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Less hospitality, more straight talk to visiting American leaders

Discussion in 'Habari na Hoja mchanganyiko' started by ByaseL, Aug 3, 2009.

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    ByaseL JF-Expert Member

    Aug 3, 2009
    Joined: Nov 22, 2007
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    By Miniini Mlera

    Legendary African hospitality can at times get excessive. A visit to Africa by a popular American leader invariably creates a storm of excitement among many Africans. The visiting US leader is met by throngs of ululating, dancing and fainting Africans, most of whom bear glaring signs of impoverishment. Such excitement often leaves the visiting Americans rather baffled by the paradox of the entire spectacle. One is embarrassed to watch television images of this exaggerated African bonhomie. The sight of African women in the most colourful attire, wiggling and jiggling their hips before an American leader leaves one lost for words whenever the locals here in North America ask what is going on.

    Recall President William Jefferson Clinton’s visit to Ghana in March 1998, where he was welcomed by a stampeding crowd estimated at half-a-million folks. The television images of a huge crowd of impoverished Ghanaians pushing and surging forward in a desperate desire to touch Clinton’s hand remains vivid. It was as though his was the second coming of Jesus Christ. While the enthusiastic crowd seemed oblivious to the peril of some African women who were being crushed against the barricades, Clinton was visibly angry at the dangerous situation the women faced on his account. Clinton, the foreigner, seemed to be more concerned about the safety of Africans women than were their fellow Africans. It was a mini-demonstration of a common African problem. Foreign leaders, philanthropists, activists and journalists show more concern about the well-being of Africans that do the rulers of Africa.
    Likewise, George W. Bush, who visited in early 2008, was welcomed with excessive displays of affection. Many Americans were stupefied by the sight of their very unpopular president being worshipped by Africans. In fact Bush, whose government’s financial support for a number of social programmes in Africa were among his positive achievements as president of the USA, would have been quite satisfied with polite and sincere words of gratitude.
    One understands the emotions that informed the reaction to Barack Obama’s visit to Ghana a little over a month ago. Yet I am not sure that even Obama, a mortal being in the primary service of American – not African - interests, deserved to be treated like a resurrected Emperor Mansa Musa, he of the Great Empire of Mali. Yes Obama spoke very well in Accra. And he is “one of us,” a genetically African kid who has made good. But Obama is first and foremost an American. He engages Africa from an American’s perspective, albeit a better informed one than that of all his predecessors.

    We Africans should tone down our excitement and revelry that are engendered by foreign leaders, including Obama. Instead we should focus our energies on engaging them in some straight talk and demands that they walk the walk and not just talk the talk. Obama, who promised in his Accra speech to isolate those regimes that did not “act responsibly,” including those that held cosmetic elections but engaged in bad governance and corruption, and those that used coups or changed constitutions to stay in power, needs to put his words into action.

    Next week, Africa gets an opportunity to put Obama’s words to the test. Hillary Clinton, the US Secretary of State, will arrive in Nairobi on August 5, to start a seven-country tour that will take her to South Africa, Angola, Congo, Nigeria, Liberia and Cape Verde.

    After the music and dancing have died down, we await Hillary’s public utterances on the real issues that matter to the majority of Africans. Will she speak in public on the urgent need for electoral reforms, respect and promotion of human rights in specifically named countries? Will she state what America will do to those regimes that fail the litmus test on good governance? Will she promise to lead an international effort to isolate and to act against all who have robbed their national treasuries and abused their powers, including those who have changed constitutions to entrench themselves, and those who have stolen elections or promoted and sponsored violence in their countries?

    Or will she speak in generalities and the usual meaningless statements about solidarity with Africans? Will American trade interests and the fight against international terrorism take precedence over Obama’s promise to isolate the autocrats? To me Obama’s eloquence in Ghana will have meaning only if he and his secretary of state take specific, practical measures in support of the struggle for freedom in Africa. They must stop the infusion of cash and other supports to regimes with a record of human rights abuses, stolen elections, unrestricted corruption and poor governance.

    They must lead an effort, together with other free nations, to deny visas to men and women that have abused power and committed other crimes against their people. They must insist on trial by the International Criminal Court of those who have sponsored violence against unarmed civilians in Kenya and elsewhere. They must recover the stolen money that corrupt rulers and their courtiers in Africa have accumulated. They must side with the people, including lending support to political parties and other pressure groups that are committed to democracy and good governance in Africa.

    The sounds that we hope to hear from Africa this week are not those of dancers and other revellers who will be treating Hillary Clinton to the usual excesses of our hospitality. We want to hear tough talk and actions by Ms Clinton. Above all, we want to hear some straight talk to her by representatives of Africa’s varied opinion groups, especially by the leaders of civil society groups that seek genuine change in Africa.