Sunday, 15/12/2019 | 11:22 UTC+0
Libyan Newswire

Obama gave some pretty speeches, but he got it all wrong on democracy in Africa (Daily Nation (Kenya))

Kenya has been eagerly waiting for US President Barack Obama to visit for the past six years.

Kenya and Africa expected him to be, as he had stated, blunt and candid by praising governments and people where they had done well and pointing out where improvements were needed.

He was full of praise for young people and entrepreneurs for being smart and innovative.

He praised government policies that were encouraging business, developing infrastructure, and fighting terrorism.

He spoke against corruption in the government and called for visible prosecution and lifestyle audits of people in high places who are openly stealing from Kenyans.

He advocated equal treatment for minorities, including gay people.

His most eloquent speech was at Kasarani stadium, where he made a powerful pitch for creating equal opportunities for women so that Kenya and Africa can make progress.


It was Barack Obama at his best and for a moment he made us forget that he has done little for Africa compared to Mr George W. Bush, who massively expanded support for the fight against HIV/Aids, worked with other leaders to provide debt relief, opened up trade, and supported democracy by helping to stabilise countries such as Liberia.

In fact, hitherto, Mr Obama’s most significant action in Africa was bombing Libya and ousting Muammar Gaddafi, whom history has already proved was a better leader than the terrorists now running lawless Libya.

Mr Obama made a major gaffe when he claimed that the current Ethiopian Government was democratically elected.

With the ruling party holding all the seats in Parliament, thanks to brutal incarceration, abuse, and exiling of opponents and journalists, this is a strange type of democracy.

That can only embolden repressive regimes in Africa and the world as they now know that the US is pursuing a policy of non-interference.

Many Ethiopians are running away from their country, dying in harsh terrain, deserts, and the Mediterranean Sea as they seek refuge in Kenya, South Africa, Europe, and the US. Criticism is not tolerated.

To characterise such a government as democratically elected is an affront to all Africans who have suffered centuries of repression.

In Kenya, Mr Obama was right to assert that the US would work with the legitimate government but listen to all voices.

However, Mr Obama made another blunder on his last day in Kenya by telling the opposition to work with the government.

Was he suggesting that the opposition should abandon its well-defined job in a democracy, which is to challenge government policies and offer alternatives?

That is what a democracy is all about; a competition of ideas.

If the opposition was to become a supporter of government policies, then who would check State excesses and offer alternative policies?

Mr Obama got elected because he opposed Mr George W. Bush’s policies on the war in Iraq and Afghanistan and domestic issues such as universal access to affordable healthcare.


Had Mr Nelson Mandela supported, rather than opposed, apartheid, he would have died in prison and black South Africans would still be under the brutal apartheid regime.

Had Mahatma Gandhi and Kenya’s freedom fighters supported the colonialists, the British would still be oppressing India and Africa.

Had Martin Luther King Jr supported the segregationist policies of erstwhile US administrations, Mr Obama would never have seen the inside of the White House as president.

Had the likes of Raila Odinga and Martha Karua not opposed Daniel arap Moi’s repression, Kenyans would still be living under oppression.

It was, therefore, in extremely bad taste for Mr Obama to insinuate that the Kenyan opposition should not oppose government policies.

Our taxes fund opposition political parties, MPs, Senators, and MCAs so that they can hold the government to account.

So, let us celebrate Mr Obama’s visit, but we should not be carried away by euphoria.

The task of transforming Kenya and Africa into better democracies and prosperous societies depends on us, the citizens, and we may not have much support from the likes of Mr Obama.