The Star, Wednesday 8 February 2017
FORMER US president Barack Obama is a failed leader whose foreign policies on Africa were built on shaky ground. He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for ‘doing nothing’ – and the unrealistic expectation that he would become the Messiah of Africa during his eight-year presidency did not come even close to fruition.
In fact, the reason that Obama would go down in the annals of history as the first African American to occupy the White House was, more than anything, about him fulfilling the personal ambitions that his late father had failed to realise.
These were the remarks of Professor Adekeye Adebajo, director of the Institute for Pan-African Thought and Conversation (IPATC), at the University of Johannesburg (UJ). He was speaking during a Public Dialogue on “Obama’s Africa Legacy: A Triumph of Symbolism?” held at the UJ Kingsway Campus in Auckland Park, Joburg, yesterday.
Adebajo described Obama, who stepped down to make way for 45th US President Donald Trump last month, as a conflicted leader who supported strong democratic institutions for sub-Saharan Africa while preferring autocratic leadership for the Arab world.
He said Obama had merely continued his predecessor George W Bush’s policies on the “war on terror”, as the “kidnapping” of terrorism suspects and their unlawful detention and torture continued unabated on his watch. US drone strikes had killed scores of civilians, he added.
Adebajo said the greatest disappointment for Africa was that the former leader of the free world “treated Africa as a European sphere of influence”.
He also criticised the Nobel Committee’s decision to award Obama the Nobel Peace Prize ‘for just not being George W Bush’, a mere nine months into his presidency.
However, not all was doom and gloom, as the professor commended Obama’s support for peacekeeping missions in Africa, and mediation efforts in South Sudan and the Great Lakes region. Obama had also managed to increase the number of people with access to life-saving antiretroviral drugs, and had spearheaded the Young Africa Leaders Initiative.
Wits University visiting professor John Stremlau seemed to express sympathy for Obama’s administration, describing the civilian deaths by drone strikes as regrettable. He admitted to having a lot of confidence in Obama, whom he described as a “careful decision-maker”. Choosing his words carefully, Stremlau said Obama had inherited the “worst financial crisis”, and that he was a leader who respected the rule of law. The Dialogue was preceded by the screening of the documentary Senator Obama goes to Africa.
Former first lady Zanele Mbeki and officials from the embassies of the US, Sweden and Nigeria attended the event.