By Innocent Chia
Beyond the slice and dice of the political left and right in Washington DC, Africans at home and abroad are hardly agreed on the how and why of President Obama’s policy on Africa. Particularly, the ousting and assassination of Libyan strongman, belated Muammar Ghadaffi, splintered not only Africa’s educated elite as did it for the masses. Almost overnight, academics and other opinion leaders who hitherto had either great contempt or, at best, disregard, for the fallen leader became his best advocates - not just because Africans would not say anything evil of the dead. In an election year when every vote is more than critical for the re-election of Obama, it is crucial for voting Africans in the US, and true friends of Africa, to be advocates and supporters of a policy and President with a view towards the future – a future far beyond the short term electoral results secured by the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt that certainly account today, for the inimical chants against US Secretary of State, Hilary Clinton.
One of the first things that I learnt about censorship is that it exponentially grows free demand and curiosity for the product as any advertising can cultivate at great cost. This readily explains the dominance of the Muslim Brotherhood in the post-Mubarak, post-Arab spring elections in Egypt. For close to a century, the Brotherhood was censored; its leadership was either ostracized or executed; members and aspiring members were persecuted; their families were threatened and lived in fear even as successive regimes satisfied every other interest but those of the middle class and the majority in abject poverty. Like a girlfriend or boyfriend disliked by parents of the other party, the Brotherhood was inadvertently turned into a romantic fixation by the government.
Anyone who expected less must be charged with disingenuousness, hypocrisy, naiveté or outright ignorance for thinking that the secret flame – the Brotherhood - was going to be closeted by Egyptians when given the chance. But it must also be acknowledged that the Muslim Brotherhood did not count on happenstance to take it this far. The Brotherhood found a way into the hearts of Egyptians - sending love letters, gifting on birthdays when no one cared, encouraging students to be the best they could be – even with knowledge of possible repercussions. The Brotherhood was doing all these little things and more that others were taking for granted, thus securing the right of place that the Egyptian people have now legitimately conferred on the Brotherhood. It does not mean that the love tale will last forever.
There was room for Obama to stick it out with America’s ally of several decades – President Hosni Mubarak. Indeed, the Obama administration was caught flatfooted at the onset, and was arguably pulled along by events on the ground – a resolve by the populace to be active participants in defining their destiny. Eventually, there was sufficient nudging by the Obama administration, leading to the final demise of the regime. Such a policy shift in Washington provided the glimmer of hope that arguably emboldened respective parties and sparked revolution in Libya. The vote by the Security Council and the novel policy of “leading from behind” earned Obama criticism from the left as it did from his right. In fact, as a result of his policy and air strikes that eventually decimated loyal forces to the ruthless leader who equated his people to “flies” and “rats”, there have been more Africans flocking to be bedfellows with the defunct Ghadaffi’s dictatorship.
Muammar Ghadaffi's Allies
Why rush to the defense of Ghadaffi posthumously? New found advocates have pounded home the prosperity that Ghadaffi allegedly brought to Libya. They have pounded home how he secured the peace in the region and beyond. They have pounded home all sorts of conspiracy theories, including a single African Union currency in Gold - purportedly the immediate cause that led his assassination by the West.
What has hardly been touched by our 21st century enlightened luminaries is any robust denial of a side of Ghadaffi that they either did not know or would never have supported. In a recent conversation with one such newfound supporter, I sought to know whether there was not a contradiction between his clarion calls for America to oust Biya while expressing outrage and indignation for Obama’s policy in Libya. You can imagine that we had a long night, my friend mostly explaining away the differences between the two situations.
The way I see it, Obama’s African policy is probably the most well thought-out policy that has ever been crafted for Africa from Washington DC. He had promised at his inaugural that he would unclench the fists of those leaders who had turned their nations into modern slave ports and piggy banks. He re-echoed the promise in Ghana during his first official visit to Africa. There is reason to believe that President Obama has studied Africa enough to determine that it is impossible to have cave men leading the continent forward. Hence his appeal for young people across the continent to become assertive and involved in the politics of the day.
