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Saturday, July 11, 2009

Analyzing Obama's Accra Speech

This was one of the best speeches that President Obama has given in my opinion. There was none of the moral equivalencies, America bashing, and straw man arguments that President Obama has grown far too fond of using in other speeches. First, here's some of my favorite portions.

So I do not see the countries and peoples of Africa as a world apart; I see Africa as a fundamental part of our interconnected world – as partners with America on behalf of the future that we want for all our children. That partnership must be grounded in mutual responsibility, and that is what I want to speak with you about today.


It is easy to point fingers, and to pin the blame for these problems on others. Yes, a colonial map that made little sense bred conflict, and the West has often approached Africa as a patron, rather than a partner. But the West is not responsible for the destruction of the Zimbabwean economy over the last decade, or wars in which children are enlisted as combatants. In my father’s life, it was partly tribalism and patronage in an independent Kenya that for a long stretch derailed his career, and we know that this kind of corruption is a daily fact of life for far too many.

Of course, we also know that is not the whole story. Here in Ghana, you show us a face of Africa that is too often overlooked by a world that sees only tragedy or the need for charity. The people of Ghana have worked hard to put democracy on a firmer footing, with peaceful transfers of power even in the wake of closely contested elections. And with improved governance and an emerging civil society, Ghana’s economy has shown impressive rates of growth.

This progress may lack the drama of the 20th century’s liberation struggles, but make no mistake: it will ultimately be more significant. For just as it is important to emerge from the control of another nation, it is even more important to build one’s own.


This is about more than holding elections – it’s also about what happens between them. Repression takes many forms, and too many nations are plagued by problems that condemn their people to poverty. No country is going to create wealth if its leaders exploit the economy to enrich themselves, or police can be bought off by drug traffickers. No business wants to invest in a place where the government skims 20 percent off the top, or the head of the Port Authority is corrupt. No person wants to live in a society where the rule of law gives way to the rule of brutality and bribery. That is not democracy, that is tyranny, and now is the time for it to end.

In the 21st century, capable, reliable and transparent institutions are the key to success – strong parliaments and honest police forces; independent judges and journalists; a vibrant private sector and civil society. Those are the things that give life to democracy, because that is what matters in peoples’ lives.


Now let me be clear: Africa is not the crude caricature of a continent at war. But for far too many Africans, conflict is a part of life, as constant as the sun. There are wars over land and wars over resources. And it is still far too easy for those without conscience to manipulate whole communities into fighting among faiths and tribes.

These conflicts are a millstone around Africa’s neck. We all have many identities – of tribe and ethnicity; of religion and nationality. But defining oneself in opposition to someone who belongs to a different tribe, or who worships a different prophet, has no place in the 21st century. Africa’s diversity should be a source of strength, not a cause for division. We are all God’s children. We all share common aspirations – to live in peace and security; to access education and opportunity; to love our families, our communities, and our faith. That is our common humanity.


Freedom is your inheritance. Now, it is your responsibility to build upon freedom’s foundation. And if you do, we will look back years from now to places like Accra and say that this was the time when the promise was realized – this was the moment when prosperity was forged; pain was overcome; and a new era of progress began. This can be the time when we witness the triumph of justice once more.

Throughout the speech, I thought that President Obama spoke much like Bill Cosby does to the African American community. Just as Cosby says that it's time for African Americans to stop using prior wrongs as an excuse to live life poorly, so too did President Obama say that prior wrongs done on the continent by outsiders are no excuse for what is happening now in the continent.

Africa has a long and terrible history of oppression, slavery, and colonialism. That history has lead drawing lines of sovereignty that have a lot less to do with history and relationships and lot more to do with the naive randomness that outside colonials dreamed up in their heads. While President Obama acknowledged this terrible history and its weight on current African society, he said firmly that this was no excuse for corruption, tyranny, and the broken societies that this leads to.

President Obama laid out four pillars to transforming the continent: better governance, more opportunity for economic growth, better health care, and a decrease and ultimate end to conflicts.

Anyone that knows anything about the current politics and geopolitics of Africa knows that all four are symbiotic. For instance, there can be no economic opportunity in a country full of government corruption. Africa is gripped in an AIDS crisis and this a direct result of corrupt governments standing by while that disease took hold.

In fact, you could even say the last three are a by product of the first. President Obama is further right that an isolated election here and there does NOT make for good governance. Herein lies the rub. While the president recognizes the complexities of good governance, especially in the African nation, and pledges to support all such governments, it will take more than one good speech to make this happen. That's been our policy for decades but the continent simply refuses to take anything more than marginal steps toward this.

Of course, there can be no economic opportunity in countries run by corrupt governments. A former client spent a lot of time working for Motorola in the Phillipines. Motorola has a strict policy of never being a part of any corruption. That's no easy task in the Phillipines. As such, intermediaries were often used for pay offs so that Motorola was never directly part of any pay offs. Ask any citizen of any third world nation and you will always find obscene corruption: pay offs are a part of doing business.

AIDS exploded in Africa for several reasons. First, men simply thought it was weak to wear condoms. Truckers travelled the region having sex with any women they could find and then in fect their wives when they got back home. Beyond this, the governments are so corrupt that they were simply ill equipped to handle the virus as it spread. Instead, these governments often joined in propaganda campaigns claiming that AIDS simply didn't exist.

Of course, conflicts are often all too normal reality on this continent because it's ruled almost entirely by either strongmen or by weak and corrupt governments. (or in the case of Somalia, no government) Too many of the second lead directly internal conflicts that often spill outside their borders. So, in the last twenty years Ethiopia, Somalia, the Congo and the Sudan are just some of the African nations that have experienced conflict.

