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Africa and Obama’s second term

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How the newly re-elected US president is not the solution but the problem for Africa

Last week, Barak Obama was re-elected president of the United States. Since his first election in 2008, many African elites were happy that at least “one of us” has won the presidency of the world’s only, albeit declining, superpower. Behind this “one of us” label lies hope that Obama, being “black”, would do more to “help” Africa fix its problems like dictatorship, poverty, corruption and bad government. And it seems from his rhetoric during his first election campaigns that he would try to “fix” Africa. Nothing is scarier about Obama than this ambition.

No Western leader would enjoy as much legitimacy as Obama if he attempted to “solve” Africa’s problems. Obama’s actions would enjoy widespread support in Africa and the Western world for two main reasons. First, his African ancestry gives him “racial legitimacy” – both in Africa and the Western world – to act since he is seen as “one of us” or “their own” depending on which side of the Atlantic you sit. Second, his little experience with his Kenyan family combined with his personal hubris has given Obama confidence that he understands Africa and its ills better than his predecessors.


Indeed, Western attempt to solve Africa’s problems, however well intentioned in their aims and however grandiose in their idealism, are part of the problem not the solution for our continent. This is because any Western leader would come with a set of assumptions and prejudices about the source of our failures – corruption, bad leadership and lack of democracy. When I was young and intelligent, I treated these assumptions as manifest truth. Now that I have grown old and stupid, I see them as symptoms of a more complex structural problem.

Here is my first point: It is unlikely that Obama will sit around a table with a group of African politicians, businesspersons, civil society activists and civil servants to craft a solution for Africa. Even if this were done, it would only be ceremonial. Therefore, the blueprint to fix our continent would be designed in Washington by people who know a lot theoretically about Africa but have little or no experience with actual practical complexities of its politics. To attempt a large-scale plan from such a position is the stuff that most delusions are born of.

Secondly, many people from the West come with a set of assumptions about institutions and policies that have worked well in the West and think these can be replicated in Africa to produce similar results. This view is supported by a large number of African intellectuals and lies at the heart of our continent’s problems. We ignore the fact that these policies and institutions that have served the West so well were born of a specific context. It involved changing technology, which fostered structural change giving birth to political contests by emergent social groups. The resultant political contests took place in a specific set of values, norms and traditions and these produced a set of institutions and policies to respond to those realities.

Subtract all these processes and pick the end result, the institutions, and then copy and paste them unto a continent with a different social structure, history, skills, culture, norms – name it – and think it can work. That is one of the major delusions of all large-scale domestic or foreign-engineered change. I add “domestic” projects because I am acutely aware of some large-scale projects of national transformation like Ujaama that were locally bred and turned out to be a disaster. So the fact that something is locally generated does not automatically make it desirable.

For many years, the West, with the support of African intellectuals has attempted various projects of modernising Africa by replicating Western values, norms and institutions often with disastrous results. But the advocates of this “modernisation” project never give up. The 1980s and 90s Structural Adjustment Programs were one such experiment. These experiments lacked legitimacy because their promoters were largely white. Therefore, fear of being accused of racism tended to moderate their actions.

However, Obama is not restrained by such accusations. Being “black” and of African origins, he enjoys near-unanimous support on our continent. Local elites, frustrated at their inability to influence their destiny, have been waiting for a messiah from the West, especially America, to do for them by diktat what they need to do through political struggle i.e. dictate the pace and direction of change.  Now these local intellectual elites have someone with the necessary legitimacy, born almost entirely of his assumed racial identity, to do this work.

Armed with an ideology that believes in the use of government power to promote social change, combined with his personal sense of destiny to change the world, Obama is the kind of man to attempt a large-scale experiment of social engineering in Africa. He loves to preach, to lecture and to guide. His messianic image of himself as the solver of every problem using government presents our nations a very big challenge. I admit that a lot of Obama’s ambitions in Africa are shared by a large cross section of our intellectuals. They would need a Gestapo to implement them.

