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Monday, January 23, 2017


Today is US president Barack Obama’s last day in office and Donald Trump’s first.

Just as Obama’s ascendance to the leadership of the free world was surprising and historical, Trump too has upset the conventional wisdom in US politics.

But unlike Obama’s entry into the White House, which was accompanied by a hopeful feeling not only in the US but around the world, many people are looking forward to the Trump administration with apprehension and foreboding.

My sense is that Trump’s exuberance will be tempered by the sheer weight of the US bureaucracy. 

But one can be sure that the character of his administration will be coloured by his personality.

We will leave that to the crystal ball watchers.

Obama’s presidency we can look over with the benefit of hindsight.
"In 2008 when Obama won the race for the presidency it came after two terms of Republican George W. Bush’s administration, during which the US went to war, laying waste to Iraq and Afghanistan. As if that was not enough he bequeathed Obama an economy in the worst state it had been since before the Second World War...

So Obama was starting on very poor footing, which was not a bad thing – if the optimists were to believed, because there was nowhere to go but up.

In his eight years at the helm Obama has created – but not necessarily replaced, millions of jobs, a signal that the economy is beginning to pull out of its hole, managed to widen the net of medical insurance and restored some decorum to the oval office.

The negatives are more about things he promised to do but failed to deliver on like, shut down Guantanamo Bay, pull out of Iraq and generally make the world a better place to live in. Then there was the widening use of drones to carry out extrajudicial killings of terrorist suspects.

But as is our wont as Africans we expected Obama, whose father is Kenyan no less, to be more proactive in helping lift the continent out of its morass.

He made several visits to the continent, including an emotional return to Kenya, he pledged $20b towards the development of energy infrastructure on the continent, made his feelings known about the continent’sdemocratic progress – or lack of thereof and the general intolerance for alternative lifestyles.

Looking back on the Obama years, his work on Africa will be much closer the bottom than the top of his list of achievements.

But what did we expect?

The political elite probably hoped he wouldn’t poke his nose too much in their business, which he did not and the general masses were probably hoping for an uptick in aid, which did not happen.
But if we were to step back a bit we would see that this continent is a hard one to help.

Anybody looking to make a dent in the continent’s intractable dilemmas of poverty, illness and conflict would be best advised not to hope for quick results.

A genuine helper would want to insert themselves in existing systems or institutions and hope local momentum would do the rest. We all know how difficult this is not least because of the lack of institutional depth on the continent.

They say God helps those who help themselves, I imagine the same would apply to the US.
But we also forgot or chose to ignore, the fact that Obama was first and foremost the president of the US, sworn to protect and promote its interests.

"So was the Obama presidency a lost opportunity for Africa? No. It nailed the point home that no one – even a black president of the greatest economy in the world, is going to help us unless we help ourselves first...

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