Go Home Yankee!
Obama’s fruitless trip to Africa
Johannesburg – In fairly common terms, US President Barack Obama’s visit to Africa can be described thus: he came, he saw, he did not conquer.
In fact, Obama’s visit to Senegal, South Africa and Tanzania could largely be forgettable.
Though going to just three of Africa’s 54 countries, the visit was trumpeted as his second “tour of the continent”.
A Gallup poll showed that President Obama “face(d) residents who have lost some faith in US leadership.”
It was expensive too, gobbling a reported US$60-100 million in security and logistics.
In South Africa, the biggest of his three-legged visit, his arrival was overshadowed by the “big” story of the moment: Former President Nelson Mandela’s health.
As such, Obama was treated to a wintry welcome by South African students, workers and other groups.
Ahead of his arrival on June 28, South Africa’s Communist Party, the Confederation of South African Trade Unions, the South African Students Congress and the South African Muslim Students Association, among others, staged a protest in Tshwane.
Hundreds turned out for the demonstration at a sports ground near the hospital where Mandela lay.
The following day the protestors went a gear up, picketing at the University of Johannesburg’s Soweto Campus as the institution prepared to bestow an honorary degree on Obama.
United under the “UJ, no you can’t honour Obama” coalition, the “Nobamas” protested loudly against the American President.
“As the University of Johannesburg,” said Levi Masete, who is the Students Representative Council leader, “we reject the decision to honour a man that has made unpopular mistakes … (and has) continued American imperialism”
The students’ body withdrew its allotted five representatives from Obama’s meeting with South African youth and civil society groups.
Protestors wanted Obama arrested for alleged US war crimes in Afghanistan and Iraq, its complicity in Israeli apartheid against Palestinians, and for involvement in the murder of Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi.
“Our message is simple and straightforward: Obama should not have been allowed in our country,” Joseph Morallana, SACP treasurer for Gauteng province told The Southern Times.
“Obama is the opposite of Mandela whom he says is his role model,” he said.
Another protestor, Robert Ditlopo (26), agreed: “What he stands for – Israel and apartheid – is what leaders like Robert Sobukwe stood against.”
Ruwaidah Valley (50) said she did not represent any organisation but came of her own volition to voice her anger at Obama’s wars.
“He is a war criminal who should not have been allowed in South Africa,” she said. “He has allowed drone strikes against innocent civilians. He wiped out an entire village in Yemen…he is responsible for the rape, pillage and plunder of innocent civilians all over the world especially in Afghanistan and Iraq and he assists Israel in Palestine.”
Protestors also decried the continued existence of Guantanamo Bay prison, a notorious facility that is illegally housed on Cuban territory and where terror suspects have been held for years without trial.
They demanded the release of the Cuban 5 – five Cuban nationalists who have been unfairly imprisoned in the US for well over a decade – and the lifting of the sanctions on Cuba and Zimbabwe.
Demonstrators sang struggle songs and chanted, “Away with Obama, Away,” as well as, “Go home Yankee!”
Among the protestors was 10-year-old Thabiso Madibela from Orange farm, who raised his fist in the Amandla (power) salute along with hundreds of adults who showed up to defy American imperialism.
Police dispersed protestors – with a stun gun being fired – a full hour before Obama arrived at the University of Johannesburg.
They had to contend with shouting and singing vociferously some 500m from the campus perimeter.
But the protests followed Obama a day later to Cape Town, and this time they hurled shoes at him in the age-old Muslim tradition of expressing disgust and anger.
As soon as Obama landed in Africa he got onto his hobby horse – promoting gay rights.
In Senegal on June 27, Obama referred to same-sex marriages as a “victory for American democracy”.
But Senegalese President Macky Sall rebuffed Obama’s call for Africans to give gays equal rights under the law.
“We are still not ready to decriminalise homosexuality,” Sall was quoted by AP as saying. “This does not mean we are homophobic.”
Back home, some analysts felt Obama’s trip had been an expensive – and ineffectual – PR stunt.
“President Barack Obama's trip to Africa has largely been ignored by the US media, and for good reason: it seems to have no real purpose,” is how Joel B Pollack, editor-in-chief at Breitbart News, described the visit.
“While attention to Africa is long overdue, the President is announcing no new strategy, concluding no significant agreements – merely announcing a new investment in African power generation, which African companies are arguably capable of funding and carrying out themselves.
“Much of his trip to Senegal, South Africa and Tanzania consists of sightseeing with his family – and an entourage of 1 000, at a cost to taxpayers of US$60 to US$100 million.”
He noted, for example, the reason Obama gave reporters for visiting Cape Town.
It was “to teach them (his family) about Mandela's role in overcoming white racist rule”.
Pollack remarked: “Could such a trip not have waited until after his term in office, or been taken at the Obamas' own expense, without the trade delegations, diplomats, advance teams and valets – to say nothing of the cost to local law enforcement in South Africa? …
“Perhaps the US media is largely ignoring Obama's trip because reporting what he is actually doing – waxing poetic about his early political life, shuttling his family around by helicopter, greeting adoring crowds (and dodging angry protests) – would be a great embarrassment … Obama has little interest in governing but ‘clings to the narcissistic life of the Presidency’ – at a time of political and economic turmoil, when leadership is sorely lacking.
“One hopes, at least, that the expensive memories will last.”