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Can We Expect More than Symbolic Support?

  • Bereket Habte Selassie

When I think about the extraordinary writing and speaking phenomenon by the name of Barack Obama, who also happens to be the President of the United States of America, the most powerful country in the world, I can't help asking myself, what can he do for Africa? I ask this not only because he is a son of Africa, but also because I hear in his speeches the words of a man deeply committed to human values, and therefore concerned with the predicament of Africa's people in this age of globalization.

As the first African American elected to the American presidency, Obama represents an extraordinary symbolic change in American politics. No one can underestimate the symbolic significance of his election. Nor should it be considered purely a matter of symbolism; a changing of the guard at the top necessarily involves—or should involve—implications of substantive change. There is the rub—can we expect substantive change of any significance from his election, given the nature and structure of American politics and society?

In connection with that question it is fair to ask: what does the Age of Obama portend for Africa? Two related questions arise concerning this: first, what should Obama do for Africa, and second, what can he do for Africa? As to the first question, what Obama should do for Africa is linked to Africa's need; and we can spend a whole day talking about that and not exhaust it. On the basis of Obama's speeches, including especially his Accra speech of July 11, 2009, and our own sense of Africa's needs, I offer three primary talking points that embrace a set of values or goals upon which all government systems should be based. The first is peace and stability, the second is sustainable economic development and social justice, and the third is democracy and good governance—not necessarily in that order.

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Caplan, Gerald. 2008. The Betrayal of Africa. Toronto: Groundwood.
Caplan, Gerald. 2009. Obama in Africa: A Major Disappointment. The Nation, July 20.
Luce, Edward. 2010. “Obama Urged to Regain ‘Political Narrative.’Financial Times, February 16.
Obama, Barack. 2009. Remarks by the President on a New Beginning. Cairo University, June 4.
Obama, Barack. 2009. Obama's Speech in Ghana, July 11.
Steinberg, James. 2009. “America's Vision for a China Partnership.” Remarks delivered at the Center for New American Security, September 29.
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African Studies Review
  • ISSN: 0002-0206
  • EISSN: 1555-2462
  • URL: /core/journals/african-studies-review
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