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Hope & Change 2012

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Hope & Change 2012

Based on President Barack Obama’s achievements so far, would I vote for him for a second term? Yes, if I were an American. No, if I had a vote as an African.

When President Barack Obama was elected four years ago, there was a widespread feeling that America had finally come to terms with its appalling racist past. However, as people celebrated the dawning of a supposedly post-racial America, they ignored the fact that in US history there have always been moments of massive progressive breakthroughs which were then followed immediately by a reactionary backlash, and things slipped back to their former equilibrium.

Take the 1860s. A brutal civil war led by Northern liberals maintained the Union and also abolished slavery in the Southern states. This was followed almost immediately by the rise of the Ku Klux Klan in the Southern states, driven by defeated rebel veterans angered by their loss of power. The structures of white supremacy and a segregated Jim Crow state were quickly re-established throughout the South. Having secured the union, northern liberals stood by as Africans continued to suffer lynchings and a second-class citizenship well into the 1960s.

Similarly in the current era, Obama’s victory has been followed by the backlash of the absurd “Birther” and Tea Party movements. Thankfully, given the world’s attention, the backlash has not been able to assume the proportions that it did in the 19th century. Nevertheless, there are a lot of very aggrieved Americans who will form a highly motivated voting pool in the forthcoming presidential election in November, in contrast to the supporters of “hope and change” who appear muted and demoralised because of Obama’s supposedly lacklustre performance.  

Given widespread doubts, it is important to assess what Obama has achieved and to ask if he deserves a second term. He has some enormous achievements. First, domestically, he stabilised the US economy which was in freefall, and saved millions of jobs with the rescue of General Motors. Second, with the historic health-care legislation and gay equality in the army, he has achieved something that has eluded all presidents over the last 80 years.

Third, in foreign affairs, he assassinated Osama Bin Laden. Fourth, he ended the war in Iraq and has begun winding down the Afghan war. Fifth, he re-established a less hostile global view of the US, so much so that he achieved regime change in Libya with the initial votes of Nigeria and South Africa.

Under any other US president, these achievements would have seen them face an easy re-election battle, but Obama is constantly faced with a discordant background noise of amateurism, failure, aloofness, or the selling-out of American interests.

There are, of course, criticisms to be made, but those criticisms largely come from not being American – in the sense that what is good for the USA is not necessarily good for everyone else. So his failure to deal with American bankers whose criminal practices unleashed a global financial crisis, has been irresponsible.

He has also set dangerous precedents with his approach to foreign policy. His summary execution of Bin Laden and his targeted killings of enemies of America with unmanned drones along with the “collateral damage” (the death of innocent civilians), that I wrote about a year ago, have created a dangerous precedent for other leaders to follow.

Finally, he has also established the precedent of the NATO bombing of an African country, Libya, which in turn triggered a humanitarian and constitutional crisis, and civil war in Mali. A huge irony, given the African embrace of him as “our first president” in the White House. Beyond that, he has studiously avoided Africa apart from two visits, one to Egypt, the other to Ghana, as he pivots American strategic interests towards Asia and the Pacific.

So, if I were American, would I vote for him? Yes, if I was only concerned about American self-interest then I positively would. However, Americans who voted twice for Bush and who do not appear to be the best guarantors of their interests, might not see things my way.

As an African, however, and given his record on Africa, where I have not seen much hope or change, I probably would not vote for him. Not that it matters much since I don’t have a vote anyway.

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Written by Onyekachi Wambu

Onyekachi was educated at the University of Essex and completed his M.Phil in International Relations at Selwyn College, Cambridge. He worked extensively as a journalist and television documentary. He edited The Voice Newspaper at the end of the 1980s and has made documentaries and programmes for the BBC, Channel 4 and PBS.

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