OBAMA’S VISIT TO AFRICA; RECOLLECTIONS
The month of July has been a momentous period for African history. For the very first time, an American president of African descent paid an official visit to the eastern part of the continent, addressed the African Union and enjoyed a home coming.
Amid all joys and fanfare in Kenya, where both presidents of America and Kenya where at their charismatic best, the issue of same sex marriage was certain to be discussed and onlookers watched on with keen interest. Despite urges and pleas from many Kenyan leaders for President Obama not to advocate for gay rights.President Obama refused to their warnings.
While Mr.Obama chose to be quite succinct on the issue, President Kenyatta of Kenya courteously opposed his views by describing it as a “Non-Issue” for Kenyans. “The fact of the matter is that Kenya, the United States, we share so many values, but there are some things we must admit we don’t share- our culture, our societies don’t accept” President Kenyatta explained. Even though one could discern that Mr.Kenyatta seemed to represent the views of the Kenyan mainstream, there seemed to be some form of acknowledgement of opinions from both sides. The American president also cited his concerns on human rights abuses and corruption in Kenya, viewing it as a major obstacle to the development of Kenya.
Similarly, in Addis Ababa, Mr.Obama was blunt in his African Union address. His apple of discord,African leaders’ “sit tight syndrome”.
“Africa’s democratic process is also at risk when leaders refuse to step aside when their terms end” He stated, in a rousing speech that drew rounds of applause from the audience. The president singled out Pierre Nkurunziza, President of Burundi, a central African nation where the president’s third term bid sparked weeks of unrest. To further emphasize this blunt approach,President Obama took a swipe at the dissenting factions in South Sudan,
“In South Sudan, the joy of independence has descended in the despair of violence. Neither Salva Kiir nor Riek Machar have shown any interest so far in sparing their people from this suffering or in reaching a political situation” he said.
Studying the American President’s daring exploits on his visit to Africa, one wonders – why the African audience took it in stride?
Analysts observe that president Obama’s rhetoric on Africa’s social vices, as an American president, would have been viewed by Africans as condescending. However, his ability to present himself as an American president connected to the African cause earned him leeway.
For example he decided to address the issue of gay rights knowing very well the mainstream African consensus on such matters. Despite this,some in the African mainstream seem to understand and respect his position on the matter.
“You know, we took him as an American. He was answering like an American, but according to our African cultures, the Christian beliefs – we say no” explains Ibrahim Lincoln, a Nairobi resident
A second reason could be because he hit at the very heart of Africa’s most pressing issues. As explained by UN worker from Zimbabwe “He touched on all challenges for Africa like the importance of good governance, the fact that this trend of leaders staying in power cannot continue”
Perhaps, it could also be because he,(President Obama) occupies the world’s most powerful office as explained by an Addis Ababa university student “Coming from him, it gives these issues a lot more weight”.
In June 2015, a poll by Richard Wike, a director of global attitudes research at pew research centre scored Obama’s ratings in sub-Saharan Africa as “overwhelmingly positive”.
For these reasons,one can deduce that the American president is a respected figure on the African continent. Obama’s message on his visit this time seems to resonate more with the African populace, particularly with the younger demographic As he hands over the reins of office in 18 months, it is evident that he has cemented his place in the annals of African history. What remains to be seen is the role Obama will choose to play in helping Africa’s evolving democracies after serving as the president of the United States.
Abdulsalam Abdullahi is a law student at the University of Hull. He is also president of its Nelson Mandela society. Follow him on twitter @Shakaabdul