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Nov. 15th, 2008

The Audacity Of Barack Obama: An American Dream


The Audacity of An Ambition: The Political Economy of Obama’s Electoral Victory*

 

On November 4th, 2008, Americans went to the polls and made a statement to the rest of the world by electing Barack Obama the first African American to be the President of the United States of America. While there are many factors that contributed to this historic win, one single factor and issue which dominated the entire fall campaign was the economy. There is no doubt that when Americans realized on September the 15th, at the height of the financial meltdown, that there is a need for a bold decision to reverse the looming economic disaster, they did what came naturally to them and voted their pockets.

 

The economic situation, the loss of real estate values and pension savings coupled with increasing rate of unemployment contributed in no means measure to the election of Barack Obama. In a free market environment and the world leading capitalist economy, the election was simply more about the economy. Barack Obama for months hammers on why the country was in economic stupor. From expensive wars overseas, to inept policies and perceived incompetence of the Republican administration, he was able to convince Americans to look beyond him and revisit their economic dire straits and ask themselves if they can afford another four more years of the same. That was a very convincing and we now know, successful sale. It worked because at any other time and with a different strategy, it might have been difficult for candidate Obama to close the deal. However there were other contributing factors as well.

 

As President-elect Obama prepares to ascend the Presidential seat and the most powerful office in the world on January 20th 2009, we must also note that, although we may have seen his win as an historic achievement, we must nevertheless recognize that, he did it in a very unique way.

 

First, Barack Obama stood on the shoulder of giants and this must not be lost on all of us. As a French analyst put it on Charlie Rose on the night of the election, “Rosa Park sat for Martin Luther King Jr to match, for Barack Obama to run and for America to fly”. We have just witnessed the culmination of a gradual and lengthy process of democratic consolidation on a path toward that perfect union. Obama ran as an American and his background is very much American in nature and his campaign led by David Axelrod and David Plouffe, were able to put together an excellent exercise, which reassured all Americans that , yes it can be done. Once they accepted the notion of Barack Obama as a competent American, his skin color remain just what it is and the dream’s “content of his character” became the issue. And once he was able to scale that hurdle, there was no doubt about America’s readiness to make history and elect him the next President.

 

It has taken over 220 plus years for Americans to achieve this landmark but it is a signal to the rest of the world that, it can be done. If Obama could win in the United States of America surely, ethnic, racial or any differences any where in the world, becomes less of a determining factor if, and when a viable, competent and truly national candidate emerges in the future. Obama was not an African -American candidate, he was an American candidate for the Presidency. It took Reverend Wright for him to even address the race question and after that, it was never addressed again by his campaign.

 

Barack Obama’s personality also contributed to his success at the polls. He is perceived as an intelligent, cool and dynamic individual. And by the time questions about Reverend Wright, Bill Ayers and others were raised, it fails to undermine his candidacy. This was because for months on end, he and his campaign were able to drum it into the American psychic, that candidate Obama is above them.

 

Charismatic leadership, ability to communicate and to inspire and to raise people’s hope remains an important ingredient for leadership and Obama possess it all. He used it well and as we found out words do matter. Since that evening four years ago, at the democratic convention, when he introduced him self to America that: There is no red America and no blue America but a United States of America, he laid the foundation and the recipe for his success. The audacity to aspire, run and play on the tuff of the Republicans couple with buying into Howard Dean’s 50- state strategy worked perfectly well for his campaign. For several election cycles, democrats have always limited themselves to their blue states and then hope to win but this time Barack Obama went for all the marbles in all the states and it paid off. This was a winning strategy that will reshape the way Presidential politics will be played in the future.

