Africa: Florida is not Zimbabwe

When the US presidential campaign began – sometime shortly following the 2000 election – candidates of all stripes promised a thorough debate on issues, both of national and international importance. Yet, for all the hot air generated by the three remaining contenders from the major U.S. political parties, the subject of Africa (and its people) has most often received short shrift. (And this comes at a time when citizen interest in news from the continent is growing, argues three mainstream journalists.) Other than a few mumbled words when President George W. Bush visited Africa in February, the policy response to a continent of more than 900 million inhabitants has been meager. Instead, the majority of discussions on foreign affairs have centered on the usual suspects: The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the hassles of free trade (or not) and containing Iran.

No longer. In an attempt to get the votes counted and certified in Michigan’s and Florida’s Democratic primaries, Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton compared her cause to the recent election (and post-election) travails in Zimbabwe. You may remember that each primary was invalidated by the Democratic Party because against policy, both states moved their primary dates forward. It is wrong, CBS’ Fernando Suarez quoted Clinton saying at a retirement center rally in Florida, when “people go through the motions of an election only to have them discarded and disregarded.”

“We’re seeing that right now in Zimbabwe,” Clinton explained. “Tragically, an election was held, the president lost, they refused to abide by the will of the people.”

Leo Africanus
, a South African who blogs at Africa is a Country and lives in the U.S., says you have to respect her chutzpah for making such a bold statement, but the comparison is more than a little superficial.

Given the Clintons’ race-baiting, I am wondering whether the aim is also to us “Mugabe” and “Obama” in the same sentence?

Well, what do Zimbabweans really go through? Here’s an account of what happens to people who vote against Mugabe.

Let’s stay with foreign affairs for a moment longer. Tony Karon, a South African journalist who lives in the United States, points out in his blog Rootless Cosmopolitan that while Barack Obama was correct to “slap down George W. Bush” over the president’s recent comments implying the Democratic contender is a present-day Neville Chamberlain-like Nazi appeaser who wants to negotiate with Hamas with no preconditions. However, Karon argues, Obama went about his defence wrongly.

Obama’s problem was that he denied he would ever speak with the Syrian and Iranian-backed Hamas. This not only paints him into a strategic corner, but those with knowledge of the region understand that not only is Hamas a powerful organization, but they are the true threat to Israel, unlike Mahmoud Abbas of Fatah.

So, he may have come out swinging, but Obama picked the wrong punches. Instead of insisting he wouldn’t talk to Hamas, he’d have been better off ridiculing the notion that Hamas or Iran are the equivalent of Nazi Germany, and pointing out that Bush — by substituting teenage testosterone for serious policy — is essentially teeing up another war that will not be good for Israel or for the United States.

From Oga Tunji Lardner, a Nigerian journalist and self-confessed Latte Liberal, who is being reprinted in a fellow countryman’s blog called Omoluwabi Okebadan, finds some commonalities between Obama’s run today and Jesse Jackson’s candidacy for the White House more than 20 years ago.

I remember how the news of Jesse running for the presidency of the US in 1984 impacted on our global political consciousness in Nigeria, literally a generation ago. As a young idealistic journalist working for a fledgling weekly magazine, and like the rest of my equally young and idealistic colleagues, the very idea of a black man as the president of the United States was a notion we readily accepted as a possibility After all this was “the United States” —with its self evident truths about the equality of man: the democratic ideal that we all so dearly wished for Nigeria, which was then in the grip of yet another predatory and distinctively vicious military dictator by name Ibrahim Babangida.

Looking back, I marvel at our naiveté and sense of moral certitude about the world ultimately being a good and just place. I suppose we were subconsciously projecting our hope and sense of justice and optimism on that great whiteboard called America. To look too closely at our selves, our country, indeed our continent would have been too painful and depressing. So we cast our eyes far, far over the rainbow to that mythical place where someone like us was running to be the leader of the most powerful nation in the world. Even so, a little voice now and then whispered in our ears, the cold calculating facts of American electoral politics, there was no way any Jesse was going to beat the “Gipper,” an extremely popular incumbent Ronald Reagan. Nonetheless we persisted in our little game of self-deception, knowing fully well that given the tortured history of race in America, it was highly unlikely that a Blackman, indeed any black man would ever make to Pennsylvania Avenue in the foreseeable future.

However, times are different in 2008, where the grand narratives of African Americans, America and Africa are much changed.

Nelson Mandela once remarked about how African men (and by extension Black men) are tentative about fully embracing their potential greatness, but not this brother.
As I marvel at the sheer chutzpa of the man, trying hard not to “hate the player, but to hate the game”—almost like loving the sinner and hating the sin—that niggling little voice is back, again. It is saying, and I render this with my tongue firmly planted in my cheek, and bearing in mind the properly contextualized, albeit widely misunderstood rhetoric of Reverend Wright, “Damn you Obama… Damn you! Damn you for blowing our collective alibis as black men… Damn you for kicking away our pathetic crutches, now we must stand tall, with no excuses, and grab and shape the destinies of our people!”

