Njoroge Wachai at PostGlobal

Njoroge Wachai


Njoroge is a journalist who formerly worked for the Kenya-based People Daily. He was Africa Correspondent for the Science and Development Network (SciDev.net), a UK-based web site highlighting science and technology issues from developing countries. He also freelanced for the Switzerland-based Bulletin of the World Health Organization (WHO). Njoroge was a press fellow at the Wolfson College, University of Cambridge for four months in 2003, where he researched the role of alternative press in the democratization process in Africa. Njoroge currently lives in the U.S. He has studied Journalism and Technical Communication at the graduate level. Close.

Njoroge Wachai


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Obama's Lost African Pulpit

When the Democratic Presidential candidate, Barack Obama, made his now-famous speech last week in Berlin, on trans-Atlantic relationships, he referenced Africa seven (7) times.

As a way of introducing himself to the “people of the world”, Obama reminded them that his father “…grew up herding goats in Kenya.” (Barack Obama Sr. hailed from Western Kenya, specifically Luo Nyanza, where fishing, not goat herding, is people’s way of life.)

To warn the world against embracing evils of divisions – whether they be racial, religious, tribal or national - Obama drew attention to the miseries the Germans underwent before the fall of the Berlin Wall. And to noisy applause from a crowd of over 200,000, Obama mentioned how similar walls have come down tumbling from Kiev to Cape Town, South Africa. In the latter, he was referring to the end of apartheid in early 1990s.

Rallying the world to unite and fight injustice and wanton abuse of human rights, Obama reminded all and sundry that Somalia, Zimbabwe, Chad and Darfur are still smoldering from self-inflicted miseries, perpetuated by power-hungry and blood-thirsty politicians. They smolder from fierce fires of genocide (Darfur), civil wars (Chad and Somalia), and political dictatorship (Zimbabwe.)

Obama even added global warming to his laundry list of threats facing the world, Africa included. He said global warming is responsible for “... shrinking coastlines in the Atlantic….” and has brought “….drought to farms from Kansas to Kenya.”

Obama's empathy towards Africa would wow most every African. So he lost a huge opportunity by expressing that empathy thousands of miles away from the continent, in front of predominantly white crowds (no bigotry intended.)

I must mention that Obama did visit Africa two years ago, as a Senator from Illinois. The visit was low-key, however, and didn’t attract the media buzz that last week’s did. A visit to Africa this time around could have burnished Obama’s credentials as a true passionate, practical, champion of African issues.

His message of hope would have resonated better had it been made from an African country. Most Europeans enjoy a three-course meal; most Africans don’t. Most Europeans have unfettered access to education; most Africans don’t. Most Europeans don’t worry about healthcare; most Africans do. It’s in Africa, not Europe, that HIV/AIDS, Malaria, and Tuberculosis are on the rampage.

Bearing all this in mind, Obama should have added Africa to his itinerary. Such a visit could have gone a long way toward strengthening the bond that apparently exists between him and the continent. Obama is the son of a Kenyan father. The African-American voters, whose votes he’s madly courting, have roots in Africa.

But Obama’s kind feelings for Africa are not in doubt. What the continent wants now from him are practical gestures. Obama, like other world politicians, has condemned the Sudanese government for its murderous rampage in Darfur. When early this year Kenya got engulfed in violence over disputed elections, Obama forcefully called on all parties to talk peace. Obama has condemned the Zimbabwean government for subverting democracy.

An Obama visit to Africa, however, would have sent a strong signal that a probable Obama administration would be more responsive to African issues.

Visualize Obama condemning violence in Darfur from Juba - a derelict sandy town in southern Sudan, which has witnessed deaths, displacements and rapes of unbelievable magnitude – with victims of violence behind the stage. The event would have been a game changer, courtesy of publicity that would have accompanied it. It would have jolted the world to act against the Sudanese government, which the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague, has accused of complicity in the violence.

Or imagine Obama calling for a concerted fight against global terrorism from downtown Nairobi, where many Americans and Kenyans died from a terrorist attack on U.S. Embassy in 1998.
Or imagine him on a raised platform in war-scarred Mogadishu, calling on the world to come to the aid of Somalis who are dying of hunger in droves and condemning terrorists who’ve held that country to ransom for close to two decades.

It’s still not too late for Obama, and even for John McCain, to add Africa to their foreign policy priority areas. Africa is an important strategic partner of the U.S militarily and even economically. Africa needs the U.S. for economic and political growth.

Perhaps nothing illustrates Africa’s strategic importance to the U.S. better than the decision to establish the U.S. African Command (AFRICOM). The command is tasked with safeguarding U.S.’s security interests in Africa. The U.S. continues to regard Africa as a major player in fulfilling its energy needs. Africa, essentially, is not just a mere cog in U.S.’s foreign policy. It’s a significant player. Obama might better take note.

Africa - just like France, Israel, Jordan, Britain, Germany, Iraq, Afghanistan, Colombia, Canada or Colombia – won’t produce an electoral vote in November, for either McCain or Obama. But the continent, despite its miseries, is too important for both of these candidates to ignore.

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