Monday, November 5, 2012

US presidential election: who does the world want to win?

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 mostly mutual.
Yet residual loyalty to Obama remains deep and, if Africa's billion citizens got to vote, it seems likely he would win by a landslide.
"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 elsewhere).
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.
But the Democrat remains way ahead of Romney in terms of brand recognition. Shehu Sani, an author and human rights activist in Nigeria, said:
"Not 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 better."
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.
Ousseynou 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."
Yet 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."
South 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


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