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Obama’s Africa legacy: The triumph of symbolism


President Muhammadu Buhari and US President Barack Obama at a meeting at the White House

President Muhammadu Buhari and US President Barack Obama at a meeting at the White House

On January 20, Barack Obama’s eight-year presidency will be over. When the Kenyan-Kansan was elected the first black president of the United States (U.S.) in 2008, a wave of “Obamamania” swept across Africa and the Diaspora. By the time Obama visited South Africa, Senegal and Tanzania in 2013, the “Cinderella syndrome” had worn off. The unrealistic expectations that the U.S. president would transform Africa’s fortunes had not even come close to fruition. American policy towards Africa continued to lack consistent Congressional support, while Africa remained at the bottom of U.S. policy priorities.

Obama’s Africa policy was based on four pillars: Democratic governance; conflict management; economic growth and development; and access to quality health and education. But these became crumbling pillars built on rickety foundations of crass self-interest and empty symbolism. Obama continued several of the truculent George W. Bush’s most egregious policies which militarised America’s engagement with the continent. “Extraordinary rendition” of terror suspects abroad, with the risk they may be tortured, continued; 2,000 U.S. soldiers remained in Djibouti to track terrorists; and autocratic regimes in oil-rich Equatorial Guinea as well as in Egypt, Morocco, Uganda, Rwanda, and Ethiopia remained staunch American allies or clients, rendering Obama’s 2009 Accra pledge to support “strong institutions, not strong men,” meaningless.

Officials of America’s Germany-based Africa Command (AFRICOM) still roam the continent in a seemingly endless “war on terror.” The Obama administration established drone bases in Djibouti, Ethiopia, and Seychelles; deployed killer drones in Somalia and Libya; and a drone centre was established in Niger to track terrorists in Mali. One hundred U.S. Special Forces have operated inside Somalia, while another 100 were deployed to hunt Ugandan warlord, Joseph Kony. The Obama administration in fact oversaw one of the largest military expansions into Africa establishing small bases and outposts for drones, surveillance, air-bases, Special Forces, and/or port facilities in Kenya, Uganda, Chad, Central African Republic (CAR), South Sudan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Ethiopia, Burkina Faso, Ghana and Senegal.

More positively, the Obama administration provided support to peacekeeping missions in Africa and contributed to peacemaking efforts in the Great Lakes and Horn of Africa. One of the greatest disappointments of Obama’s presidency for Africa is, however, that he continued to support, rather than challenge, neo-colonial French actions in countries like Mali, Côte d’Ivoire, and CAR. The U.S. president could instead have lent greater support to regional-driven United Nations (UN) peacekeeping efforts in all three cases. In 2014, Obama described the aftermath of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation’s (NATO) Libya intervention, three years earlier, as his “biggest foreign policy regret,” bemoaning the failure to plan for post-conflict reconstruction.  Having at first denied a “regime change” agenda, Obama finally conceded in October 2011 that “we had to make sure that Muammar Qaddafi didn’t stay there…Qaddafi had more American blood on his hands than any individual other than Osama bin Laden.” The sophisticated weaponry from Qaddafi’s army enabled Islamists who had been fighting in that country to launch the successful destabilisation of northern Mali, spreading instability across the Sahel. This was effectively Obama’s mini-Iraq: acephalous Libya is now characterised by rival governments, armed groups, international terrorists, violent abductions, arbitrary killings, and 300,000 internally displaced persons.

In the socio-economic sphere, the U.S.-led Group of Eight (G8) New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition created much fewer jobs than the 650,000 it had promised. Civil society critics argued that the programme had benefitted large foreign agri-business at the expense of African small-holders. Various U.S. programmes, however, contributed positively to improving education for children in Nigeria, South Sudan, Liberia, the DRC, Mozambique, Tanzania, and Côte d’Ivoire. Obama also inaugurated a Young African Leaders Initiative through which 500 African youth under the age of 35 (Mandela Washington Fellows)  are annually provided with six weeks of intensive executive leadership training, networking, and skills building in U.S. institutions in the areas of business and entrepreneurship; civic leadership; and public management. A paltry $10 million is also provided for building businesses and social enterprises.  In the area of health, Obama increased the number of people receiving treatment for HIV/AIDS from 1.7 million in 2008 to 6.7 million by 2013. His administration also deployed a 3,000-strong military contingent to build hospitals in Liberia in 2014 in order to treat victims of Ebola, a disease that had killed over 11,000 people mostly in Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea.