While the president did an excellent job of laying out the problems, he was short and vague on solutions. Of course, that's natural. The solutions can't possibly be summed up in any reasonable way in a speech that was about a half hour. The solutions can be laid out in a speech but it will take hard work, not yet seen, to resolve them. So, while I commend the president on an excellent speech that identifies many of the problems on the continent, and lays out in broad strokes the solutions. It will be, as the president himself pointed out, up to the African continent to follow through and lift itself up. We can only be there to support those that support freedom, democracy and good governance. (something the president also said)

full audio here.


Mike said...

I wonder who wrote this speech for him. It was time for him to change up his tune since the apology tour was not working. Give it a little time an he will be right back to his old shenanigans.

He has a far way to go before matching Bush's contributions to Africa. In fact, Bush did more for Africa than any other president in history. If Obama does not beat out Bush in this category I would be very surprised. Well, maybe not. Nothing amazes me with this new administration.

Anonymous said...

See, this is another example of how conservatives and liberals see the exact same thing, Africa in a state of perpetual collapse, and think two entirely different things.

Conservatives would say "the wrongs of the past are over, its time for you to move on." Liberals would say "conservatives want you to believe the wrongs of the past are over so you won't realize they're still going on."

Africa will continue to be weak until they realize that, simply put, foreigners are better at using African corruption to their advantage than Africans are.

Mike said...

I have had a couple of conversations with individuals who were born, and raised in Africa. What I hear consistently from them is that powerful rich corrupt families run their countries. They feel the problem has to do with leadership within their society. This is one of the aspects about America they admire most. It's Democracies ability to change society when something is unfair, or not working. Being able to kick out official's when they are not doing their job. If someone really feels there is a problem in America they can stand up against it. Over in Africa the chances of being killed, or silenced for opposition is the norm.

The question is how does one fix this problem? It really comes down to the people in Africa. They need to stand up, and fight this corruption. No other nation can do this for them. Recently, we have been seeing the Iranians taking the fight to the streets. We saw how Obama chose to be silent. He did not want to be labeled as melding in the internal affairs of the Iranians government. This is exactly the wrong attitude to have. This is when our nation I feel needs to support the people in their struggle. You may ask why? For me it comes down to taking a proactive stance against tyranny. When you see protesters being shot for demanding a fair election it becomes a human rights issue. This is everything our country, and forefathers fought against.

So when do you intervene into international affairs? When the people being oppressed have the will, and demand for change and action. That is half of the equation in my opinion. The other half is providing the support, and necessary resources for the people who ask for it to prevail against such injustice. It's not a matter of being the World's Police. If those kind of countries, and leaders can commit those kind of atrocities on their own people. It's just matter of time before they do it to their neighbors, are us next.

You can always choose to bury the problems, and hide from them. Just know they will resurface if left unchecked. It's better to to be proactive, rather than inactive. I feel it's a moral obligation to ourselves, and the rest of the world to have this policy in place.

barb said...

Obama’s neocolonial mission in Africa
16 July 2009

Last week, President Barack Obama flew from the G8 summit in Italy to Accra, the capital of Ghana in West Africa, for his first visit to Sub-Saharan Africa since becoming president. “I have the blood of Africa within me,” he told his Ghanaian audience, “and my family’s history reflects the tragedies and triumphs of the larger African story.”

The value of Obama’s family background was recognised early in his bid for the presidency by Zbigniew Brzezinski, the national security adviser to President Jimmy Carter and a key figure in the formulation of Obama’s foreign policy. In August 2007, Brzezinski declared that Obama “recognizes that the challenge is a new face, a new sense of direction, a new definition of America’s role in the world.”

Brzezinski was among major figures in the US foreign policy establishment who saw in Obama a means of giving the United States a “new face” to the rest of the world, something they deemed critical after the blunders and setbacks to American imperialism under Bush.

Obama lived up to expectations in Ghana. He played on his African ancestry, just as he had emphasised his Muslim heritage the previous month in Cairo.

The image of the two Obama children walking out into the sunlight from the “door of no return” at Cape Coast Castle, from which so many Africans did not return, was a carefully crafted photo op. Leaving this scene of so much human suffering, Obama said, “It reminds us that as bad as history can be, it’s always possible to overcome.”

This was meant to imply that no matter what Africa has suffered in the past, and no matter what the continent continues to suffer at the hands of the banks, corporations and Western governments, the responsibility—and the fault—rests with the African people themselves.

Obama brought an uncompromising message, spelling out in a more open way than George Bush dared to do during his visit to Ghana last year that aid would be made available only in return for the implementation of policies that serve the interests of the US government and corporations–and that there would be less of it in future.

“Development,” Obama told parliamentarians, “depends upon good governance. That is the ingredient which has been missing in far too many places, for far too long. That is the change that can unlock Africa’s potential. And that is a responsibility that can only be met by Africans.”

“Africa’s future is up to Africans,” he repeated.

The lecture also carried a threat. “We have a responsibility to support those who act responsibly and to isolate those who don’t, and that is exactly what America will do,” Obama declared.

The BBC’s correspondent, Andrew Harding, was struck by the bluntness with which the president felt able to speak to his hosts. He wrote: “It was a very broad-ranging speech, but Mr. Obama has an ability because of his heritage, his Kenyan father, to reach out and speak to Africans in a way that I think most foreign leaders would find very difficult.”

It was “a message no pink-faced Western leader could have delivered without arousing resentment in Africa and politically correct abuse from hand-wringers at home,” Libby Purves, a columnist for the London Times noted.