quarta-feira, 5 de agosto de 2015
A gatecrasher at Obama’s African homecoming
With every one of President Barack Obama’s trips to Africa, he has seemed keen to make a historic statement. His debut, a visit to Cairo , was meant to start a new phase in US-Arab relations after the grave misunderstandings seen during the presidency of George W Bush. The visit to Ghana soon afterwards was no less significant — the nation became in 1957 the first sub-Saharan African country to gain its independence, and is the most stable democracy in west Africa. Senegal, Tanzania and South Africa followed in 2013.
Mr Obama’s fourth visit to Africa, in July, was the first time a serving US president would visit either Kenya or Ethiopia. With Kenya, there was the added significance of a homecoming: his father was born in the country and died there. Indeed, in one of the president’s speeches there, he described himself as “the first Kenyan-American to be president of the United States”.
China has been paying attention; along with the US, it is a frontrunner in the race for economic and diplomatic influence on the continent. It overtook America as Africa’s largest trading partner in Mr Obama’s first year in office. That might have been on Hillary Clinton’s mind when, in Senegal as secretary of state in 2012, she said: “The days of having outsiders come and extract the wealth of Africa for themselves, leaving nothing or very little behind, should be over in the 21st century”. Today it is Beijing being snarky, with state news agency Xinhua deriding Mr Obama for “playing the family card”.
Perhaps Chinese ire is a measure of the success of Mr Obama’s attempt to make up for the indifference of his first term. He has unveiled partnerships in infrastructure and trade, and a Mandela Washington Fellowship targeting young African leaders. Yet the upper hand remains with Beijing. The number of Chinese people in Africa is now estimated at more than 1m . Mr Obama’s final speech on the continent was delivered in the African Union’s imposing new Addis Ababa headquarters, a gift from the Chinese government.
Preaching to Africa is one thing America has done better than any imperial overlord, and a US presidential trip would not have been complete without it. In Kenya, Mr Obama spoke against widespread homophobia. Many Africans perceive this as an attempt to impose an alien culture. In Ethiopia, he was scathing in his assessment of African rulers’ penchant for tenure extension. (Unlike the homosexuality point, this was extremely well received.)
The pulpiteering had an air of hypocrisy. Mr Obama described the Ethiopian government, which took 100 per cent of the vote in May, as “democratically elected”. Yet Burundi’s July poll, in which the opposition took more than a quarter of the vote, was “not credible”.
Hanging over this Africa trip — as with Mr Obama’s previous ones — is the conundrum: “Why not Nigeria?” It is Africa’s most populous country, and its largest economy; the US is its biggest investor and until last year the leading importer of its crude oil.
Before now, Mr Obama’s apparent reluctance to visit might have been explained by strained relations between the two countries, with the US alleging that Nigeria’s military has been guilty of large-scale human rights abuses and that the central government has been too tolerant of corruption.
Yet days before Mr Obama travelled to Kenya he treated Muhammadu Buhari, the new president elected on an anti-graft platform, to a lavish reception in Washington. Mr Buhari was asked in an interview by Christiane Amanpour of CNN if he was “disappointed” that the US leader had yet again left out of his nation. “I wouldn’t say I was disappointed, but how I wished he’d change his mind and go to Nigeria,” said Mr Buhari, adding that he planned to “send a formal invitation”.
We may yet see one final African presidential trip in 2016.
Tolu Ogunlesi writer is west Africa editor at The Africa Report