What if Obama was African?

Many Portuguese speaking bloggers from African countries are writing and commenting about a food for thought article by Mozambican author Mia Couto, originally published at local newspaper Savana on November 14th and that has made rounds on mail boxes ever since. In the article, Couto says that he was one of the many Africans to celebrate Obama's victory at the same time that he noticed the messages of solidarity from African leaders, who would call Obama “our brother”. The author wondered if those leaders were sincere and doubted it: “In the rush to see only others’ prejudices, we are not able to see our own racism and xenophobia”. In short, Couto believes that if Obama was the presidential candidate at an imaginary African countries’ elections, he would not have the same opportunities that allowed him to be elected president of the United States. The author believes this need not to be this way, wrapping up the article with this paragraph:

No mesmo dia em que Obama confirmava a condição de vencedor, os noticiários internacionais abarrotavam de notícias terríveis sobre África. No mesmo dia da vitória da maioria norte-americana, África continuava sendo derrotada por guerras, má gestão, ambição desmesurada de políticos gananciosos. Depois de terem morto a democracia, esses políticos estão matando a própria política. Resta a guerra, em alguns casos. Outros, a desistência e o cinismo. Só há um modo verdadeiro de celebrar Obama nos países africanos: é lutar para que mais bandeiras de esperança possam nascer aqui, no nosso continente. É lutar para que Obamas africanos possam também vencer. E nós, africanos de todas as etnias e raças, vencermos com esses Obamas e celebrarmos em nossa casa aquilo que agora festejamos em casa alheia.

On the same day that Obama was confirmed as the winner, there were plenty of terrible pieces about Africa in the international news coverage. On the same day of the victory for the majority of Americans, Africa was still being defeated by wars, mismanagement, and the excessive ambition of greedy politicians. After having killed democracy, these politicians are killing their own politics. The war remains in some cases. In others, there are flinch and cynicism. There is only one real way of celebrating Obama in the African countries: it is fighting so that more flags of hope may rise here in our continent. It is fighting for the African Obamas to win too. And we, Africans of all races and ethnicity, will win together with these Obamas and celebrate in our house what we now celebrate elsewhere.

Some people disagreed with that view and considered it a comparison between apples and pears. Mozambican sociologist Patricio Langa replies saying that Couto was comparing 300 years of the establishment of democratic institutions in the US with two decades in Africa, and pointing out that the idea of predatory elites is a widespread and unfortunate defect of reasoning. He mentions a book by Patrick Chabal and Jean Pascal Daloz, “Africa Works: Disorder as a political Instrument” as the academic background of such arguments. The blogger concludes:

Perguntem aos americanos quantas guerras antecederam a sua democracia secular, quantas pilhagens houve até desenvolverem instituições credíveis (e mesmo assim caíram na maior crise corrupta do sistema bancário); quantos políticos desonestos se descobrem hoje na terra do tio SAM; quantos corruptos são denunciados e tantos outros escapam; perguntem aos americanos como se lida com os lobbyistas. Aí veremos que o problema não reside apenas na condição genética de político africano. Não estou a sugerir com isto que a África tenha que passar pela mesma trilha. Estou simplesmente a sugerir que África devia ser analisada por seus próprios termos. Não existe nenhuma possibilidade de se pensar num Obama africano, assim como é absurdo pensar-se, ainda que se faça, numa África que são os EUA.

Ask Americans how many wars there were prior to their secular democracy, how much looting took place until they developed credible institutions (and even then they fell in the greatest corrupt crisis of their banking system); how many dishonest politicians are uncovered today in Uncle Sam's land; how many corrupt people are denounced and how many others manage to escape; ask Americans how to deal with lobbyists. Then we will see that the problem is not only with the genetic condition of African politicians. I am not suggesting that Africa has to go through the same paths. I'm simply suggesting that Africa should be examined by its own terms. There is no possibility of thinking about an African Obama, as well as it is absurd to think, although it has been done, about an Africa that is the USA.

