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Menings | Opinion > SeminaarKamer | Seminar Room > English > Essays

Africa's obsession with its famous son, Barack Obama

Jameson Maluleke - 2008-11-27

Introduction: Obamania

One should be forgiven for thinking that Senator Barack Obama is Africa's president elect. The jubilation which swept across the entire African continent over Obama's recent election to the US presidency, virtually snatched him from the American people. Millions of Africans celebrated joyously across the continent in honour of their great son (of the soil). The rich were glued to the television to witness every bit of the historic election, while the have-nots beat drums and danced in the streets. The Kenyans were more greatly overwhelmed than the rest of Africa because of Obama's direct ancestral link with them. They even went out of their way to electrify the whole village where Obama's father was born, and declared the day Obama was elected a public holiday. Back home in Mzantsi the name Obama was composed into a passionate, soul-stirring serenade sang by almost every South African.

It was thrilling to witness Africa united by Obama's sudden rise to eminence. For a day or two we forgot our pastime, tribal wars and xenophobic violence. I am convinced that even our notorious warring factions in the east of the Republic of Congo and Darfur also took a day or two to celebrate.

Great expectations

In the light of the exhausting, irrepressible euphoria it is tempting to think that the joyous celebration is an unsinkable Titanic laden with unrealistic expectations. Millions of African peasants are honestly convinced that once Obama is comfortably settled on his powerful throne he will create a peaceful climate on the continent by cracking a whip to chase away a swarm of parasitic insects called warlords. The ageing Zimbabwean struggle hero Robert Mugabe will be given an option to retire in peace or face a Saddam Hussein fate. Obama will not stop there; he will build a Utopia clustered with an uncountable number of rands that would make every African become an archrival of the world's richest man, billionaire Bill Gates. They honestly reason that with President Obama at the helm, visiting the US will be as easy as getting in and out of one's hut - there would be no hassles, as we would be exempted from carrying unnecessary credentials such as passports and identity documents. Obama will, in due course, establish thousands of charitable organisations to feed, clothe and shelter all Africa, thus pushing away the frontiers of poverty. In his tenure, medical scientists will be compelled to discover an Aids cure that will permanently eradicate the virus in a human body. Born a philanthropist, Obama will talk sense into the heads of all world economic giants not to compel Africa to repay its debts. In return for the goodwill, Africa will strategically position itself to sire future generations of Barack Obamas, should America dotingly request it to do so.

Remember what Mandela did to his country

Some of us may dismiss these expectations as the figment of the author's imagination; however, they would do well to recall that we have experienced the same ill-informed expectations in the past. When former president Nelson Mandela walked through the prison gates on his "long walk to freedom" after three decades in detention we were on cloud nine. We spent weeks jumping up and down with wild abandon - celebrating the arrival of a giant who personified our freedom - our own black Messiah. Despite his advanced age and fatigue, we did not expect him to rest and have a quiet time with his family. We demanded from him freedom in our lifetime. Like a valiant soldier endowed with unlimited wisdom, Mandela went on to negotiate a peaceful settlement, formed the first democratic government, drew up a famous Constitution and made reconciliation and development his government's main policy. He soon became a legendary statesman and a world icon.

And what did he get in return? We betrayed him and squandered his legacy. We succeeded in manufacturing rampant crime as the trademark of our country. We perfected our art in stealing from the public funds. We insisted that Mandela force the world to feel pity for us as miserable victims of apartheid while we lazed around with the latest German cars without being responsible or accountable for the rot consuming our beloved country. We turned our poor, rural South Africans into voting cattle while we enjoyed "our hard-won freedom" in our mansions and castles far away in leafy suburbs which used to be occupied by "racist white liberals". Today we've ripped his African National Congress apart and turned it into a political refuge for heretics and hooligans. We have scraped up his philosophies, beliefs and democratic ideals on to a garbage heap.

Obama is an American president finish and klaar

All these our callous deeds have come to pass. Now we want our beloved son Obama to perform miracles for Mother Africa, thus transforming us into a great nation, while we drink port wine and puff Havana cigars.

The problem is not that we look to Obama to do something for us, but that we continue to portray Africa as a continent incapable to fend for itself - a basket case which survives only on handouts. Whatever happened to the African Renaissance? Do we want Africa to reawake as a beggar or as a self-supporting giant? The mind is boggled.

As president of the most influential state in the world, Obama faces a mountain of challenges both at home and abroad. He is expected to find solutions to the rising rate of unemployment as a result of the global economic recession, to end the unending war both in Iraq and Afghanistan, and to improve America's international image tarnished by Bush's jingoistic administration, etc.

Obama may try to meet some of Africa's great expectations as part of his dynamic, all-embracing foreign policy, but he is no deity, he is not obliged to be Africa's El Salvador. Obama is an ordinary human being riddled by imperfection just like any other being created in God's own image. His first and foremost duty is, like all other US presidents before him, to be the servant of the United States, the American people and the Almighty God in Heaven. Obama's sister Auma has clearly explained Obama's responsibilities as North America's Chief Executive Officer in the following lines: "Let us not forget Obama is an American president, elected by the American people. His primary responsibilities are to the Americans and not Africa" (City Press, November 9, 2008).

Perhaps one should call a spade a spade - perhaps one should repeat the obvious. It is not wrong for Africa to stand up and celebrate its own son's enormous achievement. It is not wrong for us to turn his ancestral village into a tourist attraction. It is not wrong for Africa to dream, especially to dream big. Obama has indeed done us proud. What is wrong is our intention to rob America of its rightful leader.

A symbol of hope and inspiration

Having said all this, Obama's presidential election is indeed of crucial importance to Africa, as it signifies a symbol of hope and inspiration. After centuries of slavery, colonialism and apartheid, a black man may never have thought he was capable of doing whatever other human beings do. His mind was always preoccupied with how best he could serve his master. With his words and deeds, Obama has proved that the black man's previous assumptions were the product of an enslaved mind. Max du Preez believes he is the true personification of symbolism: "Obama is a symbol of human ability to redeem oneself, as America has done by electing him. He is a symbol of the possibility that one can overcome almost any obstacle and achieve one's dreams. He is a symbol of youth stepping on to the world stage to correct the mistakes of the older generations. He symbolises a huge step forward in the struggle against racism and prejudice (The Star, November 13, 2008).

Symbolic of the uniqueness and completeness of man, Obama has proven beyond doubt that there is no such creature as a sub-human being. All people are the same everywhere, and God has endowed them with the faculty of intellect and the ability to act. It is up to us to stand up and improve our lives rather than to engage ourselves in miserable talk all day long.


The message is clear by now: no wishful thinking will be allowed. Obama does not belong to us, and even if he happened to be our own president, he would not be able to please every country, let alone thousands of interest groups. Therefore, rather than hide behind slavery and colonialism, or expect high-profile individuals to feed, clothe and shelter us, we should do it on our own.

It is beyond any human comprehension why we have the mind and energy to rape our young sisters and daughters, why we rob and slaughter our own people for their hard-earned possessions, why we corrupt our own governments, why we start ethnic wars against our own brothers and sisters to commit self-genocide, spite ourselves and expect Obamas of this world to come and give us solutions.

The reasoning that because Obama's father is an African he should cure Africa's social ills has no substance at all. It is about time that Africa delivered itself from the social quagmire in which it finds itself. Our continent should learn to fight its own battles to correct its social woes.

Let us start now to make Africa a proud, prosperous and peaceful continent and not a permanent basket case. It is never too late to mend.

November 18, 2008


City Press, November 9, 2008
The Star, November 13, 2008