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Cheers - AE

Sunday, 12 July 2009

Broken clocks.

As the saying goes even a broken clock is right twice a day, and while I'm far from the greatest fan of the Obamessiah (though given the alternatives... ) I have to concede he's nailed one particular issue:
Adopting a tone his white predecessors never dared employ, the US President told Africa it could no longer blame the West for all its woes.
"Yes, a colonial map that made little sense bred conflict, and the West has often approached Africa as a patron, rather than a partner," he told the Ghanaian parliament. "But the West is not responsible for the destruction of the Zimbabwean economy over the last decade, or wars in which children are enlisted as combatants."
I admit to being fairly surprised. I honestly expected him to have been falling over himself to hose money at the continent with little regard to what it ends up getting spent on. Like most of the rest of the leaders of the industrialized nations in other words.
Seeking to jolt Africa's politicians out of a complacent belief that his shared ancestry with them would soften his rhetoric, Mr Obama spoke with withering directness.
That was possibly unwise in any case, if any really did think it. I wouldn't have expected ancestry and colour to have anything to do with it, but given the man's politics you'd be forgiven for expecting the US to take a more sympathetic position. Instead Obama has said what Bush never dared to, or couldn't be bothered to: that at least some of Africa's problems are due to some of the people running African nations. It's not racist to say so* but annoyingly it probably did need a western nation black President or PM to say it.
"Development depends on good governance, and that is the ingredient which has been missing in far too many countries. That's the change which can unlock African potential, but that is a responsibility which must be met by Africans.
"Africa's future is up to Africans."
I'm metaphorically on my feet whistling and cheering at this point. Africa could be and should be prosperous. But of course it'll take a lot moe than rhetoric, as the Africans themselves know.
But calls for greater activism by young Africans, who make up more than half of the continents' population, were aimed at the continent's suffering millions who all too often are powerless to change the way their countries are ruled.
Whether their excitement over the speech will bear fruit in lasting change is, as ever, unclear.
"It was something very powerful to see this man here in Africa talking to us like this," said Mary Katondi, a petty trader in the eastern Congolese town of Goma.
"But does he not realise that our leaders may listen to his words, but they know they can continue their misbehaviours because these words cannot really hurt them."
So more than words are needed, which should be no surprise. How about a long meeting with Dambisa Moyo to kick off with? More trade and less aid sounds like a good recipe to me, and where aid is needed - and this has been said a million times before - it certainly shouldn't be in the form of something that can easily be converted into gold plated AK47s by a corrupt regime.

So the question is whether Obama has the balls to back up his words with something more substantial. Again, because of his politics I'm not hugely optimistic, but credit where it's due I never expected him to rip into Africa this way in the first place. Let's hope, eh.

*Nor would it be racist of black Africans to point out that problems in Western nations are also largely, if not wholly, self inflicted. The difference is that some people, both in Africa and the West, reach for shameful colonial histories as a convenient excuse for all present ills, and the West generally doesn't have anything like as good. Doesn't stop some trying it though - a certain PM of a certain island nation off the western coast of Europe will blame space aliens from Planet X rather than admit to fucking up the economy. Scapegoating is a truly mutlculti and equal opportunities character flaw.
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