 

We also have new generation of voters. These new voters were not only the under 30s years of age, who were post racial in their world view but also new registrants who want to be part of history. These new voters came out in drove to cast their votes on the day of the election. When you combine this with the energy of the Barack Obama’s grass-root organization and mobilization, which doomed the Clinton machine earlier in the year, it was a tall order to expect the Republican Party to win. The Republicans also helped Obama by nominating their best candidate capable of winning this election cycle but fails to support him enthusiastically. This forced Senator McCain to gamble and play safe to rally the base, by selecting Governor Sarah Palin. The choice was palliative at best with little lasting effect. In fact about 19% of them voted for Barack Obama in the end. The choice of Palin combined with the newness of Obama on the national stage initially kept the race within reach, at least until the financial melt down. And then it was down hill from then.

 

Obama also had the heavy financial advantage. The fact that he was able to raise over 160million dollars in the last month before the election alone makes the task even more difficult for McCain as it was for Mrs Clinton earlier during the primary. The effective use of the internet and the effect of the grass root fundraising capabilities help made it happened. The implication for the future is two fold: From now on, more and more Americans will able to support their candidates through small donations, the way millions supported Obama or we will see another campaign reforms which will force a limited financial options on the candidates for the most powerful office in the world.

 

 

From the Republican enabling factor, with the financial meltdown, President Bush’s problems to Barack Obama‘s charisma, his campaign strategy, the financial advantage and the time for change, the election of  Mr Obama became inevitable. Obama has a lot of people to thank too. From Booker T Washington to W E B.Dubois, to Martin Luther King Jr, to Rosa Park, To Malcolm X, to Louis Farrakhan (even if one disagrees with him, his mere existence helps one to appreciate the other alternative-Obama) and to Jesse Jackson. There are many others  to thank as well, the list include those who have blazed trails in their respective professions such Cornel West, Louis Henry Gates, Oprah Winfrey, Michael Jordan, Tiger Wood, Wills Smith, Michael Jackson, Bob Johnson and thousand others. These people while excelling in their professions have proved somehow to America that, yes it can be done..

 

The next step is for all, to now dream of this possibility. From Women, to Hispanic Americans, to Asian American and Native American, from Americans in the remote towns of Maine to the suburbs of California, Americans can now hope and yes it can be done. And to all of us in Africa, Latin America and Asia and of course in Europe, we can do it and this world can surely be a better place if we can put our differences and aim beyond our fears and limitations. Democracy is also the winner because however long it may take, everybody wins in the end and that is why we must give kudos to Jesse Jackson for inspiring us to ”keep hope alive”.

 

*Bamidele A Ojo.PhD

Professor of Political Science

African Studies Program

School of Political & International Studies

Fairleigh Dickinson University. Nj.

 

** Watch out for: Obama and African Leadership: Time for Tough Love

(It is time for a responsible and accountable leadership on the continent of Africa and a for an American President to make that call which will no longer be seen as neo imperialist because a son of Africa is now the one making it.President Barack Obama should start calling these leaders to order. It is time for re-liberation of the African people. It is time to bring our two worlds and the rest of the world together. It is time for real American leadership that inspires all on behalf of all.

Nov. 8th, 2008

Obama & Africa:The Framework For President Obama's Foreign Policy In Africa


Obama and Africa: Understanding the Framework for President Obama’s Foreign Policy in Africa

With the election of Barack Obama on November 4th, 2008, January 2009 is expected to usher in a new direction in American -African relations because for the first time, an African American with an African father will be sworn in as next President of America. Barack Obama, whose father was of Luo heritage in Kenya, is expected to build on President George W Bush foreign policy on the continent. The response to Obama's election in Africa has been euphoric and met with celebration all over the continent. But the question is what it will mean for Africa, its people and its leaders. There is no doubt that President Obama will be informed by the legacy of the Clinton administration, the Bush policy in Africa, his own heritage and the involvement of many advisers with prior experience in Africa, prominent among them is Susan Rice, who is expected to become the national security adviser. Africa will surely be central to President Obama’s foreign policy interests.