Here is my point: our problems are largely (certainly not entirely) domestically generated, as are the demands to solve them. Often the problem has been that in trying to shape solutions to them, we rely too much on imported theories. The mismatch between suggested solutions and actual realities on the ground has been a major cause of failure on our continent.

Africa’s problems are primarily political, born of a complex web or power relationships from the village to the city. They cannot be solved by foreign diktat. Only domestic political struggle can. Foreign assistance is vital but can only succeed if it seeks to support local agents of change. When foreign assistance comes with solutions like those Obama outlined in his 2009 speech in Accra, then we are back on a slippery slope. In such circumstances, the best Obama can do for Africa is to fold his hands and do nothing. Africa’s savior may be the continuation of the economic crisis in America, which may divert Obama’s next big plan for our continent.

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Comments (31)Add Comment
How typically pessimistic, sad and despondent
written by Ocheto, November 17, 2012
Yeah so let’s just stand around, who cares? Mwenda you have nothing constructive to say or do; you've become more and more irrelevant. Go get some sleep or take a vacation, or retire. The fact is nobody has a crystal ball on how to solve complex problems. But that by no means, suggests that they shouldn't be trying. Just as foreigners have no clue as to how to solve Africa's complex problems so do Africans have no clues. This notion that just because you are born and bred in Africa you necessarily have a clue or monopoly of how to solve "your" local problems is a canard perpetrated by local politicians to hoodwink the people into sleepily following their prejudiced dictates while they monopolize power.
Is it envy?
written by Rajab Kakyama, November 17, 2012
There is a lot of rubbish in this article. From the start, why should anyone of some substance, have the slightest idea of writing about Obama being Africa's savior? It is this same intellectual inadequacy that breeds such idealism that any hope for Africa is from without. Secondly, Africa is largely the making of the whites (Western civilization) it will necessitate the rewriting of history to make Africa's solutions domestic. That does not suggest that we should sit back and hold our hands, no, it only suggests that we should give a global perspective to Africa's solutions. If for instance we have governments in Africa, so does the rest of the world. the problems therein might be of different magnitudes but the form remains the same.
written by Omeros, November 18, 2012
Boy is someone upset about a certain election result! I don't think that Obama ever made 'solving' the Manifold Problems of Africa a policy priority of his administration. Alleviating African poverty - a 'scar on the conscience of the world' - was Tony Blair's moral beat; but it's not Obama's. So I do not understand where the charge of presidential hybris comes from. Furthermore, I am not aware of any African political initiative whose proposed means of finding success is to wait patiently for Barack Obama to notice said initiative and to magic that initiative into being. In what elite circles do you mingle where such thinking represents the intellectual currency? Perhaps you need to canvass a broader section of elite opinion.
written by Omeros, November 18, 2012
