Obama – an infantile morbid ‘black’ President

By Lovemore Ranga Mataire

I WAS ONE of the millions of global viewers who followed on television the much-anticipated US President Barack Obama’s farewell speech in Chicago last Wednesday early morning (Zimbabwe time).

And like some of the viewers, my anticipation crest was shrunken with disillusionment at the end of the speech.  The man, who once personified hope and change, stuttered to locate his legacy in the annals of both American and global history.

Not only was the speech uninspiring.  It was glaringly deficient in substantive matters of governance.

The man, who dared to change the course of history, had in eight years turned into a sad relic of a redundant individual that reminded one of Macbeth’s “tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing”.

It was a shocking spectacle to witness a once vibrant presidential aspirant failing to find the appropriate words at the onset of his speech, as if his tongue had been clipped by an unfathomable force. And when he finally got into the groove, he simply skirted the gritty stuff of his “Hope and Change” campaign mantra and dwelt more on personal family matters.

But Americans being Americans, the audience was swept away in the emotion of the moment as he recounted the “intimate” and unwavering support he got from his wife Michelle Obama during his reign. As usual, the trademark teardrop was to punctuate the emotions with his eldest daughter Malia literally sobbing as her dad heaped praises on her and Sasha (who was absent) for being exemplary children.

The speech would not have ended without acknowledging his running mate – Vice President Joe Biden – whom he described as a brother and a family friend. These were the moments of the speech that seemed to have endeared his audience and will surely be recounted by most Americans as the exemplification of Obama’s uniquely humane qualities as just another guy from downtown Chicago.

Yet when the “real” history is retold, Obama would always be remembered as one who promised so much and delivered little. In other words, history will remember him as one who rode on a wave of melodious oratory that for eight years he failed to galvanise into the real change desperately desired by the Americans.

By his own admission, democracy has never been “self-executed” despite it being “self-evident”. The recent defeat of fellow party member Hillary Clinton by a rabble-rouser megalomaniac must have been a bitter phlegm to his last speech, as he is often accused of failing to consolidate his presidential victory into building a solid Democratic Party.

In short, Obama’s legacy remains vulnerable to multiple interpretations. Not only did he fail to effect significant changes within the black communities, he literally failed to rally his own party into a strong entity and had to constantly rely on executive orders. It is these executive orders that face a certain assault and dismantling by the Donald Trump administration.

I watched in sadness as the one who held so much promise for the world, struggled to salvage something from his tattered legacy. He mentioned just five items that he most likely thought were his milestones: the Cuban diplomatic manoeuvres, the Iran nuclear deal, marriage equality, the killing of Osama bin Laden and the Affordable Care Act often referred to as the Obamacare.

While the audience intermittently responded uproariously to his speech, nothing was forgotten of the promises that Obama made and failed to deliver.

He failed to overhaul the nation’s immigration laws, failed to enact effective gun control measures, failed to close the Guantanamo Bay and failed to create a better understanding between America and Africa, or even the West and Africa.

Of course, it would have been folly to expect Obama to have a fundamental shift in terms of his country’s foreign policy towards Africa.

But Africans would surely be forgiven for thinking that as a son of a Kenyan with African blood coursing through his body, he would be in a better position to understand and appreciate Africa’s standpoint better than all his predecessors.

Writing in the August/September 2009 New African magazine soon after Obama’s first official visit to Sub-Saharan Africa in Ghana, veteran Ghanaian journalist Cameron Duodu captured the dilemma confronting Africa’s only son to sit in the Oval Office in Washington DC.         

In his article, Duodu suggested that if Obama was to learn to do anything meaningful to address Africa’s hopes, he needed to unlearn a lot about Africa and re-educate his fellow G8 leaders.

“For what Africa needs, and asks for, is an overturning of an economic system that gives a Kenyan coffee grower 0.2 percent of the proceeds from coffee, while Western coffee traders pocket the rest.

It is a second slavery that Africa is suffering and its effects – widespread hunger, killer diseases like malaria and HIV/AIDS – are every bit as devastating to the African population as chattel slavery.

In other words, Duodu’s beef with Obama is that he should have made good his legacy by forgetting about the conventional economic aid for aid is “only a ‘band-aid’ plastered on an ulcer that demands a far more skillful healing hand.”

Many Africans would surely agree with Duodu that what Obama ought to have done not only for Africa but the entire developing world was to use his enormous powers of communication to lead and continually engage opinion, in the G8, to eliminate and transform the whole system of exchanging products in the world.

Africa is currently grappling with a “locked” system, which makes it a mere price-taker and no matter how hard Africans toil, their capacity to sustain themselves economically depends not on their efforts, but on what happens in the countries where the commodities they produce are consumed.

Kenya (where Obama’s father came from), is one of the 40 nations that produce coffee with an estimated revenue of US$35 billion.

It ranks as the biggest industry in the world after petroleum.

However, the saddest thing is that while the petroleum producing countries are rich because of the way they have managed to transform themselves into price-givers, coffee producers remain poor because they remain price-takers.

The mathematics is simple. Of any £42 charged for a cappuccino in a British coffee shop, an average Kenyan farmer gets less than 2 pence and in the same vein a US$3 cup of latte drunk in the US yields only 3 cents to the farmer in Africa. This is as bad as slavery. The argument that if Obama wanted to push for a fair international trade deal for Africa he would, is nothing but hogwash. He pumped US$700 billion of America’s taxpayers’ money into AIG and other financial reprobates to save them from the bankruptcy and read the riot act to General Motors. All these are indications that he could have gone an extra mile in also striking a fair deal for Africa if so wished. It is not a farfetched proposition that to some in Africa, Obama’s legacy is nothing but a mirage; one caricaturised by Frantz Fanon sharp pen in Black                                Skin, White Mask.

January 2017
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