In August 2014, Obama hosted 40 African leaders in Washington D.C. in the first ever U.S.-Africa summit. Amidst cheap flattery about “Rising Africa” and empty slogans about “good governance,” this meeting was effectively a talking shop that did not produce any concrete results. Obama’s signature policy – “Power Africa” – was proudly touted during this summit. But as he leaves office, this $9.7 billion project to double electricity to 20 million African households has left the continent in the dark: less than 5 per cent of new power has been generated at 400 megawatts, way short of the target of 10,000 megawatts. Despite the much hyped U.S. African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA), 52% of African exports to America in 2015 consisted of oil and gas.

As an individual, Obama has remained widely popular across Africa. But, the early lustre of Obamamania clearly faded, as the realisation gradually dawned on Africans that even a powerful leader with close family ties to the continent could not change six decades of “malign neglect” of their continent by Washington. The tragedy of this tale is that the enduring continuity of U.S. foreign policy has trumped the early idealism of an extraordinary individual of African ancestry.  Obama has not only failed to remake Africa, he has also failed to change America and the world. Much of his key achievements – healthcare, the Iran nuclear deal, rapprochement with Cuba – will now almost certainly be dismantled by the incoming Donald Trump administration. The “dreams of our fathers” – recalling the title of Obama’s memorable 1995 memoirs – have now morphed into a ghastly nightmare that could reverse many of the gains of the civil rights struggle. Another “parting of the waves” may soon be needed. Where is our Black Moses?

• Prof. Adebajo is director of the Institute for Pan-African Thought and Conversation at the University of Johannesburg in South Africa.

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  • remm ieet

    Obama knew very early in the day that his mission was not for Africa. He was needed in certain cranky parts of the world, far far away from Africa.

  • Godwin Onuoha

    Not a fair assessment in my view… The Obama Presidency demonstrated the triumph of structure over agency… Africa is not alone in this. African-Americans expected more from him, but race relations have plunged to an abysmal level in the last eight years…Six decades of African consignment to the underside of modernity and centuries of slavery, Jim Crow and civil rights struggle cannot be undone in eight years…We do not need a black Moses, we need to change the global structure…

    • remm ieet

      Obama had the intellectual capacity to envision that ‘triumph of structure over agency’ as you put it. Only God knows what was driving him then. He took on the garb, spitting out rhetorics during his campaigns about change. No sooner than he visited Ghana, he commenced his lectures to Africans about how to take their destiny into their hands. He refused to buy into all the enthusiastic support offered him by Africans as a black president. He preferred to use the opportunity to remind Africans about how nobody owed them anything. A few years down the line, the same Obamamania has further enriched America at our expense. His era encouraged corruption in Nigeria in a manner unprecedented in our political history.

      • Godwin Onuoha

        “Obamamania has further enriched America at our expense” …. How? Please explain…
        “His era encouraged corruption in Nigeria in a manner unprecedented in our political history” … So Obama is now responsible for the so-called unprecedented levels of corruption we have in Nigeria?
        I am afraid, I don’t see your point… Your assertions borders on spurious conspiracy theories to say the least…Obama was not elected to solve Africa’s problem. He was elected to advance US national interests globally, including Africa. That was exactly what he did. Blame your visionless leaders who have repeatedly failed to lead their people and not Obama.

        • remm ieet

          .You appear to understand how structure and agency combination works, but you cannot accept the theory of how corruption in Africa is subtly a design to impoverish Africa through the collusion of Western elite and their African counterparts. We don’t have to always look at the surface for the answer all the time. You can draw inference from all these interactions between states. Between the poor states and the richer ones. Between individuals who either consciously or subliminally serve as the agents of corruption. If we were to sit here accusing states who collaborate to exploit us in Africa, we would be here all day. But we can see the effects of corruption all around us. Millions of people have no idea what the future holds for them. Poverty, partly inflicted on us by our socalled leaders is suffocating life out of people. Governance in Africa is designed to profit a few at the expense of millions. The question is, where is all the money we have earned since 1960? The more money these state actors handle, the more Nigerians are impoverished. Why are our political actors so eager to transfer our money to countries where Nigerians will not be able to directly benefit? Obama was not responsible for corruption in Nigeria. But when Boko Haram struck, America refused to help. But America opened its banks for Nigerian looters to do business.

