On Life, love and Politics

"Random musings about Life, love and Politics. Just my open diary on the events going on in the world as I see it."

Do Obama’s Roots Inhibit His Africa Policy? June 29, 2009

Filed under: Uncategorized — kikenileda @ 11:08 PM
The 44th President of the United States has a triple ancestral
heritage. Obama is descended from Africans, from Muslims and from
mainstream Americans. In the bid to be elected President of the US,
Barack Obama emphasised his affinity with mainstream Americans, and
underplayed his African and his Muslim ancestry.
Yet, there are
great expectations of his presidency among Muslims and people of
African descent, both within the United States and worldwide. The basis
of such expectations rely on three kinds of credentials.

One set of credentials are existential concerning Obama's own
identity and his personal attributes. Obama's intelligence, his social
and political skills and his personal style of leadership are, of
course, part and parcel of the man.
Also existential is Obama's
African and Muslim ancestry. He is the first United States' president
whose father was born a Muslim and whose grandfather was, by all
accounts, devout in the faith.

Obama is the first president none
of whose names were either European or Jewish. His first name was based
on the Swahili name Baraka (blessing), his second name Hussein is
Arab-Muslim, and his family name Obama is Luo from Kenya. It is to his
credit that Obama never tried to suppress his middle name Hussein,
which was politically risky in the United States.

He is also the
first US President whose childhood education was partly in a Muslim
country, Indonesia. Obama's childhood was also in Hawaii, arguably the
most multicultural part of the US.

His school in Indonesia was
secular and not a traditional madrasa. But his fellow students were
overwhelmingly Muslim, as were indeed the majority of his instructors.
He was exposed to Islam in the human composition of the school if not
necessarily in the syllabi and curriculum.

Next to the
existential criteria for basing our expectations of the Obama
presidency are the credentials of performance itself. Within his first
100 days Obama made no spectacular move to either Africa or Black
America other than expressing concern over the crisis of Darfur in the
Sudan and offering to assist in the quest for solving the problem.

But
although his Afro-oriented gestures in his first 100 days were modest,
Obama's moves in the Muslim world were more substantial. His first
major television interview for foreign audiences was with Arabiya
television network targeting the Arab world. He also addressed the
people of Iran on their national day, extending America's hand of
goodwill if Iran would "unclench its own fist."

For the
Arab-Israeli conflict President Obama appointed as his envoy the former
majority leader in the US Senate, George Mitchell, an experienced
mediator and negotiator who had successfully mediated the Good Friday
Agreement for Northern Ireland in 1998. Senator Mitchell has Lebanese,
as well as Irish ancestry.

Obama also appointed Richard Holbrook,
another experienced and distinguished mediator, as special envoy for
both Pakistan and Afghanistan. Obama also invited the Presidents of
both Afghanistan and Pakistan to join him at the White House early in
May for more fundamental evaluation of their joint policies towards the
Taliban insurgents in both countries and towards general struggle
against Muslim extremists.

Although the government of Israel
which came to power early this year was at best lukewarm about a
two-state solution to the Israel-Palestinian problem, the Obama
administration has emphasised to both the Israelis and the Arabs that a
two-state solution is still the policy of the US. Vice-President Joseph
Biden has also emphasised the two-state approach to Jewish audiences
within the US.

Obama's policy towards Africa has been less
noteworthy than his moves towards the Muslim world. The President may
feel inhibited precisely because his father was not only an African but
also a citizen of an African country.
Obama may be cautious not to
betray either racial nepotism or a manifest bias towards Africa. When
faced with a dilemma between helping Kenya and helping Bangladesh,
Obama may feel compelled to help Bangladesh as a poorer and more
deserving supplicant for American aid.

Given such considerations
as these, would Africa have been better off if Hillary Clinton had been
elected President of the United States instead of Barack Obama?

*Prof. Mazrui teaches political science and African studies at State University New York, Binghampton.

 

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