Africa after Obama: Sins of ancestors and neighbours don't have to be ours (Daily Nation (Kenya))

This is the week when, probably, Obamania will wear off and we go back fully to our old lives.

A week after US President Barack Obama left East Africa, he might finally understand what his Kenyan father, Barack Hussein Obama, had to contend with as a polygamist.

For whenever President Obama visits, partly because he has African blood in him, there are countries that feel left out, thus setting off sour-graping and sniping.

Compared to previous Africa trips, Mr Obama seems to have learnt his Africa a little better.

For example, he avoided pointedly referring to his hosts by name in his criticisms – except when he came to Burundi.

An African chief does not respond well when you speak too directly to his face.

He is a promising student of former president Mwai Kibaki, who was adept at saying things without saying them.

But that was not enough to keep him out of trouble.

Many voices on the continent still felt that he was patronising and double-faced, particularly when it came to the touchy matter of presidential term limits.

In his speech at the African Union, he weighed into the ever-growing list of African leaders who are turning themselves into presidents for life by scrapping term limits.


There was therefore pushback, with criticism that Mr Obama had no moral authority to lecture African leaders on term limits or human rights because back in the US the police too are shooting blacks willy nilly, or that some of America’s closest allies in other parts of the world – Israel, Germany, Britain – do not have term limits.

Then there are its Arab friends in the Middle East like Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and so on, who do not even have something comparable to an African village election or independent courts, yet America does not wag a finger at them the way he does with Africa’s dictatorships.

Now, all these and other criticisms of America and the West’s double standards are correct, but they are still unhelpful.

To begin with, they are based on the very idea the critics are rejecting – that the West is the standard. It is not.

The world is diverse and all peoples and civilisations have something to offer, but it is also a natural thing for countries to think they are the best.

Meet even the poorest African hopping about with jiggers in his feet, and – without any sense of irony – he will tell you proudly about how the continent’s mineral wealth surpasses that of the rest of the world combined.

However, the most troubling bit is that some of us who rail against America, Europe, China, and everyone else seem not to see Africa as a place that can be the standard for the rest of the world.

If you are comfortable in your African accomplishments, you are unlikely to play the empty equivalence game of you don’t have term limits, so it’s right that we don’t have them too or you brutalise your minorities, so we are right to do the same to ours.

In this case, one would argue that let Africa make term limits work and have fair and honest elections, then lecture the rest of the world about it.

It is possible.

Uganda was the first country to achieve the most dramatic drop in HIV/Aids and you could not turn a corner without running into a foreign researcher studying how it achieved it.


Kenya’s Equity Bank cracked the problem of how to bank the poor in the MAINSTREAM (emphasis added), and not through some exploitative microfinance scheme in the bushes.

Safaricom taught the world how to do mobile money with its M-Pesa.

If you find anyone who tells you he or she has read all the articles and watched all the lectures on M-Pesa on YouTube, then they are the biggest liars.

There are just too many of them.

Rwanda achieved the biggest drop in infant mortality ever recorded by modern humans in their 250,000 years on Earth.

In the 1980s a famine killed nearly one million people in Ethiopia’s northeastern Tigray region.

Today people troop there to marvel at its abundance and see how irrigation and smart farming can turn around the fortunes of a people.

So, let us teach the Middle East how democracy is done, Europe about term limits, and show America’s police force how not to be racist.

Progress comes from bettering the best, not from equalling the worst guy.


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