          • Godwin Onuoha

            Corruption is erywhere… Not only in Nigeria… The difference is that corrupt leaders in other parts of the world steal from their people and reinvest the money in their economy. But African leaders take the money to Europe and N/America. Have you ever seen an European or American or Asian leader stealing money and stashing in Nigerian banks? A word is enough or the wise. Obama did not create BH. BH was a creation of the northern elite in their quest to consolidate political power. They didn’t just create it, they funded it, it thrived under their leadership and it became a cash cow for those who profited from it. What happened to the N2b earmarked for arms? What of Dasukigate? Was it Obama That told Dasuki to embezzle the funds for the military? Or did Obama tell them not to pay the soldiers fighting BH? We love blaming others for our woes. Until we begin to look inward, we will never solve our problems.

  • Joseph TOUBI


    Obviously OBAMA has been not one of the worst but the ultimate worst president that America has ever had.
    Doubt about it? Let us consider one fact which will completely convince thee.
    You have surely understood that we are talking about this foolish “Affordable Care Act” nicknamed “Obama care”.
    Since many centuries, strategists and economists know that you never apply tactical solutions to structural strategic problems. The best example: just open thy Bible and thou will discover therein that GOD of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob has designed a plan spanning over millenaries and universe to solve a single problem named Lucifer which is Satan. This is why Men and Women of GOD systematically work within visions spanning over centuries and space.
    So what is the structural problem in America? Everybody knows it: the country is built upon Indian Americans’ blood (genocide) and upon African Americans’ blood (centuries of slavery and genocide). The Bible says that human blood shed illegally cries for revenge through millenaries, meaning that every country or nation built upon human blood is cursed and doomed to final destruction. This is what president Donald TRUMP who claims to have been offered a Bible by his mom must know and acknowledge.
    So how to solve this America’s structural problem? Here again, economists have the answer since a century. If you have a human group which is lagging behind, the best way to foster and push its emergence is education.
    Given the genocide and the slavery heritage, Indian Americans and African Americans have been lagging behind for centuries now. If you want to have them emerge and bring an authentic spiritual reconciliation in the country then you educate for free an entire generation of them. So you do not implement this foolishness of “Affordable Care Act” but you set up a “Redemptive Education Fund”. Redemptive for who? For thy country whose foundations are cursed because despite the “prayers” and “blessings” from false masonic and rosicrusian “pastors” the human blood upon which thy country is built is cursing the very foundations of thy country.
    Then you set up a management committee made of Indian Americans and African Americans specialists who will manage under government control this “Redemptive Education Fund” (REF) and use its financial resources to finance the education of an entire generation of Indian Americans and African Americans.
    Is not it obvious that a poor lagging behind since centuries will still go back to health care insurance the next week because he will still have some sickness? Is not it obvious that a well educated person will become a valuable asset in the society and will even have means to care about the next generations without the Federal or local State having to intervene? And guess what? Dozens of prisons will be emptied for lack of pensioners, crime frequency will collapse, VAT payers will increase, all this rebalancing the Federal budget in the long term. Why was it so difficult for the Hollywood style African American to understand this? What do people learn in Harvard? Intensive Bible studies are needed now in Harvard university.
    Do you need an example of redemptive action? Just ask the Germans. Modern Germany has paid since World War II a quite heavy redemptive price (yes material and financial redemptive price) to Jews for the Nazi’s crimes against the Jews but may be the constitutional law professor from Harvard has never studied this to understand the move of the world. The man is just spiritless. Can the spiritless African American cure his country during eight years by doing for Indian Americans and African Americans exactly what Germany did for the Jews after World War II? No he can’t, no he can’t. When he dances singing “hope”, “yes we can” he is just executing folk dances which African Africans use to refer at as “culture”. True culture which is one’s specific vision of the world coming from one’s ontological nature is unknown to African Africans, African Americans, African Asians and so forth because they have not concentrated on reviving their own spirit.
    At this juncture, you may be crying that it would have been quite difficult to find funding for such Redemptive Education Fund.
    Contrary to what you think, there are many funding solutions for such a Fund and as a matter of example we are going to share few solutions with thee.
    The FED is not « owned » by anyone as it is clearly written by FEDERAL RESERVE SYSTEM (FED) in its web site.
    Is not this a very bright example of transparency and total democracy which should be spread and shared all over the world? So the Constitutional law professor from Harvard spent eight years in the White House with a FED which is not owned by anyone.
    Let us continue to read in the interesting FED’s web site.
    “In fact, the Reserve Banks are required by law to transfer net earnings to the US Treasury, after providing for all necessary expenses of the Reserve Banks, legally required dividends payments, and maintaining a limited balance in a surplus fund”
    Read for thyself and get it: Guys transferring net income to US Treasury, but after withholding for themselves “necessary expenses” and “legally required dividends payments”
    What is the level of this “legally required dividend”? The FED’s web site is silent on this but may be it is our fault because we did not search very well all the hidden rooms of this FED’s web site. We will check this again very well and even seize this opportunity to verify were has gone the revenue generated by the massive Quantitative Easing (Q.E).
    In the web site we have found information according to which private banks holds 100% of FED’s shares and are entitled to a guaranteed 6% annual dividend on their shares. But we have not been able to find any official confirmation of this information and we will just consider this as a hypothesis for the “legally required dividend”.
    So to conclude on how to Fund thy Redemptive Education Fund (REF), you just act as a sound constitutional law professor from Harvard. You push for a law pouring into thy REF every year, 6% of all the interest generated to FED by the public debt held by FED. Let us see what thy Redemptive Education Fund would have received during eight years spent by the African American in the White House. The current level (January 2017) of US total public debt is 19 573 billions USD. Out of this total, an amount of 2 460 billions USD is held by the FED (which belongs to nobody as you remember). The average interest rate yielded by US total public debt was 2.232% by December 2016 and 2.331 % by December 2015. Let us assume that all trough the eight years spent by the spiritless African American in the White House, the public debt generated annually a mere 2% per year. This means that during those eight years the public debt held by FED has yielded for FED’s pockets roughly 393.6 billions USD interests.
    So if the spiritless African American had pushed for a law assigning 6% of 393.6 billion USD to a Redemptive Education Fund, Indian Americans and African Americans would have received for free 23.6 billion USD dedicated to an entire generation’s education. This would have been a true way for an entire nation built upon two races’ blood to say “We apologize”. Seeing such act of repentance GOD the Lord JESUS CHRIST would have reconsidered his Holy Position towards the United States ( In the Bible, trusting in GOD as written on US bank notes means acting in a godly manner and not writing empty statements on banks notes).
    Yes you will surely complain that the principal amount of public debt actually held by FED was not stable during the past eight years and we agree on this. Figures for precise computation are available but let us just do some rough estimates and even accept that if he had acted intelligently the African American would have gathered some pretty 17 billion USD to finance free education of an entire generation of Indian Americans and African Americans.


