What Now for Obama and Africa?

November 7, 2008

Three ways that Kenyans think they will benefit from an Obama presidency:
1. By spending the American budget on Kenyan infrastructure
Peter Otieno, one of the hustlers who crams extra passengers into already crowded minibus taxis in the town of Siaya, beside the Obama family homestead, said the president-elect should remember his roots.
“When he’s in that place we want him to improve means of transport, hospitals, skills. His father came from Kenya so he must look to where he came from first.”
2. By providing a role model for African leaders
In the centre of Kisumu, about an hour’s drive from the Obama home, where political junkies gather under a lilac-blossomed jacaranda tree, thoughts have shifted from Kenya’s political crisis to the American election in recent months.
Tom Owako, who is chairman of the informal debating club, said Africa would benefit in less tangible ways.
“He has been elected because of his policies – not because of his tribe or who he is,” he said. “That’s something we need here where there are too many dictators. Obama should be an example to all of Africa.”
3. By moving Africa in general up the political agenda
Fred Obera in Ground Report from before the election

We’re aware that Obama knows that Africa is gradually shrinking from prominence on the world stage, and that he knows some of the biggest issues plaguing Africa: ethnic conflict and conflict between groups living within the borders of the dual monarchy, democratization, accountability and transparency– all these are expected to be addressed during his tenure.

It’s been a great week in Kenya. For once it has been a chance to report a “good news” story. Now we have to wait and see what it all means. Clearly, the sorts of improvements that Peter Otieno wants to see are unlikely to happen. But will Obama change things much in Africa overall?
Many of his supporters seem ready to forget the huge amounts of spending that George W Bush brought to the continent. And that it was US engagement that helped end the South Sudan conflict, and that it was a Democrat President who bombed a pharmaceutical factury in Khartoum during the 1990s.
This week is a time for celebrations in Kenya. But I can’t help feeling that people are jumping to conclusions about America’s first half-white president and not much is actually going to change here.