Angolan blogger Koluki follows the surreal trail to “try to imagine an Africa that was the United States of Africa,” which would be a country with the following characteristics:

1. Os EUA Africanos estariam independentes ha’ mais de dois seculos e nao teriam existido guerras de libertacao contra o colonialismo durante decadas. Caso, por alguma razao, tivessem existido ‘movimentos de libertacao’, estes tenderiam a perseguir os seus objectivos atraves de protestos, marchas, boicotes, cancoes e sonhos, sendo pouco provavel que se organizassem em exercitos armados.

2. Os EUA Africanos teriam adoptado uma Constituicao guiada por ideais libertarios, tanto em termos de liberdade economica como individual e nao teriam seguido estrategias de desenvolvimento socialista lideradas por ex-guerrilheiros marxistas ou maoistas coadjuvados por poetas e romancistas e aconselhados por acessores estrangeiros.

3. Os lideres dos EUA Africanos, independentemente da sua raca, etnicidade, genero ou origem geografica, nao seriam simplesmente apontados e ‘entronados’ em posicoes governamentais ou empresariais com base na sua militancia partidaria, mais antiga ou mais recente, mas teriam que, no primeiro caso, concorrer a eleicoes regulares sancionadas pelo sufragio universal, tanto a nivel do seu partido como a nivel nacional, em condicoes de igualdade com qualquer outro candidato elegivel e, no segundo caso, demonstrar as suas capacidades e competencias atraves de resultados positivos observaveis e aprovados pelos ‘shareholders’ das suas empresas ou, dito de outro modo, teriam que ‘subir a pulso’.

1. The African U.S. would have been independent for more than two centuries and the decades of war of liberation against colonialism would not have happened. If, for some reason, there had been ‘liberation movements’, they would have tended to pursue their goals through protests, marches, boycotts, songs and dreams, and were unlikely to have been organized into armies.
2. The African U.S. would have adopted a constitution guided by Libertarian ideals, both in terms of economic and individual freedons, and would not have followed strategies of developing socialist led by ex-Marxist or Maoist guerrillas assisted by poets and novelists and advised by foreign advisers.
3. The leaders of the African U.S., irrespective of their race, ethnicity, gender or geographical origin, would not simply be nominated and ‘throned’ for government or business positions based on their older or newer party militancy, but, in the first case, they would have to run for regular elections sanctioned by universal suffrage, both at their parties and national levels, on an equal footing with any other eligible candidate, and, in the second case, they would need to demonstrate their abilities and skills through positive results observed and approved by their companies’ ‘shareholders’ or, to put it another way, they would have to ‘climb their way up’.

She then asks if Barack Obama would be elected the president of the United States of African, and answers: “YES HE COULD!”

1 comment

  • Rocket88

    How many wars did the Americans need prior to founding its “secular democracy”? Technically, one. The war of independence from nominally Christian Britain, 1775-1783.

    The current American constitutional system was implemented in 1789. In its first 50 years of existence, the United States was used as a pawn by the much more powerful colonial powers of Europe. They meddled in US affairs constantly; on one occasion, Britain re-invaded and burned Washington to the ground. Spain, France, and Britain all had colonial holdings surrounding the original 13 US states. The United States was economically backward, primarily agrarian, with little infrastructure away from its coasal cities; it had no significant navy, the key factor in projecting influence abroad in those days; its people were widely scattered with poor communications outside of cities, and little access to education or healthcare.

    Despite this, for its first 50 years of existence, there were no significant armed internal conflicts; there were 13 peaceful presidential elections and 25 peaceful Congressional elections; the military remained small and firmly under civilian control; the country weathered a Constitutional crisis from a tied presidential election without resorting to arms; the country managed to build up its infrastructure and develop an industrial base while repaying the foreign debt from its war of independence.

    By the end of 1960, there were 27 independent nations in Africa. How many of them can show an uninterrupted history of free elections, peaceful transfers of power, and the rule of law?

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