Most African policymakers are not captured by magical thinking. They did not think that Barack Obama would get them laid. Or that he shares a political affinity with them which arises out of a sense of racial solidarity or whatever. They rightly regard Obama much as they regarded his predecessors - as an American pursuing American interests. He is not Africa's protector nor has he ever claimed to be. His policy positions on Africa resemble in all material respects those of George Walker Bush. Which is why I don't understand the claim that Obama 'has a personal sense of destiny to change the world' and is the type 'to attempt a large-scale experiment of social engineering in Africa'. I mean, really? Has anybody informed the State Department about this coming experiment?
written by Omeros, November 18, 2012
After everything you have seen of Obama's first term and the resemblance of his initiatives to those championed by Eisenhower and Rockerfeller, that's your take?!! That he's a dangerous radical? Look, I get that you don't like Obama because he offends your libertarian sensibilities. But at least have the decency to attack him for the right reasons or even for reasons.
written by winnie, November 18, 2012
Ocheto and Rajab you know a good analysist is one who makes comments and guys fail to comprehend coz they r dense what Andrew is saying is what exactly you r saying. what i understand from what he written is that Africa's problems can be solved partly by Africans but not imposing polices from overseas that may not work effectively here.
unless. you r reading this article in your local language you want Andrew to write about Beyonce, Rihana, Kim Kardisian,Chris Brown, that's if you know them anyway .you better stop farting/gasing on this page if you have nothing to do
written by King Henry VIII, November 18, 2012
What is thos article about? Andrew, you always have good sense but this time you dropped the ball. I thought this article was about Obama's re-election, then it meandered into Africa's problems and their invisible solutions. By the way Mwenda, did it ever occur to you that the west influences Africa's political decision by at least 95% of the time?
written by Gen Adam kifaliso, November 18, 2012
Winnie , I can see you are not as good as Andrew , such language is not acceptable here , even Bad Black your business partner cant sound like that , anyways we are used to you women sounding like that ,Andrew's article is ambiguous and self-confusing ,Andrew needs to know that democracy is not static , democracy is dynamic and we as humans we are always improving the way we live and interact with others . Andrew has benefited from the chaos in Uganda and he is now advocating for it , Its a shame that it took only 10 yrs to destroy Andrew's brains , in the civilised world men at Andrew;s usually become more clever and human
written by Watmon Mike Kinyerra, November 18, 2012
In all honesty, I think the article is and can be mutually exclusive from one's thought, political inclination or supposed neutrality. The article is about 1) underpinning the fact that Africa's growth and development will no be cured by some magic bullet from outer space; be that bullet disguised as Obama. 2) recognition of the local causative problems of Africa; which many anime spiral out of control by brief case carriers who are as conversant of Africa's probelem as an Acholi goat is of Greenlands climatic situation. These are truisms and it's a fact and a reality of nature. In fact we are back square to where Adam Smith left us, " it is not from the baker, the brewer, the butcher that we expect our supper but form their selfish regard of their own interests."
written by ronnie mkidi, November 19, 2012
Sometimes people who know or claim to know a lot can say and write things that lead you to think they probably know nothing. Despite studying in the US and visiting the same country many times (something this journalist proudly keeps talking about), Mwenda does not seem to know Africa is not and cannot be a US president’s business whether that president is half-African, black American or white.
written by ronnie mkidi, November 19, 2012

