Tuesday, July 14, 2009

CRIKEY: Obama self-flagellating in Africa?

Some Africans weren’t happy that US President Barack Obama overlooked their country and selected Ghana for his first tour of sub-Saharan Africa. You can imagine how the Kenyans must have felt by Obama’s excuse:
In my father's own country of Kenya, I'm concerned about how the political parties do not seem to be moving into a permanent reconciliation that would allow the country to move forward. And Kenya is not alone in some of the problems that we've seen of late, post-election or pre-election.

Though Obama did have some nice things to say about Kenyan civil society.

Obama told the AllAfrica.com website he deliberately chose Ghana because of its stable democratic institutions:

Ghana has now undergone a couple of successful elections in which power was transferred peacefully, even a very close election ... by travelling to Ghana, we hope to highlight the effective governance that they have in place.

There was also an emotional visit by the Obama family to the Cape Coast Castle -- a former holding area for slaves to the Americas. The castle is lined with cannons, and slaves were kept in squalid dungeons before being shipped off to captivity or death.

Obama later remarked:

I'll never forget the image of my two young daughters, the descendants of Africans and African-Americans, walking through those doors of no return but then walking back (through) those doors.

He then compared slavery to the Holocaust, a comparison that has already upset some if the comments here and here are anything to go by.

But the most hysterical response to Obama’s speech to the Ghanaian Parliament came from the neo-Conservative Hudson Institute’s Anne Bayefsky, whose anger was unleashed at Forbes and The Australian.

Bayefsky compared Obama’s Ghana speech to his recent address in Cairo. Her conclusion? That Obama loves to ...

... [s]trok[e] Muslim and Arab nations" and that this "has become the hallmark of Obama's foreign policy.

Meanwhile ...
... Christian Africa was to be treated to no such self-flagellation ... The disparity between the scolding he gave in Ghana and the love-in he held in Cairo illuminates an incoherent and dangerous agenda.

The problem with this thesis, like so many things emerging from neo-Conservative thinktanks, is that it doesn’t involve too much thought.

Sub-Saharan Africa includes Muslim-majority states such as Djibouti (94%), Senegal (95%), Guinea (92%), Gambia (90%), Sierra Leone (65%) and Burkina Faso (65%).

Among African member states of the Organisation of Islamic Conference are: Uganda, Chad, Togo, Cameroon, Cote D’Ivoire, Nigeria and Mozambique.

So African Muslims were well-represented in both the Cairo love-in and the Ghana self-flagellation. Either that, or Bayefsky might learn some high school geography.

First published in Crikey on Tuesday 14 July 2009.