Jul 11 2009

the apostle of African self-reliance: “Africa’s future is up to Africans”

Category: Uncategorized<ADMINNICENAME> @ 10:58 AM

In one bold stroke, Barack Obama is now the world’s most prominent spokesperson for African self-reliance.

What white global leaders have never been able to say — stand on your own two feet! — a black man with, as he put it, “African blood” coursing in his veins, has declared.

“We must start from the simple premise that Africa’s future is up to Africans,” Obama said in an address to Parliament that was televised across the continent. “I say this knowing full well the tragic past that has sometimes haunted this part of the world. After all, I have the blood of Africa within me, and my own family’s story encompasses both the tragedies and triumphs of the larger African story.”

Obama’s post-racialism is nowhere in evidence today in Ghana, where his pride in his African-ness and his blackness make him sound at once like a African nationalist and a social conservative.

The American president’s emphasis on self-reliance — on reinforcing and recognizing that Africa can and does work, thank you — is welcome. Yet he also exaggerates the potential, however real and enduring, of the agency of Africans. Yes for too long Africans have been dismissed as bit players on their own stage, or they have been viewed as props in the tragic-comic theater of Western intervention. Obama is of course correct to reclaim the African as the center of the reclamation of Africa as such. Yet he goes too far in suggesting that the legacy of exploitation of Africa — of slavery and colonialism, and post-colonial dependency — has no bearing on events of the day. Obama may well come to revise his notion, implicit if not made plain, that Africa somehow today stands outside of its own history. Africa does not. The president’s existential philosopher is a good antidote to the endless encouragement Africans receive by well-meaning Westerners to remain dependent and shackled by the past. Yet the past remains alive in the lives of everyday Africans. This stubborn reality is no less an aspect of African existence than the transformation in body and mind that Obama extols.

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