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Call For An Afropolitan: Will Obama Answer? By Rudolf Ogoo Okonkwo

October 29, 2015

Afropolitians have been failing Africa since 1797. That was the year that Olaudah Equiano died. With his death the dream that Africans who live abroad would one day rescue Africa either from where they reside abroad or upon their return to Africa has continued to be unsuccessful.


By some measures, most past and present leaders of post-colonial Africa qualify as Afropolitians based on the time that they spent in the US or Europe. That they failed abysmally is something that new-age Afropolitians pretend not to be aware of. In fact, most of Africa is still under the leadership of Africans who have spent significant amount of their time in the West either as students or workers.

That Afropolitans have continued to fail Africa is not a reason not to hold on to the dream.

In a recent interview with WNYC’s Brian Lehrer, Former President Jimmy Carter proposed that President Barack Obama should consider spending his post presidency working with people in the Southern hemisphere. In the thinking of Carter, Obama could tap into his links and relationships with people in those often neglected parts of the world. He wants Obama to work on behalf of poor darker countries of the world and for global equality.

Being that Obama has an African father and went to school for a while in Indonesia, Carter’s idea that Obama has assets that he could deploy in the service of people in those parts of the world is on point.

In listeners’ reactions to Carter’s interview on WNYC, a caller suggested that after his presidency, the next Democratic President should send Obama to the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court idea attracted the attention of so many listeners. As a former constitutional lawyer, a lifetime appointment on the court could give Obama an opportunity to help reshape matters of interest to those Americans who live on the margin of society. He could exert great impact on issues like criminal justice reforms, state rights, inject equity in constitutional interpretations, things he has not been able to accomplish as president.

As an African who followed Obama’s ascension to power, I have a bolder post presidency idea for Obama.

In 2004, while preparing to run for the US Senate, Barack Obama granted an interview to the Kenyan newspaper, The Sunday Nation. In the interview, he chided the Bush administration for its neglect of Africa. “Africa has been an afterthought, as it has been throughout American history,” the young Obama said.

Obama had since served as a senator representing Illinois in the U.S. Senate. He has since served almost seven years as the president of the United States. And to many in Africa, Africa has remained an afterthought to America, and even to Obama.

Africans who have interacted with me over the years as I covered Obama's policies in Africa have gone from a period of high hopes to one of disappointment. Even those sympathetic to his internal challenges within a Congress led by the Republicans believe he could have done a lot more than he accomplished in the last six years. Despite Obama’s initiative to bring electricity to Africa during his second presidential visit to Africa, most Africans remember him today primarily as the US president aggressively pushing Africans to adopt Western society’s styled accommodation of gay lifestyle. For that reason, several groups have protested during his visits to Africa as a way to express their displeasure.

During his reelection campaign, when I asked on SaharaTV and in my column what Africans expected from Obama in his second term, one answer from a Ugandan stood out. He recommended that Obama should build two roads that would crisscross Africa - one that would start from Senegal in West Africa and end in Djibouti at the horn of Africa and another that would start from the Benghazi, Libya, in northern part of Africa and end at the shores of Cape Town, in South Africa.

Beyond the physical road, there was the desire by Africans for Obama to help open up Africa and lay down a solid democratic path. In his first official visit to Africa as president in 2009, Obama called for an end to bigmanism in African political space. He said in Accra, Ghana, the often quoted line, that "Africa doesn't need strongmen, it needs strong institutions."

In the last six years, Obama has continued to support strongmen across Africa, be they Yoweri Museveni of Uganda, Paul Kagame of Rwanda, Yahya Jammeh of Gambia or any tyrant that is in power in Ethiopia. As we saw in Egypt, when American interest comes in conflict with the ideals of democracy, American interest triumphs over all the ideals of democratic institutions.

But most Africans understand Obama’s encumbrances.  They, like so many others across the globe, are patiently waiting for his after show show- what he will do as an ex-president. Given his youth, diverse heritage and wide-ranging experiences of real life around the world, Africans are optimistic that Obama could take a unique role in the affairs of the continent, the land of his fathers, home to many of his step brothers and sisters and a multitude of admirers.

He may not build the physical highways across the continent but an engagement with Africa will open up new opportunities and new ways of doing business. One move that he can make in this direction is to establish a branch of his presidential library in Kenya. Let it be a center for democratic advancement in Africa with researchers and scholars who do not just preach from abroad but are on the ground adopting democratic ethos to fit the peculiar dynamics of the African landscape.

If Obama is audacious enough, he can also establish residence in Kenya, the homeland of his father. He can run his foundation part time from Nairobi and have real influence across the length and breath of that troubled continent. By doing so, he may be able to take that simple dream Hussein Onyango Obama had in his son, Barack Obama Sr. and turn it into “small miracles.” From there, he will bring light to that still Dark Continent of Africa. Light – something Africans sent to school in America, like Barack Obama Sr., have not been able to bring back upon return to Africa.

And, if he is audaciously audacious, Obama can run for the president of Kenya in 2028 after establishing residency and reintegrating himself with his father's Lou people, the rest of the Kenyan society, and the larger African peoples. If he wins, he can be seen addressing the African Union(AU) as the President of Kenya and not the kind of address he gave to the AU the last time he visited.

What an ironic revenge that would be for him on those American right wing birthers who hounded him throughout his presidency with accusations of being a Kenyan masquerading as an American in the White House. In terms of how history will see such a move, being the first American president to turn around and become a president of an African nation surely surpasses being elevated to the Supreme Court as one of the nine black robed judges.

By pursuing an audacious post-presidency agenda, Obama has an opportunity to transform himself into the ultimate Afropolitian.