A review of Obama’s campaign promises offers an insight into what we should expect from his administration, According to Carina Rey, who in an opinion piece, on August 14th, 2008, in  Pambazuka News, President Obama’s foreign policy in Africa, informed by his family ties to Kenya will provide him a greater personal connection to the continent and its people than any other American president before him. She also believes that Obama with the” most cosmopolitan upbringing of any president combined with his intellectual strength, eloquence, and ability to think outside of the box suggest that  he will pursue a more diplomacy-oriented and judicious foreign policy in general. With regard to Africa, the simple fact that the continent is already on his radar further suggests we can expect him to have a greater hand in proactively crafting his administration's Africa agenda, rather than doing what most US presidents have done before him: neglect Africa except when the US's strategic interests are involved". 

Africa is an area of priority according to Obama's campaign website. To Ms Rey, “though Africa is featured on the list of Obama's top eight foreign policy priorities, which in descending order are: Ending the War in Iraq; Iran; Renewing American Diplomacy; Nuclear Weapons, Building a 21st Century Military ; Bipartisanship and Openness; Israel; and Africa”.  It shows how important Africa is to Obama. According to his website, Barack Obama will also be engaged in, stopping the genocide in Darfur, ending the conflict in Congo, and bringing former Liberian president Charles Taylor to justice. He also promised to work with Congress to increase American investment in foreign assistance, to redress the lack of increase in development assistance in areas such as democracy building, the rule of law, judicial reform, the strengthening of parliaments, education and enhancing the entrepreneurial skills of men and women. Obama promises to spearhead an initiative to eliminate the global education deficit by establishing a Global Education Fund to help fill the financing gap for primary education in Africa and the developing world. He will also make the Millennium Development Goals America's goals.

 

Another adviser to Barack Obama on Africa,  Whitney W. Schneidman, in a guest column on allAfrica.com of September 29, 2008, sets out what President Obama's fundamental policy objectives for Africa in Africa would be. In the piece, he said Obama's African agenda is informed by the interest in his candidacy in the African Diaspora community which can be a game changer in voter drive and on election day. Obama's African initiative, according to him, is premised on the following facts: 

  • Africans are the most educated immigrant group in the country.
  • African-born men and women have higher median earnings than all foreign-born men and women in the U.S.
  • Remittances from Africans in the diaspora are on the rise, estimated to be in excess of $4 to 6 billion per year. Nigerians, as one example, remit more than $3 billion per year.
  • There is great expectation in Africa from an Obama presidency

With this in mind, Barack Obama will therefore pursue three fundamental objectives on the continent. 

  • One is to accelerate Africa's integration into the global economy.
  • A second is to enhance the peace and security of African states.
  • And a third is to strengthen relationships with those governments, institutions and civil society organizations committed to deepening democracy, accountability and reducing poverty in Africa.

According to Schneidman, President Obama will also pursue conflict resolutions in Darfur, Somalia, Eastern Congo, the Niger Delta in Nigeria and Zimbabwe. He will also sustain AFRICOM, the US military command for Africa to realize its potential, in cooperation with other U.S. agencies and regional partners, to promote peace, security, and stability on the continent. In addition Obama will create a Shared Security Partnership Program to build the infrastructure to deliver effective counter-terrorism training, and to create a strong foundation for coordinated action against al Qaeda and its affiliates in Africa .The program will provide assistance with information sharing, training, operations, border security, anti-corruption programs, technology and the targeting of terrorist financing.

 President Obama will also establish an Add Value to Agriculture Initiative (AVTA), to accelerate Africa's integration into the global economy and to expand prosperity on the continent, which will spur research and innovation aimed at partnering with land grant institutions, private philanthropies and businesses to promote higher yield seeds, better irrigation methods and affordable and safe fertilizers. With the believe that such an initiative will address issues related to food security, Barack Obama will strengthen the African Growth and Opportunity Act to ensure that African producers can access the U.S. market and will encourage more American companies to invest in Africa. He will also work with the Overseas Private Investment Corporation to develop lending facilities to small and medium businesses, so that those companies under $5 million can become $10 and $20 million companies, creating new jobs, sustainable incomes and partners for American companies.

