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23.11.2008 Feature Article

Open Letter To President-Elect Barack Obama

Open Letter To President-Elect Barack Obama

Dear President-elect Obama,
Will You Keep America's Promise to Africa?

First, I must express my joy at your election as USA's 44th President which many believe is likely to be one of the most important events of the 21st century. By the way, if you have not met the 45th US President, I would like to introduce her to you: she is Michelle Obama! I believe that as you have become the first African/American US President, Michelle will be the first female US President in 2016. Mark my words!

I am writing this letter to you to ask whether, unlike your predecessors, you will respect America's promise to Africa and also draw your attention to the continent's huge problems in governance with the hope that the “change” that you have been declaring will have a substantive meaning for Africa's suffering masses. I will also indicate what specific and reasonable measures you, as the next US President, could take to fulfill the promise in the interests of USA as well as Africa.

America's Broken Promise

President George W. Bush had made some high sounding promises that were never kept. For instance, he had stated:

“The expansion of Democracy in the world is a national security issue”.

“All who live in tyranny and hopelessness can know: The United States will not ignore your oppression or excuse your oppressors. When you stand for your liberty, we will stand with you”.

Some people in Africa never doubted the US President's words and came out in droves to exercise their democratic rights. An excellent example of this was Ethiopia where, in May, 2005, 90% of the electorate i.e. 26 million people came out and voted despite all the difficulties including the severe harassment and extremely harsh measures perpetrated by the ruling regime. In one of the most tragic events in Africa during the current decade, the Ethiopian regime led by Melles Zenawi simply declared that it won the election even before the counting was completed, murdered at least 200 peaceful demonstrators, and imprisoned over 100,000 people for no other reason than the exercise of their basic human rights. The leaders of the main opposition party, Knijit, were incarcerated under extremely harsh prison conditions for nearly two years simply because they won the election! According to credible reports, there still are thousands of political prisoners languishing in Ethiopian jails which are notorious for their torture and maltreatment of prisoners.

It is particularly sad to note that the Ethiopian defense force which is renowned for its valor in protecting the nation's sovereignty including the defeat of the Italians at the battle of Adowa and the repeated vanquishing of Arab armies as well as its valiant support for international security by partaking in Korean, Congolese, etc. conflicts has, of late, been relegated to the shameful exercise of killing Ethiopian citizens and bullying the neighboring small countries such as Somalia.

What did President George W. Bush's administration do in the face of such a gross abuse of human rights? Instead of keeping the President's own solemn promise, the Bush administration's policy actually resulted in being an accomplice of the brutal regime in Ethiopia. It became obvious that to President Bush and his administration, the brutality of a regime against its own people would not matter as long as the ruling clique became subservient to latent US interests such as the preemptive strike against Southern Somalia which is still under Ethiopia's occupation at the behest of the US leadership.

Africa's “Democracy”

I wonder, President-elect Obama, if you consider, even for a moment, what would have happened to you if you ran against one of the rulers in Africa: Ethiopia, Kenya, Zimbabwe, etc. You would have ended in jail, if not killed. If President George W. Bush were an African leader in any of the countries mentioned above, he would have not graciously handed over his presidency to the winner. Like dictator Melles Zenawi, he would continue with his rule under any circumstances using the smart-aleck reasoning that his party needed him! That, in essence, is the current syndrome of African democracy with few exceptions (thank God!) such as South Africa, Botswana, and Ghana.

In most African countries, “democracy” is merely a game for the consumption of the deliberately gullible international community. The typical characteristics of African “democracy” usually comprise the complete control by the ruling clique of the election administration, the judiciary, and the media (both public and private) as well as most election observers. Therefore, election results are a foregone conclusion in favor of the dictators. Most African regimes have mastered the art of rigging elections with the relentless brutality meted out against any possible peaceful demonstrators. It is thus a travesty of justice!

Role of the International Community

President George W. Bush's promise notwithstanding, the international community has become a disinterested observer while the millions of African people continue to suffer under their brutal dictators. In fact, if it has any interest at all, it is merely to ensure that Africa's immense resources such as the strategic security materials, oil, etc. continue to be available to the West at minimal cost. The other interest is also to make sure that Africa continues to be the dumping ground for goods manufactured in various countries.

As regards international organizations, the UN still needs to develop a capacity to establish performance standards and effective mechanisms for ensuring that member governments respect human rights, rule of law, and democracy. The African Union continues to be a club of the African dictators. The World Bank, the IMF, and EU always express high sounding words about the importance of governance but without any serious mechanism behind it to have any bearing on the brutal dictators.