This time I am responding to the imperative rather than the fearfulness beneath the surface of this dubious little voice. It is a new day. And there is work to be done.

(Yes, you noticed correctly the word chutzpah has come up in this round up two different times.)

The Angry African, another member of the South African Diaspora residing in the U.S., proves that the process of writing is more than merely throwing words on the wall and praying they stick. He takes us through the development of writing a Dear John letter to Senator John McCain. We’ll skip right to the end result.

Dear John,

I don’t know quite how to tell you this, but you’re a schmuck. I think I first knew it when you shackled me. And I saw you render impotent the USA. I’m sure you’re masochistic enough to see how miserable I’ve been. I’m returning your Darth Vader poster. But I’m holding on to those oil stocks as a keepsake. I want you to know that I’ll be a lot better off without your new life as a clone.

Regards to your creepy (political) family,

Angry African

And things come full circle. Just because American candidates are a little fuzzy on African issues, that doesn’t mean African bloggers are clueless on the hopes and fears keeping most Americans up at night. Ivo, a South African who blogs at the Spike, argues the recent move by the U.S. Department of Interior makes a dangerous move by adding the polar bear to the list of endangered species because global warming threatens its habitat.

[I]t’s going to hit Americans — and anyone who buys American products or relies on American investment capital — in their pockets. Not only trade, but similar decisions made by other countries or by international bodies, will spread this damage worldwide.

Environmentalists failed to convince the US legislature to enact draconian new laws to enforce costly measures whose benefits are at best speculative. Having failed to make their case, they fall back on what appears to be an innocent and even noble regulatory decision. They know listing the polar bear as threatened opens the door for litigation to enforce their ideas about carbon dioxide emissions on others, on the basis that any such emissions contribute to the destruction of the polar bear’s habitat.

Orikinla Osinachi
at the Nigerian Times reprints a letter calling on viewers to write CNN demanding an apology from Republican media consultant Alex Castellanos who was referring to Hillary Clinton on air when he said that some people are called bitches and sometime it is accurate.

Abesha Bunna Bet
from Ethiopia joins the ranks of those who think commentator Bill O’Reilly of Fox News is bonkers. (His words, not mine.)


  • bob

    I really don’t care what the people of other countries think of the U.S. Until you get off you butt and form a better government [one that resembles our founding gov’t] you will always be repressed by jack asses of all forms -fix what you have-where you are!!

  • Bob, as long as the US government keeps invading foreign countries willy nilly and maintaining interminable occupations for the purpose of let multinationals pillaging natural resources at the costs of thousands of American lives and hundreds of billions of our tax dollars dollars, then you’d BETTER care what people of other countries think of the US.

    And any citizenry that willfully elects (once at least) George W. Bush and his cronies forfeits its credibility to criticize anyone else on good government, the rule of law and human rights.

  • When you want to rule the world, you’d better care what other peoples think of you. Only when the US returns to its former state as a republic, then the ignorance-bliss strategy might become an option.

  • Very, very, very disappointing how Senator Clinton has run her campaign.
    Her recent ‘Zimbabwe’ commen ts trying to justify counting the Florida and Michigan votes are like the magical antics of a town circus that has since lost the awe of spectactors. She is pathetic.

    Just GO AWAY, looooooser!

  • Dear John,

    No, not that type of Dear John letter this time. Just to say that it is a huge honor that you mentioned my blog over here. A huge honor. Thank you.

    And to Bob. Mandela and Kaunda. Two people that can hold up to your Founding Fathers. I admire what they did in the face of oppression and stood up for their country the USA. It took cuts. And so did Mandela. I also agree with Brian – I have the right to an opinion if you have the right to an opinion on how the world should be run. You can’t have it both ways. Stay out of the world or be prepared to listen to me as I listen to you.

  • LastManStanding

    While I can’t deny that us-world criticism is, and should be, a two-way street, it genuinely amazes me how the world is willing to criticize even the most minor slip-up or fault of America, while turning a blind eye to many, many other nations which commit gross, flagrant and intentional transgressions against their own people and their neighbors.

    For example:
    The world protests vigorously when America throws a few suspected terrorists into Guantanamo then sheepishly releases them when they are found innocent

    The world is silent when Iran summarily executes homosexuals for being homosexual or women for being raped

    The world protests when America’s citizens freely choose a leader whose policies they dislike

    The world is silent when hundreds of leaders in hundreds of other countries merely seize power and use every resource available to loot the country, commit atrocities and invade their neighbors

    The world protests when an American bomb accidentially kills a single innocent civilian

    The world is silent when thousands of innocent civilians are intentionally killed by the likes of Saddam Hussein, the Rwandan Hutus, the Sudanese Janjaweed and so on.

    If you want to whine about America’s policies, at least hold the rest of the world to the same standards.

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