 

President Obama also plan to work with Congress to address stagnation in the areas of democracy building, the rule of law, judicial reform, the strengthening of parliaments, education and enhancing the entrepreneurial skills of men and women, and to increase American investment in foreign assistance. He promises to spearhead an initiative to eliminate the global education deficit by establishing a Global Education Fund to help fill the financing gap for primary education in Africa and the developing world and make the Millennium Development Goals America's goals.  He will surely provide a new vista to US-African relationship. However, the question will be whether it will match the level of expectations from the continent because of his African heritage.

The demand and pressure of the current financial crisis at home and other areas of priorities around the world such as Iraq, Afghanistan, and Middle East, North Korea will surely test his ability to devote time and energy to Africa. Given the domestic policy demands and the economic problems on the home-front and the peripherilization of Africa in American interest sphere, it may be difficult for President Obama to achieve all the lofty goals on his campaign website. The economy and the war against terror might also force his administration to limit his expenditure abroad and his African initiatives may be the first casualty of such a cut. President Obama may not realize this but he has a higher standard to meet than any other Presidents before him

Oct. 5th, 2008

Obama Can Still Win if.....and McCain Can Still Win If......

The mainstream media is falling over itself over Barack Obama and it is more and more obvious and it makes the case for the Republican candidates that the media is bias.

The media should just do their jobs and let the people decide because Obama can still win. In an effort to make him self a post racial candidate, Barack Obama has distance himself from appealing directly to the black community because his winning streaks during the nomination process and his eventual nomination already made that case for him.

The soft belly of this approach is that, it kept the race issue the '"elephant" in the room in this process even up till now and may be until the result is out in November. He should have face it head on because his race has contributed to where he is today, no one should deny that and American need to be reassured that he is a safe candidate which he is. The lack of in depth debate on this issue is a pitfall  in the days ahead. He may still have to address this issue and that of his relationship with Ayers in the weeks ahead. When that is done, America will surely see him as a better alternative than the Republican candidate. The problem with the Republican candidates is not McCain but George W Bush and the ability of John McCain to turn the next week into a referendum on Obama, the better for him and the ability of barack Obama to make it a referendum on George Bush, the better for Obama. Interesting so let us seat back and watch !


 

US Presidential Candidates and Africa


In about four weeks Americans will be going to the polls to elect a new President. The choice is between Senators Barack Obama and John McCain. Under the Bush administration, US interests were manifested in funding and supports in the fights against HIV/AIDS and initiatives through faith based organizations. Credit must be given to  President Bush's Emergency Program for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), which with 1.7 million people in Africa on anti-retrovirals, has been an extremely important initiative. His  program to eradicate malaria and address neglected tropical diseases marked a new dimension and positive development in US government initiatives in Africa.During this period we have seen an increase in philantropist and non-profit organizations involvements. Bill and Belinda Gates Foundation, the Clinton Global Initiatives to mention a few in Africa. January 2009 is expected to offer a new direction in American -African relations because for the first time, an African American with an African father may be elected the next President of America.Barack Obama  of  Luo heritage in Kenya will either chart a new course in American -African relations or John McCain will continue the same path as President George W Bush. The response to Obama's candidacy in Africa is as expected but no one knows what it means for the continent. The recent visits of many African leaders to the UN would have provided an insight into what an Obama Presidency might mean but with no official coverage or meeting  with any African leader Barack Obama fail to take advantage of this annual prilgimage to New York. However, his heritage and the fact that a former Assistant secretary of State for Africa under President Clinton, Susan Rice is his foreign policy adviser means that Africa will be an integral part of his foreign policy interests.

But we must still ponder what we can expect from these two candidates, if either of them is elected the next President of the United States.