    During the year 2016 alone, 1 473 700 blocks of transactions were traded on the New York stock exchange for a total of 2 731 billions USD; meaning that the average amount of each block was 1 853 000 USD.
    So you just apply a laughable flat tax of 1 000 USD on each block (representing less than 0.055 % of the value of a block) and just for the year 2016 you collect 1.47 billions USD to fund thy Redemptive Education Fund. If the African American had so done during eight years, he would have gathered an additional amount of roughly 11.8 billions USD to fund the Redemptive Education Fund for Indian Americans and African Americans.
    Of course you may say that the number of blocks traded on the New York Stock Exchange varies from a year to another and you will be right saying so. But we are just making here rough estimates to give thee an idea of what the spiritless African American would have done to cure his own nation, had he had some spirit and vision within himself.

    During 2015, US airlines and foreign airlines serving the US (both domestic and international) carried an all-time high 895.5 millions passengers.
    So you tax each passenger just 1 (one) USD and that is it: 895.5 millions USD collected per year to fund thy Redemptive Education Fund making a total of 6.3 billions USD for the eight years spent by the spiritless African American in the White House.
    Again you may argue that the number of passengers varies from year to year and we do agree. We are just making rough estimates to enlighten what the African American could have done to cure his nation by solving the structural problem of Indian Americans and African Americans.

