eyes on the U.S.

Four Years Later, Obama's African "Brothers" Give Him Mixed Marks

Ghana Loves Obama
Ghana Loves Obama
Venance Konan*

-Essay-

On September 18, I was returning from Benin where I had been presenting my latest book, and came to the Aneho border crossing, on the Togo side.

After a customs officer spent a long time questioning me on the reasons for my travel in his charming country, writing down where I had been in Togo and where I was going in my own country, Ivory Coast, he sent me to a wooden hut for my passport to be stamped. I held out my passport to the immigration officer, but he did not look at it.

His eyes were riveted on the television, which was set to a French news channel. They were reporting that Mitt Romney, the Republican presidential candidate in the American election, running against Barack Obama, had just committed yet another gaffe. He had been filmed saying nasty things about the 47% of Americans he said were "dependent upon government," and about Palestinians, who he said were not interested in peace with Israel. The Togolese immigration officer and his colleagues were exulting. "If he continues to say things like that, we'll win easily," one of them said.

"We?" I asked him.

"Well, yes! Obama is our candidate. He is our brother." That explained it, then.

Togo is an African country where the vote is divided essentially along ethnic lines, and since the American president's heritage is half African, that makes him the brother of all Africans south of the Sahara.

This is the reason why 100 % of us would have voted for him four years ago, even without knowing anything at all about his policies. But what did Africans get from his first term? I asked the Togolese customs officer that question. "We knew he would not be sending us money. We didn't expect that. It's up to us to develop our own country. But he gave us back our pride. If a black man can become president of the United States, it means that we blacks are capable of anything."

In the Ivory Coast, my friend Ange Ndakpri, commercial director of the publishing company Fraternité Matin, which I run, told me that for his part he knew that Barack Obama had done absolutely nothing for his father's continent, but that he had no choice. "He came to power at a difficult time, with the economic crisis and the wars created by his predecessor. So Africa could not be his priority. But if he is re-elected, he will certainly do something for us."

Eugène Zadi, assistant director of the Ivoirian Electricity Company (CIE), agrees. "For a black man to become president in a country like the United States where racism was institutionalized, and which moreover is the greatest world power, is something that makes us proud. But what with the wars of the Bushes, father and son, the economic crisis, and now the consequences of the Arab spring, which is turning out to be less enchanted than we had hoped, we cannot ask miracles from Obama, nor expect that he will pay much attention to us. Perhaps those who say they are disappointed had expectations that were too high. We are proud of him, but he is not our president."

Strong institutions, not strongmen

Jean-Louis Billon, president of the Ivory Coast Chamber of Commerce and head of SIFCA, the biggest Ivorian agribusiness company, believes that Obama, just like the European heads of state, had to confront a severe economic crisis that no one saw coming, and which was not his fault. "But on the international front, he definitely made an impact. As an African, I liked his speeches in Cairo and Accra Ghana. In Cairo, he tried to reconcile the United States with the Arab world. In Accra, he clearly said that we Africans don't need strong men, but rather strong institutions. It is a pity that our heads of state did not listen to his words."

Beninese writer Florent Couao-Zotti disagrees. He says he has been very disappointed by Obama, precisely on the subject of democracy in Africa. "He had the legitimate right, because his father is from our continent, to talk to African dictators in very strong language. But he kept silent. I saw a demonstration in Congo-Brazzaville where they had posters saying "Obama, say something!" If he had spoken up, things might have been different. Aside from that, I did not expect anything from him, because he was elected by Americans to solve American problems, not African ones."

Cornélius Aïdam, former Togolese minister of culture, believes that Obama could not have done more than he did. "The racists and white extremists had never seriously thought someone like Obama, whose father was not a African-American but actually African, could be elected," Aïdam says. "They were truly surprised, and have done everything they can to make him fail, putting obstacles in his path at every turn, even for his most noble ideas. Why else would people mobilize against a project to ensure health insurance for the poor? If Obama is re-elected, it will be thanks to that health care law. If he is defeated, it will also be because of that."

Let us give the last word to Paulin, who works for an oil company in the Ivory Coast. "It is Obama’s African heritage that will doom him. While all his predecessors did not care at all if the rest of the world liked them, Obama tried to make everyone like him-- Arabs, Africans, Chinese, the poor, the rich. In the end, he didn't make anyone happy and now they’re all a bit angry with him. That's very African."

In spite of a few complaints, we Africans would vote 100 % for Obama again if we had the chance. We hope that during his second term he will finally give a little thought to us, his poverty-stricken brothers.

*Venance Konan is a writer and journalist from the Ivory Coast.

Keep up with the world. Break out of the bubble.
Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!

Preparing a COVID-19 vaccine booster in Huzhou, China.

Hannah Steinkopf-Frank, Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

👋 Ciao!*

Welcome to Wednesday, where Brazil's senate backs "crimes against humanity" charges against Jair Bolsonaro, the UN has a grim new climate report and Dune gets a sequel. Meanwhile, German daily Die Welt explores "Xi Jinping Thought," which is now being made part of Chinese schools' curriculum.

[*Italian]

🌎  7 THINGS TO KNOW RIGHT NOW

• Senators back Bolsonaro criminal charges: A Brazilian Senate panel has backed a report that supports charging President Jair Bolsonaro with crimes against humanity, for his alleged responsibility in the country's 600,000-plus COVID-19 deaths.

• Gas crisis in Moldova following Russian retaliation: Moldova, one of Europe's poorest countries, has for the first time challenged Russia's Gazprom following a price increase and failed contract negotiations, purchasing instead from Poland. In response, Russia has threatened to halt sales to the Eastern European country, which has previously acquired all of its gas from Gazprom.

