labeled all African leaders as corrupt, but pointed out that corruption is one of the ills that characterize African leadership. That\'s far from calling everyone corrupt.Besides, if 90 percent of the leaders are corrupt, what difference does it make if one says African leadership is corrupt? just saying.
Here is an interesting one, ..\"it takes more than a couple of brief visits to Africa to understand the continent\". One, is this meant as a dismissal of the little he does understand? how much do you understand the conflict in Sudan or Sierra Leone by virtue of being African? I guess the answer could be either a whole lot, because you have read about it, watched it on the TV, talked to some folks from these parts of the continent, and I would certainly believe Obama has had even much information regarding the same situations than you might, or absolutely nothing since you have never visited any of this regions. By the way, is it my assumption that perhaps he has visited more African countries than you have...yet you would claim to understand African problems better than he does? Two, are you assigning obligation to president Obama? Far as I know, he doesn\'t have a responsibility in that regard. Visiting any foreign country is a prerogative of the president and should not be looked at as some form of indebtedness to these countries.
You assert, ...\"we mention colonialism for the sake of practicality; that we want the West to understand that a continent brutalized and looted for centuries cannot turn around in 50 years.\" Then you go on to bring in \"where America was 50 years after independence. In this regard, your writing and reasoning bespoke much of the African mentality that has muddied the thinking of African citizen. That we always have to rationalize things linearly - with the logic that, perhaps 200 years down the line, Africa could be a superpower both economically and militarily in the ilk of the US. The colonial excuse is the one used in many an occasion by the current leadership in Africa to get back at the west for pointing out that they are doing enough for their people. Why was Zimbabwe better off in 1980 when got rid of the colonialist than it is 29 years later? Because the colonialist went away with the resources? Surprisingly, you negate your own argument by stating, \"but rather than ask this son of Africa to look at history, we let him spit the same Western rhetoric that implies that any African who utters the word “colonialism” wants Africa to wait 200 years for a strong “democratic commitment.”
You cite Obama as saying,“Africa is not the crude caricature of a continent at war,” and in the same breath you rip Obama for pushing for AFRICOM...now, I might have my reasons for not wanting a military base in Africa. But how does that statement by Obama and the push for AFRICOM contradict? I appreciate the complexity of the thought, but to allude to the establishment of AFRICOM as an affirmation that Obama sees Africa as a war zone is far from its potency. AFRICOM has other issues at heart...not the ones you impute here.
You foolishly point out that, \"...we let him continue to push the same flawed, condescending idea that every African is in dire need of water, food and medicine. “And that’s why,” he said, “my administration has committed $63 billion to meet these challenges.”\" The majority of Africans are need of one or the other of the things you pointed out. Simply because you happen to be an African who knows a couple of other Africans who are not in need these things does not invalidate the larger point that Obama was making. And he did not say every African in his address. In your essay/article you ask for what he would do. When he provides details and numbers you come down on him.
You state, \"...that Africans lack education, when in fact the continent is full of highly educated people capable of solving Africa’s problems.\" This statement is layered with a multitude of pathetic concepts. One, it is a fact that most Africans lack education - get your facts straight. Two, those who have been highly educated and capable of solving Africa\'s problems are not in Africa...case in point, you - think again about what you are talking about. Three, Obama did not generalize all Africans as lacking education - read/listen to the man\'s address, if you did, do it again.

Towards the end you say, \"\"...what Africans need is an end to the policies that allow multinationals to bribe governments to let them to continue stripping the continent of its wealth.\" These are policies that only Africans can conceive and implement, not Obama or the US.
The one that I love most is the second last paragraph, \"...bama say that America “will put more resources in the hands of those who need it,” even though we know that most of that aid will end up in the hands of our not-so-democratically-committed African-born sons.\" Not-so-democratically-committed? Not even in quotes? Did you just acknowledge that democratic commitment is not a buzz word?
That you are just looking to prove yourself as a journalist is evident and comes out conspicuously so much so as to look pitiful...there is no there there.
N/B: And so you have food for thought...during his first term, Obama can\'t be seen to be too involved with Africa more than is politically sustainable. One of the reasons I was/is sure he would never visit Kenya in his first term. As a journalist, you should have been able to discern this by now. And much as he would like to do much for Africa, he should not seem to be either high handed or too preoccupied with it.


Gerb Val on Jul 13, 2009 at 13:01:59 said:

Though provoking (the good way I mean :-), some side arguments I can understand, but the overall post is made with the right tone, well thought, articulated,... and just refreshing to read something like that.

Cheers,


Malik Al-Arkam on Jul 13, 2009 at 09:59:25 said:

President Obama has always been first and foremost a loyal servant of the intensely wicked Caucasian American ruling class. He opposes Human Rights and Reparations for 250 million slave descendants in the western hemisphere, who continue in 2009 to suffer terribly from ethnocide and forced assimilation imposed for centuries by the U.S. government. Ironically, as all American inner cities implode and millions of Americans remain without jobs and basic medical coverage, the Obama Administration is burning $20 million each hour on blatantly unjust wars in Iraq and Afghanistan while mapping contingency plans for more conflicts in several nations including Iran and Venezuela.
As-Salaam-Alaikum,
Senator Malik Al-Arkam
www.allforreparations.org

-->




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