The things that top the TO-DO list of a US president are mainly to with (a) the economy, (b) national security and (c) geopolitical interests. Africa would have been part of Obama’s to-do list if it mattered as far as those three are concerned. But it doesn’t. I think the journalist’s article ought to have made a case against optimism among some African elites that a ‘black’ US president can help fix African problems. Last but definitely not least, Mwenda should tell us in detail about solutions he thinks are suitable for African problems rather than simply telling us Western solutions can’t work.
Come off it, winnie!
written by Asiimwe Jade , November 19, 2012
winnie, please, if you do not have anything of intellect to say, say nothing at all.If all that comes to your mind is Beyonce, Rihanna and Chris Brown, you sure are communicating in a wrong newspaper. Please do not confuse the Independent with Red Pepper, where you kind of thinking belongs. What a disgrace to today's womanhood you are, winnie ... sorry I forgot, you are the kind of Ugandan females who exude boda boda mentality. Please leave the Independent to the intellectuals, to whom I think this newspaper belongs.
To Asiimwe Jade and Afande Adam
written by winnie, November 19, 2012
I don't enjoy what i say n i know this page is meant for brilliant guys but if you find confused guys like Ocheto,Rajab Lt Adam n you Asiimwe Jade what do you do you also go down the drain with them.Jade You must have just got off a bus from Rukungiri 1st pay the money obey has taken n settle down make sure cars don't knock you. am a disgrace to women if you have ever married me then you know what you r saying. BodaBoda guys have stamina if u didnt know. that e.g of Bad black is too stale n it does not bother me at all.
The Re-election was a Validation
written by Ocheto, November 19, 2012
In a way the relection was more important than the first, which was more sentimental. The relection is an acknowledgement that the first election was not a fluke -- indeed American electorate and thus American society may have changed. Whether it was Libya or whatever, Mwenda has always been negative -- typical of so-called African intellectuals. Hey, even the inverterately arrogant Museveni who was boasting that Uganda doesn't need interference or meddlers from the outside has made a U-turn and is now begging for help. Uganda can't even contain Ebola let alone handle floods and their effects on the country due to global warming. But they are cancelling all African obligations because of UN criticism?
written by Gen Adam kifaliso, November 20, 2012
Dear Winnie , your co-worker ,Shanita Namuyimbwa is looking for 100 million Shs to enable her to travel to Dubai and attend a ''Breast Clinic'', please inform Andrew if he can only help in anyways he can like , a presidential jet , red passport, VIP lounge, police escort ,customs and airport fee,Shannita will be very grateful .Andrew can also book her in his next trip to Somalia via Dubai which I understand is not far away .Winnie please help Shanita , she needs help and your prayers , thanks and God bless you
written by Immaculate Nambi, November 20, 2012
Africa is primarily Africa's problem. The rest of the world are only secondary "duty-bearers" so to speak, and majorly out of a sense of moral obligation. I challenge Andrew, as an African, to come up with a solution to one of Africa's biggest problems, i.e., corruption and have this forum discuss it. Ii should be a solution this time- not an explanation/justification as to why African presidents ( read Museveni) cannot do without corruption.
To Afande Adam
written by winnie, November 20, 2012
You r really expired no one feels you anymore better go and catch nsenene you think when u r on this page Obama is watching u bambi. i would be toooo stupidddddd to answer such nonsense at least bad black was more hard working than Amin she managed to work for 11bn that was higher than the GDP of Uganda during amin's rule better relax.
To Dear Friend Winnie
written by Gen Adam kifaliso, November 20, 2012
Winnie I can see and understand your agony since Shanitta was granted bail , I also spotted you wearing some her business outfits at Serena Hotel trying to steal some of Shanitta's clientele , as for corruption it is still going on , m7 is to inaugurate the construction of a new road to Munyonyo his resting place and business premises , but the only bridge on the Nile vital for transport to Uganda , Rwanda , DRC and Tanzania . the new road has no commercial value but gangs like those in OPM are most interested in compensation money and some affected families have been mysteriously murdered and land titles transfer ed to dubious owners , shame , a grand mother was murdered with 3 of the orphans she was looking after
written by David Williams, November 20, 2012
The problems Africa is faced with exist every where in the world. The difference between Africa's problems and those of the developed nations is that while those countries have limited the damage extensively, Africa has chosen to give God some work i.e surrender all your problems to me. So we are waiting on God to work his miracle as usual. Unfortunately the miracles are not coming quick enough.
written by Steven Nsubuga, November 20, 2012
I am amazed by a display of selfishness made by Mwenda to advance his benefactors greed and selfish ends. I know that Mr. Mwenda is worshipped by some of his followers as an intellectual. In this article, Mwenda himself acknowledges the fact that he has indeed grown stupid. Mwenda, you may have thought you are being sarcastic but truly you have become stupid. I would submit to you that indeed Mobutu would have made similar arguments. The very same arguments would've been made by apartheid South Africa and Mandela would still be in jail. In both cases, solutions were arrived at from foreign intervention!