 Barack Obama

Carina Rey in an opinion piece, on  August 14th, 2008, in  Pambazuka News, provided an insight into what might guide an Obama foreign policy in Africa. According to her ,Obama" will pursue a more enlightened foreign policy towards Africa than George Bush has and more importantly than John McCain would....His family ties to Africa (Kenya to be exact) have, however, given him a greater personal connection to the continent and its people than any other American presidential candidate before him. As far as I am aware he also has the most cosmopolitan upbringing of any presidential candidate to date. These facts combined with his intellectual strength, eloquence, and ability to think outside of the box suggest that if elected president he will pursue a more diplomacy-oriented and judicious foreign policy in general. With regard to Africa, the simple fact that the continent is already on his radar further suggests we can expect him to have a greater hand in proactively crafting his administration's Africa agenda, rather than doing what most US presidents have done before him: neglect Africa except when the US's strategic interests are involved, and we all know how that story repeatedly turned out". Africa is an area of priority according to Obama's website. To Ms Rey,though Africa is featured on the list of Obama's top eight foreign policy priorities, which in descending order are: Ending the War in Iraq; Iran; Renewing American Diplomacy; Nuclear Weapons, Building a 21st Century Military; Bipartisanship and Openness; Israel; and Africa, rather than taking umbrage at Africa's bottom position on the list,  she is "pleasantly surprised that it is on the list to begin with (needless to say Africa doesn't feature at all in John McCain's foreign policy priorities). Coming in right after Israel on a list that doesn't even mention China is, I think, quite suggestive of how important Africa is to Obama". Barack Obama will also be engaged in, stopping the genocide in Darfur, ending the conflict in Congo, and bringing former Liberian president Charles Taylor to justice.

An Obama agenda will also work with Congress to increase American investment in foreign assistance,to redress the lack of increase in development assistance in areas such as democracy building, the rule of law, judicial reform, the strengthening of parliaments,education and enhancing the entrepreneurial skills of men and women . Obama will spearhead an initiative to eliminate the global education deficit by establishing a Global Education Fund to help fill the financing gap for primary education in Africa and the developing world. He will also make the Millennium Development Goals America's goals.

 

Also, Witney W. Schneidman, an adviser on Africa to Barack Obama, in an guest column  on allAfrica.com of September 29, 2008, sets out Obama's fundamental policy objectives for Africa. In the piece, he said Obama's African agenda is informed by  the interest in his candidacy in the African diaspora community which can be a game changer in voter drive and on election day. Obama's African initiative is premised on the fact that:.

 

  • Africans are the most educated immigrant group in the country.
  • African-born men and women have higher median earnings than all foreign-born men and women in the U.S.
  • Remittances from Africans in the diaspora are on the rise, estimated to be in excess of $4 to 6 billion per year. Nigerians, as one example, remit more than $3 billion per year.
  • There is great expectation in Africa from an Obama presidency

With this in mind, Barack Obama will therefore pursue three fundamental objectives on the continent.

 

  • One is to accelerate Africa's integration into the global economy.
  • A second is to enhance the peace and security of African states.
  • And a third is to strengthen relationships with those governments, institutions and civil society organizations committed to deepening democracy, accountability and reducing poverty in Africa.

According to Schneidman, Obama will also pursue conflict resolutions in Darfur, Somalia, Eastern Congo,the Niger Delta in Nigeria and Zimbabwe. Obama will also sustain AFRICOM, the US military command for Africa to realize its potential, in cooperation with other U.S. agencies and regional partners, to promote peace, security, and stability on the continent.In addition he will create a Shared Security Partnership Program to build the infrastructure to deliver effective counter-terrorism training, and to create a strong foundation for coordinated action against al Qaeda and its affiliates in Africa .The program  will provide assistance with information sharing, training, operations, border security, anti-corruption programs, technology and the targeting of terrorist financing.

 

An Obama Presidency would establish an Add Value to Agriculture Initiative (AVTA), to accelerate Africa's integration into the global economy and to expand prosperity on the continent, which will spur research and innovation aimed at partnering with land grant institutions, private philanthropies and businesses to promote higher yield seeds, better irrigation methods and affordable and safe fertilizers. With the believe that such an initiative will address issues related to food security, Barack Obama will strengthen the African Growth and Opportunity Act to ensure that African producers can access the U.S. market and will encourage more American companies to invest in Africa. He will also work with the Overseas Private Investment Corporation to develop lending facilities to small and medium businesses, so that those companies under $5 million can become $10 and $20 million companies, creating new jobs, sustainable incomes and partners for American companies.

