Obama's election provoked euphoria in his ancestral village in Kenya,
as well as among African governments who scented a chance to move up
the US's list of priorities.
Four years later, there is largely a
sense of deflation and, judging by column inches in the press, somewhat
less enthusiasm for this year's presidential race. Sub-Saharan Africa
has barely been mentioned in the campaign and the feeling of apathy is
Yet residual loyalty to Obama remains deep and, if
Africa's billion citizens got to vote, it seems likely he would win by a
"Four years ago there was so much hope in this
country," said Boniface Mwangi, a photographer and political activist
whose office in Nairobi, Kenya, is decorated with Obama's image in
life-size cardboard replica. "Now we're no longer that hopeful and
asking where did we go wrong. I thought Barack Obama
would do well for Africa but I'm ashamed to say that George Bush did
more. Obama has done nothing for us. People are very mad, especially in
Kogelo, his family village: they're still expecting some kind of handout
from [him]. I hope his second term plans will include Africa; otherwise
he's a scumbag and a hoax."
Kenya is preoccupied with its own
elections. Yet despite everything, Mwangi, who took out a bank loan to
be in America for Obama's historic 2008 win, hopes that he will repeat
the feat. "He's more progressive than Romney in every way. Romney will
be bad for America and the world. He's shallow and slimy, like a car
salesman selling junk."
Obama, who once hailed the "blood of
Africa within me", has spent only 20 hours on sub-Saharan African soil
since becoming president (it was a stopover in Ghana in between summits
By contrast, the president of China,
Hu Jintao, has made seven trips to Africa, five as head of state, and
visited at least 17 countries, according to the Brookings Institution.
the Democrat remains way ahead of Romney in terms of brand recognition.
Shehu Sani, an author and human rights activist in Nigeria, said:
many people in Africa know who Romney is and what he stands for and what
he is capable of doing.
"Almost everyone knows who Obama is for
the very fact that he is partly an African and there is still hope he
will do something for Africa as far as peace, stability and economic
development is concerned. There is a saying, 'better the devil you
know'. If we haven't seen the actions, we have seen the intentions, so
we give him the benefit of the doubt. We hope the second term will be
Commentators note that Obama's principal African focus
has been security, for example in combating Islamist militancy in
Somalia, with pragmatism based on American self interest.
Bissichi, a guide at the African Renaissance Monument, in Dakar,
Senegal, who points out to tourists that his workplace is taller than
the Statue of Liberty, said: "A lot of people in Africa thought Obama
would be the president of Africa. Go to any centre in Africa four years
ago and people were celebrating.
"Later we realised he's an
American president, not an African president. Even George Bush did more
for Africa and he's a white man. Bill Clinton did, too."
Bissichi also remains loyal to Obama. "In Africa, we like the Democrats
more than the Republicans. We think they have more humanity than the
Republicans. Mitt Romney is a very rich guy. Even in America, people
think he knows nothing about poverty and misery."
Some admit that
Africa's hopes for the president were impossibly high. Asked if he had
lived up to expectations, Michael Amankwa, an entrepreneur in Accra,
Ghana, said: "I think he has to a large extent, even though some might
have been a bit disappointed. He came in with too much star power, which
raised the bar very high for him. Some also understand that he
inherited a bad situation with the economy and so on."
Africa, the continent's "superpower", has hosted the US's first lady,
Michelle Obama, but still awaits the photo opportunity of America's
first black president meeting Nelson Mandela.
Karabo Kgoleng, a
radio presenter in Johannesburg, said: "I think it is disingenuous for
Africans to expect anything from any American president. He is not
African. He is American and his most important priority is the American
people not the Africans.
"I think Africans rejoicing at his making
it to office came from the need for a psychological boost as well as an
indication of Africans buying into the American dream – that one's
roots can be African and one can succeed in life, with those roots.
Africans need to hold their own leaders to account before pinning their
hopes on anyone else. Obama owes Africa nothing."
David Smith, Africa correspondent