Lest We Forget: There Is An Obama Legacy for the African Continent

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Reuters/Newsweek

U.S. President Barack Obama holds a roundtable discussion with civil society leaders in Nairobi, Kenya, on July 26, 2015. Obama has sought to engage African leaders to help themselves during his presidency.

As Donald Trump prepares to to assume the U.S. presidency, we are continuing to look back at the important legacy of Barack Obama and his administration vis-à-vis the African continent.

On November 8, 2016, the election of Trump as the 45th president of the United States shook the world. Many people from the African continent who I spoke with the day of the election and in the weeks after, have told me how they experienced nightmares following the shocking decision by American voters.

Many say they have never slept comfortably since this happened. But, there are still those who remain elated since Trump was elected.

For those who are afraid, they tell me they are concerned about what a Trump presidency holds for the continent and the rest of the world. This much uncertainly, not just from the ordinary person, but also from reports in the the media, speaks to the contrast with events following the election of Barack Obama in 2009 and re-election 2012.

An example of the gloom brought on by the Trump election is Nobel prize laureate, Wole Soyinka from Nigeria, who decided to tear up his U.S. Green Card and renounce his U.S. residency after Trump won the U.S. presidency.

This notwithstanding, very soon we will begin to refer to the Obama administration in the past tense. On January 20, Obama will officially hand over enormous power to Trump.

Obama is (or was) not just the first president of the United States of America who happens to be black. He is (or was) a symbol of what hope there is in American leadership and hope for those who need (re)assurance that the world is a not a bad and fearful place to be.

As we are going back to the past, looking at history and making some comparisons, we are finding reason to conclude there is indeed a Barack Obama legacy for the African Continent. My Colleague, Raevyn Goates has tracked some of the important work the administration did with the African continent. It is a demonstration of the role the continent plays in the twenty-first century.

Others, including China Global Television in America, have profiled the legacy of the administration as well.

Why are we doing this? Today African nations are not just at the receiving end of philanthropic and humanitarian help, something that we’ve been critical about. The days of handouts are coming to an end. It’s true there are still cases of African nations that are dependent on aid and assistance from other nations. But it’s also true a large majority of African countries are moving away from dependence on foreign assistance.

With the resources available to these countries, they have and can generate the capacity to assist themselves when needed. But as economists such as Dambisa Moyo have argued, the tendency by Western institutions of rushing to assist African nations, while it looks, sounds and feels good, it also feeds dependency, corruption and mismanagement which ends up causing more damage than good for these countries.

Let’s be clear, this is a complex subject and I’ll leave it to the experts to discuss it at length.

“Reorienting U.S.−Africa policy towards trade, and putting in place practical initiatives, such as the USABF, to build relationships and encourage investment, will be the key Africa legacy of the Obama administration,” Alex Vines of London-based Chatham House wrote recently.

The continent remains an important partner in world trade, diplomacy, peace and international security, business and investment. We have not seen the same level of interest in the African continent from the Trump people thus far. While African nations have shown an increasing propensity to build more ties with China, one analyst thinks the Trump presidency will only push them further away from the U.S. and into the direction of China.

We will continue this series until January 20.

Africa Agenda Recommends: My President Was Black: A history of the first African American White House—and of what came next. By Ta-Nehisi Coates

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