 

To address stagnation in the areas of democracy building, the rule of law, judicial reform, the strengthening of parliaments, education and enhancing the entrepreneurial skills of men and women, Obama intend to work with Congress to increase American investment in foreign assistance. He will spearhead an initiative to eliminate the global education deficit by establishing a Global Education Fund to help fill the financing gap for primary education in Africa and the developing world and make the Millennium Development Goals America's goals.

 Barack Obama's Presidency will surely provide a new vista to US-African relationship, the question will therefore be whether it will match the level of expectations because of his African heritage.But given the domestic policy demands and the economic problems on the homefront and the peripherilization of Africa in American interest sphere, it may be difficult for Obama to achieve all these lofty goals. The economy and the war against terror might force his administration to limit his expenditure abroad and his African initiatives, may be the first casualty of such a cut.

 John MCain

Senator John McCain in a May 2007 speech before the Hoover Institution, said the United States should promote democracy in Africa. According to him the US should join in a League of Democracies,  to help regions in Africa besets by humanitarian crises.McCain also said the United States should support those in Africa "who favor open economies and democratic government against populist demagogues who are dragging their nations back to the failed socialist policies of the past." In a March 2008 speech, McCain said the United States must "engage" on a political, economic, and security level with friendly governments across Africa, but insist on improvements in transparency and the rule of law.McCain also said as he would establish the goal of eradicating malaria in Africa. He also condemn the Sudanese government as "chiefly responsible" for the violence in Darfur, and demanded that the Khartoum regime adhere to the Comprehensive Peace Agreement.

 

Peter Pham, a foreign policy and national security advisor to Senator John McCain , espouse McCain  long believe that the continent  holds incredible promise, and that "we must refocus on the bright promise offered by many countries on that continent," rather than being fixated on its problems. And that McCain has repeatedly pledged to stand shoulder to shoulder with US friends in Africa who share US faith in the God-given dignity of our common humanity, the liberating power of human freedom, and the uplifting wealth-producing potential of free markets. A McCain Administration would build on the success of the Bush Adminsitration and working with Congress to consolidate the comprehensive trade and investment policy for Africa introduced in the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) of 2000, which substantially lowered commercial barriers with the United States and allowed sub-Saharan African countries to qualify for trade benefits such as having goods from their nascent manufacturing sectors imported into the United States tariff-free. He would also look to go beyond AGOA, by opening up additional trade opportunities for African economies, calling for a concerted effort to mobilize the private sector to invest in Africa, creating new opportunities not only for American business, but also for Africans to achieve their own dreams. In this regard, McCain also call for an intensified effort by African governments to eliminate unnecessary barriers and disincentives that continue to discourage both African and foreign private investors.

 McCain administration will secure for AFRICOM the resources it will need as it begins its mission, in partnership with other agencies of the U.S. government as well as international partners, to contribute to a more peaceful and secure Africa. And that establishing a unified command for Africa is a useful step in better cooperating with African governments. The new command's emphasis needs to be on working with African and other partners to build up security capabilities and develop, in conjunction with various agencies across the U.S. government, those countries' capacity for securing essential services, a viable market economy, rule of law, democratic institutions and a robust civil society. While traditional "hard power" operations will also be a responsibility of AFRICOM, "soft power" instruments, including diplomatic outreach, political persuasion, and economic programs should be part of US total national strategy of engagement.

In both candidate's policy positions on Africa, there are similarities of purpose but Barack Obama is more focused and in depth than McCains. But given the nature of their respective parties and the history of their involvement in Africa , it is difficult  to say precisely if these similarities will persist overtime. But one can be sure that, the expectation is different for either of these candidates and because of this, Obama has a higher standard to meet than McCain