Africa to-do list for Obama

Africa to-do list for Obama

Sunday, November 23, 2008

As the dust settles on a fiercely fought American presidential battle, the reality of what this presidency really means for the black continent will quickly come to the fore. Obviously, the expectations are very high, even unrealistic.
Across Africa, Barack Obama’s victory has been hailed as a triumph by a great son of the continent. The Kenyan government declared a public holiday to celebrate what President Mwai Kibaki called “Victory of one whose Kenyan roots we are very proud of.” In Nigeria, the Lagos state government, too, organized activities to celebrate what it called “our son’s victory.” The Ethiopian government is reportedly contemplating national festivities in honor of Obama, and so is the Eritrean government. In fact, this may be the only thing that the two countries ever agree on.
Gestures like these have never been extended to any other leader. But will America’s 44th president give Africa any special attention simply because he has African blood running in his veins? Will he have a soft spot for a continent that faces numerous challenges simply because his father hailed from Nyang’oma Kogelo village in Kenya’s Luo Nyanza?
If I had the president-elect’s ear, this is what I would tell him:
Although genealogists have linked you to Dick Cheney, Mr. President, I believe I am more of a relative to you because Kanyuambora, the village in which I was raised, is relatively close to Nyang’oma Kogelo, where your father hailed from. If nothing else, that is a good reason for you to listen to me. I also know that some African political self-seekers will beseech you with all manner of pleas, most of them purporting to be the chosen ones whose ideas you should not ignore. However, much as some of these problems are of our own making, here is my own list for you to consider:
First of all, since you must take care of America’s security interests, your administration should create a shared Security Partnership Program with African countries known to harbor terrorists. You should work with those governments to build the infrastructure to deliver effective counterterrorism training, and to create a strong foundation for coordinated action against al-Qaida and its affiliates in Africa and elsewhere. That way, you should be able to nab Osama bin Laden as you have promised throughout your campaign.
When that is done, turn your focus to the current happenings that threaten to wipe out your African ancestors. Do everything you can to end the genocide in Darfur. Exert more pressure on the government to halt the killing and stop impeding the deployment of the United Nations peacekeeping force. While dealing with the situation in Darfur, spare some time for your relatives in the Niger Delta as well as their neighbors in Congo. Explain to them the importance of stability in the region. Tell President Kibaki of Kenya to host the United States African Command since it would help get rid of the high seas pirate menace that has been hitting the headlines so frequently.
Once that is done, place a phone call to Texas, where your predecessor will be taking a nap in his ranch or meditating over his failed presidency. Go straight to the point and do not spoil his day mentioning the word “economy.” Tell him you are calling to compliment him. Tell him that when history is written, he will be credited as the president whose HIV/AIDS and malaria programs in Africa worked successfully. Ask him to pass on the wisdom to you and continue implementing his policies since, as they say in your country, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”
Next, you must strengthen the African Growth and Opportunity Act to ensure that African producers can access the U.S. market. You should encourage more American companies to invest in Africa. Take the newly found love affair between Africa and China as an eye-opener. Find out what China is doing that the United States is not. Restore the bilateral relations that the United States used to have with Africa before China’s rapidly expanding influence gripped the continent’s imagination. Work with the Overseas Private Investment Corp. to develop lending facilities to small and medium businesses, so that those companies under $5 million can become $20 million companies, creating new jobs, sustainable incomes and partnerships for American companies.
You must help accelerate Africa’s integration into the global economy by establishing initiatives that will spur research and innovation. Encourage private philanthropies and businesses to promote practices that bring about higher-yield seeds, better irrigation methods and affordable, safe fertilizers. Such an initiative will no doubt address issues related to food security in order to alleviate high food costs that are crippling many African economies.
Immediately after doing this, convene an urgent meeting and invite all African Union heads of government. Remind them of
your personal story. Remind them that nowhere else in the world is your story even possible. Remind them that political maturity brought America this far. Without batting an eyelid, tell them that you do not see the point of wasting so much of their taxpayers’ money by going through rigorous elections if they know that at the end of it all, there will be an option of sharing power. Tell them you cannot fathom the idea of John McCain as your vice president. Tell them it is the height of bad manners to overburden poor Africans with bloated Cabinets — with ridiculously high salaries — in the name of power sharing and “portfolio balance.” Tell them dishing out those positions to their own cronies is shameful.
Finally, turn to 84-year-old Robert Gabriel Karigamombe Mugabe of Zimbabwe and give him what your former presidential rival calls “straight talk.” Address Mugabe thus: “With all due respect, I honestly think that you, as my ancestor, are an embarrassment. Your clinging to power is more detrimental than it is beneficial to the people of your country. I have watched as your policies prompted both domestic and international denunciation. I watched as you harassed and intimidated your political rivals, as your country’s economy took a nosedive, triggering hyperinflation never before seen in that part of the world. But now as president, I must let you know that enough is enough.”
If you do all this, Mr. President, I can assure you that fewer of these heads of government will come to 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. as beggars. You would not feel inhibited and you could visit your relatives in Africa without having to worry about their poverty — as there will be less of it.
And on your way to Kogelo, you might want to pass through Kanyuambora and see how this Kenyan who gave you all those brilliant ideas is doing. If your daughters are still searching for a puppy, I promise you one named Chui, which will aptly remind them of their fatherland. But all this would happen in my wildest dreams, since the chances of the son of Obama meeting me are as slim as those of being hit by lightning in the plains of Kanyuambora. But you never know.
• BMJ Muriithi, from Kenya, is a student of mass communication at Atlanta Metro College.

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