    Remember that Barack OBAMA himself is said to have received a lot of gifts made by millions of Americans of all races (and mainly the Whites) through crowd funding during his first presidential campaign. If you explain to the American citizens that thy nation is built upon Indian and African blood and tell them that thy country must apologize buy actually educating for free a whole generation of these minorities and if you tell them that this will spiritually cure and reconcile thy nation, then millions of American citizens will freely and joyfully make gifts to thy Redemptive Education Funds.
    The amount you may gather under this chapter will not be far from what Barak OBAMA received as gifts from ordinary American citizens during his first presidential campaign.
    As a matter of fact, remember that even the American State itself use to receive gifts from citizens willing to lower the level of public debt. If you doubt this then put the question to the US State Treasury.

    In conclusion, you see that without a lot of home work and without digging really we have provided thee with four solutions which would have brought more than 41.7 billions USD to fund the Redemptive Education Fund and used to educate for free an entire generation of Indian Americans and African Americans; curing once for all by so doing America from its cursed bloody foundations. Be assured that had we really searched that we would have easily come up with some pretty 200 billions USD funding. But the spiritless African American was there to play a kind of Hollywood movie and not to revolutionize his nation. Suck lack of spirit is common to African Africans and to all African Diasporas across the world. Where does this lack of spirit come from? Kindly download for free from daily motion and youtube, audio programs entitled “Where is the African spirit?” and “Black Africa’s Destiny”. You will get a clear and detailed answer in these audio programs.
    So Barack OBAMA has been useful for one single thing: showing to African Americans, African Africans and African Asians that they must now put to themselves the only relevant question which may help them to revive: where has gone our own spirit coming from our ontological nature?
    To help the fellow from Harvard, let us say that now that he is where he ought to have been since eight years that is out of the White House, he can learn to acquire an authentic spirit coming from his ontological African nature by doing two good things:
    Studying his Bible and praying to the GOD of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob who said this in Psalm chapter 68 verse 31

    Princes shall come out of Egypt; Ethiopia shall soon stretch out her hands unto GOD.

    After reading his Bible and praying to the Lord JESUS CHRIST, he can then concentrate on working with foolish African heads of States to implement thousands of crow funding platforms all through the African continent, open visa free possibilities all over Africa for all African Americans, African Brazilians, African Asians, African Haitians, African Europeans so that they easily travel across the continent, concentrate also on working with foolish African head of States to multiply African cultural centers in America, Brazil, Jamaica and so forth.
    Well, he can also set up a committee with foolish African head of States to pilot at the African Union the implementation of digital banking solutions which will enable each African State to annually transfer funds to individual African Americans, African Brazilians, African Haitians, African Asians, African Europeans, all of which will just have to register online in African cultural centers based in their countries. Of course you don’t make folk dances or advertisement when you implement such solutions. You just do it silently. You can also channel a portion of the money directly to selected African primary schools, high schools and universities were thy African Americans, African Brazilians, African Asians, all collected from the streets and poor quarters of their countries will come and study for free. Here again funding solutions are too abundant and let us not waist time giving details on simple things (mobile telecommunication companies earning insulting income because of their monopoly situation which weak and corrupted governments cannot control, oil, gas and mines exportations, Africans travelling on airplanes and who will not even feel a small two USD tax on each air trip, billions of bottles of beers drank in Africa per year and which can be taxed a cent per bottle, African dictators funds confiscated by Western banks…).

    What man of you, having an hundred sheep, if he lose one of them, doth not leave the ninety and nine in the wilderness, and go after that which is lost, until he find it?

    In addition to all this we hope that the spiritless African American has now understood the ultimate iniquity of these massive Quantitative Easing (Q.E) through which the FED gave billions upon billions USD to global systemic banks, insurance companies and pension funds while millions of poor African Americans, European Americans and Indian Americans were abandoned to their own poverty. All this happened when the playing Hollywood star was in the White House. Is not this the right definition of treason? Is not this a great shame for Africa? So may be OBAMA will now quickly seize the leadership of a global “Quantitative Easing for People” movement.

    Very good occupations and challenges proposed to the Harvard fellow, hoping that he is able to resurrect and become something more than a spiritless Hollywood star. Can we hope so? Yes we can.

    Shalom to all the nations of the earth.
    Reverend Apostle Joseph TOUBI.