With the exception of certain organizations such as Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, etc. the international community has so far become a collaborator and a supporter of the brutal dictators.

Impact of the War Against International Terrorism

Smart dictators in Africa and Asia are taking advantage of the on-going fight against international terrorism to appear to be allies of the west for the mere purpose of getting away with the murder and brutality they are perpetrating against their own people. The West is turning a blind eye in the face of such atrocities by their “SOB”s (to borrow a US President's expression) as long as a dictatorial regime complies with its bidding. Regrettably, the final outcome of such a myopic strategy could be to set these hapless countries to be the breeding ground for more international terrorism!

Why Should the US Be Interested in Africa?

Africa and USA are mutually interdependent. Although not touted much, the US is dependent on Africa for a variety of very important natural resources: strategic minerals, oil, gold, diamond, etc. Africa is also developing into a major consumer of US goods and services.

I must also state that you are a prodigal son of Africa. As such, Africa ought to have the opportunity, for the first time in its beleaguered history, to get rid of the West's neo-colonial attitude and practice towards the continent. A new vision and strategy is needed so that policies based on long-term mutual benefits including a more fair trade practice would flourish.

What Can You Do for Africa?

First things first: I do realize that you face immense challenges at the beginning of your presidency, namely, the economic crisis, two wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and your promises to US constituents with regard to health, education, energy, etc. that will occupy your full attention initially. I also realize that the primary responsibility for alleviating poverty and dictatorship from Africa belongs to Africans themselves.

Nevertheless, US interests in terms of its global influence as a sole superpower will also need your attention and action. This will have to include Africa.

What are the major challenges facing Africa? It should be stated at the outset that Africa, with its huge natural resources, is a rich continent. However, most of its people are suffering from a grinding poverty mainly due to the prevailing brutal dictatorship and rampant corruption in most African countries.

Taking Ethiopia as an example, here is a country that has substantial agricultural resources and many rivers including the Blue Nile that supplies 86% of Egypt's water needs, but faces perennial drought and famine. The corruption by the ruling party, TPLF (Woyane), is horrendous: the party owns over 40 companies which operate with impunity competing against the private sector without paying any tax, and writing off billions of Eth. Birr borrowed from the nation's banks! After 18 years of the current regime's rule in Ethiopia, Ethiopia is 170th out of 177 nations in the UNDP's human development index. In virtually all meaningful socio-economic indices, Ethiopia remains at the very or almost bottom of even the developing countries. In the usual quixotic exercises by the current regime, it is apparently considering an attempt to register the assets belonging to the government officials. However, it is obvious that the whole exercise is likely to be completely hollow because it is well known that the various substantial holdings in the hundreds of millions of US dollars by government officials locally and abroad are kept in the name of their spouses and children, which are to be left out of the registration exercise!

As confirmed by credible reports such as those of Amnesty International and the European Union, the current regime in Ethiopia rigged the election in 2005 and still continues to harass members of the opposition parties.

Africa is facing three fundamental, huge challenges: dictatorship, poverty, and an international community that has become an accomplice of the brutal dictators. What could the Obama administration do in the context of US/Africa mutual interests?

Here are my suggestions for your consideration:

There is a need to formulate an Obama Policy and Strategy for Africa focusing on an accelerated development and democratic governance.

The Obama policy should issue a clear declaration, in consonance with one of your statements during your primaries, that US resources would not be used to support any dictatorial regime in Africa.

The new Obama policy for Africa could be dramatically applied in Ethiopia in the context of the May 2010 elections in preparation for which, the US administration could simply call on the ruling regime there to ensure the following basic requirements:

The prevalence of an independent Election Board supervised by the competing parties;

The Ethiopian regime to stop harassing the private media and set it free;

The establishment of freedom of justice unlike the current circumstances whereby judges are known to be the regime's political hacks;

The supervision of the security forces controlling polling stations throughout Ethiopia by a duly authorized independent commission;

The presence of international election observers in both urban and rural polling stations; and

The regime to cease and desist from its harassment of members of the opposition parties as well as civic organizations.

There should be an effective US incentive for dictatorial regimes such as the one in Ethiopia to opt out for democracy, respect for human rights, transparency, and accountability, failing which there should be appropriate consequences at least in terms of the US resources deployed in that country.

I wish you, President-elect Obama, success in fulfilling your promise to America and its promise to Africa.

Credit: Wase Lehagere

Wase Lehagere
Wase Lehagere, © 2008

This author has authored 1 publications on Modern Ghana. Author column: WaseLehagere

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