Not the president from Kogelo
Barack Obama may be sympathetic to
The question and answer capture his complex relationship to Africa via Kenya. His symbolism demands that he be a global leader who will bring a measure of peace and well-being to the third world, and therefore
Yet I do not think the hope placed on Obama by Africans is misplaced. Obama knows Africa like no other
But he cannot be a
Where Obama might increase foreign aid to Africa, what Africa needs is an elimination of US farm subsidies. The subsidies cost African countries more in lost revenue due to depressed markets than it gets in foreign aid. In fact, Oxfam estimates that African countries lose two dollars through unequal trade for every dollar it gets in foreign aid. What
Obama has expressed support for Bush's Africa Growth Opportunity Act (AGOA), which creates "export processing zones" where manufactured goods are shipped to the
Obama supports the US Africa Command (Africom), an attempt to unify US military operations in Africa. But
Obama might not engage in revenge wars. But as he himself says, he wants to end the war in Iraq to better hunt down terrorists in
Pepfar, George Bush's HIV/Aids initiative captures Obama's Africa dilemma well. Bush undermined Pepfar by tying faith-based initiatives to it while being beholden to pharmaceutical companies. This meant promoting programmes that preached abstinence rather than condoms as the first defence, while at the same time maximising profit for the drug companies. Understanding faith-based initiatives as impractical, Obama has signalled that he will end them, a good move in and of itself.
But Aids is also an emergency in Africa. Under the WTO's rules, patents can legally be broken to avert human catastrophe. While stressing prevention, generic Aids drugs need to be manufactured cheaply and locally if the epidemic is to have less deadly consequences. But it is unlikely Obama will go far as to challenge patent laws. And it would be unrealistic to expect him to.
Closing the gap between what Obama promises and what Africa needs will have to be the work of Africans. We have to take Obama at his word when he says "we are the ones we have been waiting for". Change in Africa has to be bottom up, not top-down.
Africans have to ask their governments to grow a backbone and challenge disastrous patent laws, the militarisation of US-Africa relations and unequal trade while demanding social and economic justice within Africa.
Given Obama's African roots, his internationalism and his politics that have underlined fairness, Africans will at least have a sympathetic ear in the White House. But to paraphrase John F Kennedy, another young president fraught with the contradiction of promise and practice: Ask not what Obama can do for you, but what you can do for the world.