• New UN climate report finds planned emission cuts fall short: The Emissions Gap Report 2021 concludes that country pledges to reduce greenhouse gas emissions aren't large enough to keep the global temperature rise below 1.5 °C degrees this century. The UN Environment Program predicts a 2.7 °C increase, with significant environmental impacts, but there is still hope that longer term net-zero goals will curtail some temperature rise.

• COVID update: As part of its long-awaited reopening, Australia will officially allow its citizens to travel abroad without a government waiver for the first time in more than 18 months. Bulgaria, meanwhile, hits record daily high COVID-19 cases as the Eastern European's hotel and restaurant association is planning protests over the implementation of the vaccination "green pass." In the U.S., a panel of government medical advisors backed the use of Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine for five to 11-year-olds.

• U.S. appeals decision to block Julian Assange extradition: The United States said it was "extremely disappointed" in a UK judge's ruling that Assange, the founder of Wikileaks, would be a suicide risk of he traveled across the Atlantic. In the U.S., he faces 18 charges related to the 2010 release of 500,000 secret files related to U.S. military activity.

• Deposed Sudan prime minister released: Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok has been released from custody, though remains under heavy guard after Sudan's military coup. Protests against the coup have continued in the capital Khartoum, as Hamdok has called for the release of other detained governmental officials.

Dune Part 2 confirmed: The world will get to see Timothée Chalamet ride a sandworm: The second installment of the sci-fi epic and global box office hit has officially been greenlit, set to hit the screens in 2023.

🗞️  FRONT PAGE

Front page of the National Post's October 27 front page

Canadian daily National Post reports on the nomination of Steven Guilbeault, a former Greenpeace activist, as the country's new Environment minister. He had been arrested in 2001 for scaling Toronto's CN Tower to unfurl a banner for Greenpeace, which he left in 2008.

📰  STORY OF THE DAY

Chinese students now required to learn to think like Xi Jinping

"Xi Jinping Thought" ideas on socialism have been spreading across the country since 2017. But now, Beijing is going one step further by making them part of the curriculum, from the elementary level all the way up to university, reports Maximilian Kalkhof in German daily Die Welt.

🇨🇳 It's important to strengthen the "determination to listen to and follow the party." Also, teaching materials should "cultivate patriotic feelings." So say the new guidelines issued by the Chinese Ministry of Education. The goal is to help Chinese students develop more "Marxist beliefs," and for that, the government wants its national curriculum to include "Xi Jinping Thought," the ideas, namely, of China's current leader. Behind this word jam is a plan to consolidate the power of the nation, the party and Xi himself.

📚 Starting in September, the country's 300 million students have had to study the doctrine, from elementary school into university. And in some cities, even that doesn't seem to be enough. Shanghai announced that its students from third to fifth grade would only take final exams in mathematics and Chinese, de facto deleting English as an examination subject. Beijing, in the meantime, announced that it would ban the use of unauthorized foreign textbooks in elementary and middle schools.

⚠️ But how does a country that enchants its youth with socialist ideology and personality cults rise to become a world power? Isn't giving up English as a global language the quickest way into isolation? The educational reform comes at a time when Beijing is brutally disciplining many areas of public life, from tech giants to the entertainment industry. It has made it difficult for Chinese technology companies to go public abroad, and some media have reported that a blanket ban on IPOs in the United States is on the cards in the next few years.

➡️ Read more on Worldcrunch.com

📣 VERBATIM

"I'm a footballer and I'm gay."

— Australian soccer player Josh Cavallo said in a video accompanying a tweet in which he revealed his homosexuality, becoming the first top-flight male professional player in the world to do so. The 21-year-old said he was tired of living "this double life" and hoped his decision to come out would help other "players living in silence."

🇸🇩💥  IN OTHER NEWS

Why this Sudan coup d'état is different

Three days since the military coup was set in motion in Sudan, the situation on the ground continues to be fluid. Reuters reports this morning that workers at the state petroleum company Sudapet are joining a nationwide civil disobedience movement called by trade unions in response to the generals' overthrow of the government. Doctors have also announced a strike.

Generals in suits At the same time, the military appears firmly in control, with deposed Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok allowed to return home today after being held by the coup leaders. How did we get here? That's the question that David E. Kiwuwa, a professor of international relations at the University of Nottingham, takes on in The Conversation:

"Since the revolution that deposed Omar el-Bashir in 2019, the military have fancied themselves as generals in suits. They have continued to wield enough power to almost run a parallel government in tension with the prime minister. This was evident when the military continued to have the say on security and foreign affairs.

Economy as alibi For their part, civilian officials concentrated on rejuvenating the economy and mobilizing international support for the transitional council. This didn't stop the military from accusing the civilian leadership of failing to resuscitate the country's ailing economy.

True, the economy has continued to struggle from high inflation, low industrial output and dwindling foreign direct investment. As in all economies, conditions have been exacerbated by the effects of COVID-19. Sudan's weakened economy is, however, not sufficient reason for the military intervention. Clearly this is merely an excuse."

➡️ Read more on Worldcrunch.com

#️⃣  BY THE NUMBERS

471 million euros

Rome's Casino di Villa Boncompagni Ludovisi, better known as Villa Aurora, will be put up for auction in January for 471 million euros ($547 million). The over-the-top price tag is thanks to the villa having the only known ceiling painting by Renaissance master Caravaggio.

✍️ Newsletter by Hannah Steinkopf-Frank, Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

Who wants to start the bidding on the Caravaggio villa? Otherwise, let us know what the news looks like from your corner of the world! info@worldcrunch.com!

Keep up with the world. Break out of the bubble.
Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!
THE LATEST
FOCUS
TRENDING TOPICS
MOST READ