What lessons, if any, will African leaders learn from Senator Barack Obama’s stunning success? Senator Obama has inspired a diverse cross-section of Americans: Whites, Latinos, Asians, African-Americans. Will those in Africa, the source of his heritage, follow suit?
Sen. Obama’s campaign has all along been about hope, a scarce commodity in Africa where selfishness and greed are what define virtually every African leader. African leaders don’t hold town hall meetings to listen to their citizens’ concerns. They’re condescending and arrogant when it comes to dealing with ordinary people.
They don’t play well with their political opponents; they jail and kill them. I’ve been surprised to hear Sen. Obama literally plead for a face-to-face reconciliatory meeting with his rival Hillary Clinton. It’s amazing to hear Obama shower his General Election rival, Republican candidate, John McCain, with admiration for his military service.
To many African leaders, political opponents are traitors and unpatriotic and must be vanquished at all costs. Ask Ethiopia’s Meles Zenawi who jailed virtually all opposition leaders after the 2005 General Election. Or Eritrean’s President Isaias Afewerki, who in 2001 jailed hundreds of opponents for merely writing a letter asking him to respect the country’s constitution.
Given that political atmosphere, it’s not surprising that as millions of Americans are celebrating this historic moment of the first African-American to win a major political party’s nomination for U.S. president, Africa is still bleeding from genocide in Sudan, civil war in Somalia, and one-man dictatorships in Algeria, Egypt, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Gabon and Libya.
On the same day Obama and his supporters were ecstatically uncorking champagne bottles to celebrate his triumph in the Democratic primaries, Zimbabwean police, on the orders of President Robert Mugabe, detained Morgan Tsvangirai, the leader of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), the country’s main opposition party. This is a thinly-veiled attempt to derail Tsvangirai’s campaign for the presidential runoff scheduled for June 27. Mr. Tsvangirai beat Mugabe in the first round on March 29, but, controversially, did not earn enough of the vote to avoid a runoff. Tsvangirai has since been released, not out of Mugabe’s magnanimity, but after a noisy and sustained international outcry led by the U.S. and the European Union (EU).
On this very same day, the autocratic President of Sudan, Omar al-Bashir, was moving heavily-armed troops to the disputed oil-rich town of Abyei in Darfur - where the U.N. estimates about 300,000 people have died since the war started in 2003 - to face the forces of the Southern Sudan government who’re resisting Khartoum’s attempts to grab it by force. The International Criminal Court accuses the entire government of engaging in this genocide.
On this very same day, Kenya’s newly-appointed Prime Minister, Raila Odinga - who claims to be related to Sen. Obama - and other leaders of his Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) were waging a relentless campaign to coerce the government to offer unconditional amnesty to hundreds of their supporters currently in jail over suspicions of committing murders and rapes during the chaos that engulfed the country, soon after last year’s controversial president elections results were announced. The violence claimed the lives of about 1,500 people and uprooted 500,000 others from their homes.
Of course, both Mr. Odinga and Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki have already profusely congratulated Sen. Obama for a job well done. But do they mean it?
Will African leaders, who are accustomed to riding roughshod on their weak and meek citizenry, change their treacherous ways now that “one of their own” is poised to break the glass ceiling and possibly become the president of the most powerful country in the world? It’d be a big shame for Africa to continue to be the sole source of bad news – coups, human rights abuses, wanton looting of public coffers, and subjugation of democracy – as a black man preaches and practices prosperity in the country considered being a model of democracy.
Sen. Obama has many times demonstrated his affection for Africa. He has loudly and strongly condemned the atrocities taking place in Darfur. He has expressed interest in a prosperous Africa. Will African leaders listen? They have much to learn from Sen. Obama’s political success.
Please e-mail PostGlobal if you'd like to receive an email notification when PostGlobal sends out a new question.