It is no coincidence that the Arab Spring was largely coordinated by young men and women. Yet, disappointing as the outcome has been for the young revolutionaries in Egypt, it has to be said that this was to be expected. And here is why:
Dictatorships that last as long as those of Mubarak and Ghadaffi not only demand loyalty to the king; they mutilate or kill any thought and desire for leadership among the youth. These are most reflected in conversations where citizens resign to fate as a plan in which they are innocent bystanders, as opposed to counting on the towering strength of national institutions (the executive, the legislature, and the judiciary) to dwarf reigning personality cults. A pervasive example of such resignation, of citizens throwing in the towel, is often embodied in this simple statement: “He will not live forever. He will die soon”.
Artificial Leadership Gap in Africa
Without any inkling that they are as entitled to partaking in the present as they are part of defining the future, young Africans from countries of reigning dictatorships are hardly cultivating leadership skills in the political arena. The focus for over 99.9 percent of the youth population is survival, much as there are correlations between dictatorships and wanton poverty. Such a state of affairs readily explains why the West is constantly asking the vexing question of “who next / else”? The question often comes from a genuine lack of credible ground knowledge of the revolutionaries and whether or not they are flexible to embracing Western interests. The question also emanates from an intimate understanding that young revolutionaries are not always experienced or sophisticated enough to handle what awaits them when the dust of the revolution has settled.
Even while revolutionaries are dying to bring about change, there is always a generation that has been in the corridors of power waiting for their “turn”. More often than not, they too have been corrupted and held captive by the power of an incumbent whose main goal is to pass the baton to their progeny. Just as important, part of the equation lies in guaranteeing a lackluster and politically alienated youth that view politics and political office as the preserve of “others”, thus setting the stage for the children of the incumbent who must, like their fathers, stay in bed with the military for their own survival.
All of these to say this: The Muslim Brotherhood is not in power today because of luck. It worked for the moment of a revolution and planned for it. It sowed seeds and this time they are harvesting. Conversely, the fluid situation in Libya was also predictive because of the absence of any well organized and national entity with a track record like that of The Brotherhood. I will predict that Libya will go through some more tumultuous times as the predominantly Liberal parties have a feel of power, much like a child taking their first steps and bound to stumble, fall and momentarily feel secure crawling on all four.
The Right Policy for Africa
The strategy, the promise and future of the Obama African policy is not predicated on what happens in the short-run. Paradoxically, those who are most disappointed in immediate outcomes without Obama handpicking successors are the same ones that hate fast food restaurants. The fact of the matter, however, is that there are times in your life, like in mine, when we settle for unhealthy options because the stomach will not wait.
Obama’s policy sends a strong and unmistaken message to the next generation of leaders who may be nursing thoughts of beating the longevity records of their predecessors. President Obama has gone beyond the quick fixes that often characterize Western policy in Africa by replacing one dictator with another pseudo leader who soon turns into another unaccountable, pilfering dictator. It is important to understand this first step of having leaders who respect Constitutions; leaders who respect the will of the people without recourse to machinations that eventually lead to constitutional amendments regarding term limits.
Meantime, there has to be a transition period from these authoritarian regimes that have typically mimicked the way chiefdoms and kingdoms have held onto power for centuries. Therefore, the goal for next wave of leaders, instead of clinging on to power for thirty something years and more, should be expecting Armageddon after 8 years or whatever the duration of two terms may be. They should pride themselves in how much development they bring to their societies, not how long they stay in power.
Ultimately, the backbone of the Obama African policy is to impart a spirit in African leaders of tomorrow where they no longer see the respect of constitutional mandates as a sign of weak leadership when compared to their predecessors. It is a policy that will create an environment where the next leader can turn to their predecessor for counsel; where Presidents will have living peers from the same country, not only desecrate their graves. This is my humble reading of the Obama African policy – proponents should pass around, join Obama nation of supporters, and or donate to the campaign as a way of acknowledging the seed that Obama has planted in Africa. It is bold and it is visionary, unfortunate as it is that our leaders get to be thumped at.