written by Steven Nsubuga, November 20, 2012
If the Egyptians and Libyans took your advice their dictators would still be arround. The fact is, the world has become so interdependent that no one country can afford to solve its shortcomings without help from others. This is more true in Africa than in any other place. For we have shown the least talent in leadership, management, human rights and governance of our own affairs. The peddlers of home grown solutions like Mr.Mwenda are indeed the beneficiaries of this confusion, hence the argument of home solution...for without foreign help, hell no way change will come from with in. With assurance of no foreign intervention, how in the hell will Museveni ever scede power? Mwenda...we see through your selfishness Mwenda
Taste- less.
written by Mulisa Emmanuel, November 20, 2012
It's only Mwenda who expected some thing from his black mate Obama. Andrew, however, u should have stopped at"How the newly re-elected US president is not the solution but the problem for Africa", and then go on to prove it by demonstrating well how. Mwenda, u ar the one who publicised the influence of Obama in Kadhafi's death. How else would he become a solution after killing the AU financer?
written by Okech, November 21, 2012
Dear Mwenda,
Its good you say that you are now "stupid". In your view, good governance is not good for Africa, transparency is not good for Africa, term limits are not good for Africa, accountability is not good for Africa, but corruption is good, militarization is good, tribalism is good, nepotism is good. Ghana, Tanzania, South Africa have done poorer than Uganda. And your own blue-print??? With this, i pray for this country!
written by kintu aqurams giggs, November 23, 2012
Obama is just another human in the hands of the most protected cottage white house but due to africans thinking that people will always help them out its just the truth of what mwenda is addressing which is real its time for us to forget about obama just like how united arab emirates worked out its way to development wihtout obama so what cant we do
Universal things are universal
written by Marvin ya Kuku, November 23, 2012
Replicate western values? How is this even relevant. We want democracy, clean water, education, health, peace, freedom. These are universal values. Why did Ujama fail? What has race got to do with solving africa's problems. We have thosuands of Obama's here. Which is it? usa black or UG man? If outsiders are useless helping africa then why not Muntu? Or Mao? If racism stopped whites from being full throttle in their development work may I just say racism is stopping you from acknowledging the real problem. I would also add tribalism in your case
Old,stupid and corrupt
written by James, November 23, 2012
Some times I wonder who will save Africans from their primitive ways of doing stuff? Africans leaders who grew up rearing cows and s**titing in the bush can not bring fundamental changes.They're primitive in their mindset to think that only their family genes were blessed to rule for ever a poor country. Is it rocket science to respect peoples votes, build good roads,provide good health services, have term limits, the list goes on?.If African presidents are not part of the solution, then THEY ARE THE PART OF THE PROBLEM.
written by Masajage, December 01, 2012
I am truly disappointed by this article. President Obama is a very clear communicator. He pronounced his Africa policy in his inauguration speech. He clearly stated that Afriica's development was entirely the responsibility of Africans. He also stated that the era of Africa's strongmen were on the wrong side of history. He was also clear that he will stand with those leaders who work to build democracy based on strong institutions. He never volunteered to re-engineer Africa. Mwenda you are so off. I agree with your statement "you have become stupid".
written by Jason, December 15, 2012
'Africa’s savior may be the continuation of the economic crisis in America, which may divert Obama’s next big plan for our continent.

Quite the opposite. And you accuse us in the West of naivety regarding the DRC. smilies/tongue.gif The reason for AFRICOM and drones spying in Africa (amazing that you do not mention this by the way) has a lot to do with America's economic crisis and it's declining hegemony, in a couple of words, they're becoming increasingly irrational.

written by Bongomin Morris, December 18, 2012
Americans went through their state development on their own crafting their own solutions to different problems. Sycophants had no place at the top, only serious politicians with equal measures were at the helms.

But having the kind of people like you driving events in Uganda in particular and Africa in general where do you think Obama can start from?
written by writing essay, December 24, 2012
Hi there just wanted to give you a quick heads up.The words in your article seem to be running off the screen in Safari.I’m not sure if this is a formatting issue or something to do with web browser compatibility but I figured I’d post to let you know. The style and design look great though! Hope you get the problem resolved soon. Many thanks
written by tutoring services, January 30, 2013
He has four more years in office. Let's see if he up the notch on his efforts on Africa. But maybe instead of raising hope for Obama, maybe you can raise yourselves up and do the things you think your country needs. Just my two cents.

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