President Barack Obama is currently visiting Africa, the second he would be making since he became president in 2008. On the previous occasion, which was soon after he became president he chose to visit Ghana.
The significance of the visit was not lost on anyone because no US president had ever visited the continent so soon after taking office, an indication that Africa, in their perception was not really central to global affairs. It is seen as a continent plagued by many woes, since they did not want to start their tenures dealing with other peoples’ self inflicted problems they had decided to keep away.
But President Barack Obama had to come. It would have been un -African not to do so; indeed those steeped in tradition would even deem it sacrilegious bordering on abomination. Thankfully, the African blood running in his veins had directed him correctly, so he came. But he chose Ghana, not his native Kenya, perhaps, as his way of saying anywhere in Africa is home. But nonetheless it was a choice that had not gone down well with more a few of the cousins in Kenya who probably must have chuckled at what seemed to them like a slap in the face.
It was just as well that he came because soon as it emerged that an Africa son had emerged as a front-runner to become the US president, a groundswell of African collective wish for good fortune arose from all nooks and crannies to invoke the benevolent African mind to give him victory. It was an enterprise that everyone chipped in including the marabous, babalawos (genuine and fake), malams –and all manner of claimants of clairvoyance and fortune tellers! Barack Obama got to know that there was a popular goodwill in Africa wishing him well and working for his success. The Ghana visit was therefore to say thank you all.
In Ghana, he had looked trim and athletic; he gave a speech that was vintage Obama to the approbation and ovation of everyone present, including sitting presidents and heads of states whose discomfort was palpable because his speech was directed at them. He told them they had failed and let their peoples down by lack of performance in government but also boldly told them they were thieves, brigands and bullies who come to power just only so to feather their own nests. And immediately after the speech he quickly made a bee-line back home to his post in Washington to grapple with the dire economic straits George W. Bush had left behind.
So 4 years after, he has deemed it appropriate to come again. Again Kenya is not included in his itinerary, neither has he included Nigeria, arguably Africa foremost country. But this time around he will be visiting Senegal, South Africa and Tanzania. Asked why Nigeria has again been conspicuously overlooked, US Deputy National Security Adviser, Ben Rhodes made vague references to Nigeria’s security challenges and noted that not visiting Nigeria takes nothing away from the perception of the Obama administration that Nigeria remains the key to Africa’s rapid development.
It is instructive that security or lack of it has been underscored as a reason why Nigeria is not on Obama’s itinerary. It is a reason no one can fault, anything contrary would have amounted to, at least in the eyes of the Americans, a death wish. Never mind that scores of US citizens come and go as they chose unfettered without any threat to their lives at all in Nigeria. Still, when it comes to the US president nothing can be left to chance, particularly with his wife and two daughters—Mala and Shasha in tow on the journey this time around. It is good to see the two girls blossom into ladies in these 4 years, they first came to world attention during the inauguration of their father as president when, as mere children they looked on as their father took the oath of office and later joined the long procession to the White House. For them the visit would amount to a poignant home coming to the ancestral land and a first- hand knowledge of where African -American journey started from. The visit to the slave camp in Senegal was therefore an appropriate beginning for them. It is hoped the journey would whet their appetite enough to make them want to come back some day.
Other reasons could be adduced for Barack Obama’s itinerary. Security challenge has been given for the exclusion of Nigeria. To this should be added organised corruption in high echelon of government and a general perception that even though a semblance of democracy seems to be in place complete with its ponderous institutions, a huge question mark hangs over the process from which it evolved. The electoral process, though vastly improved of late but it is a long way away from attaining the desired state capable of stopping it from being subverted for selfish undemocratic ends.
On the other hand Senegal and before that Ghana that he has visited have become bywords for transparent democratic tenets and good governance. Indeed Senegal has been ruled democratically for over 50 years and never witnessed any coups. As for Ghana, ever since it embraced democracy, it has resolved to stick to its best practices. As for South Africa, it is on the itinerary because it deserves to be. Not only has it left behind its odious past of racial bigotry but since 1994 when democratic rule was installed it has been smooth sailing with its tenets intact devoid of vengeance and vendetta that doomsayers predicted. Majority rule of the Blacks under the African National Congress (ANC) has been a good advertisement for how to build a multi-racial society devoid of rancour and retribution.
The various races in South Africa have become welded together from its broken and splintered state under apartheid into a mosaic of peoples enjoying equal freedom, opportunities and possibilities. Obama, well aware of the struggle that achieved such a hallowed feat has now come to pay it homage. Similar feat had been wrought back home in the US which paved way for him to be able to attain his current position. It is fitting therefore to lend his presence and support to such a glorious enterprise for people who had done and still doing what he himself is engaged in back home—to empower the weak and the disadvantaged and build an egalitarian society.
It is even more fitting to pay his respects to the Madiba- one person who made it all possible through personal sacrifice, particularly at a time when his mortality challenged.