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By Rosemary Ekosso


Thursday, August 7, 2008.


Africans and black people can celebrate the rise of Obama if they so wish. In fact, I do not see why they should not. I myself am quite chuffed that he has made it this far.


However, in so doing, they should consider the following:

Obama is an American. I hear people referring to him as African-American. Let me digress a little. This is an appellation I find illogical. When a person is referred to as African-American, Italian American, Asian-American or any of those other Something-Americans, it implies two things:


(a) this person is not the real article when it comes to Americanism – he or she is a hybrid; (b) there are other pure, unalloyed American-Americans and those are the real article. All others are fakes and wannabes. Since we all know that the only people with any real claim to that land are the people who were wiped out to make space for other people, we also know that apart from the few real Americans, everyone in that country is an immigrant, whether they were dragged there in chains or whether they came as conquering non-heroes, fortune-hunters, dishonest land-grabbers, indentured labour, or students.


Now, to return to Obama’s American-ness. Coloured (I use the term here only to take issue with it: what are the others, then? Colourless and therefore superior? Since when did human colourlessness become a virtue?) people all over the world have been celebrating as Mr Obama leaps from strength to strength.


I concede that there is something to celebrate. Even fifty years ago, having a black man within hailing distance of the white house (except as a servant, of course) would have had the white supremacist terrorists out in force. And now millions of white people are voting for a black man. So, yes, there is something to celebrate.

But although Obama is half black (and therefore half white, though some people on both sides of the racial divide would like to forget this for completely different reasons), he is wholly American. His foreign policy will be defined first and foremost by his American-ness, not by his blackness or his any-other-thing-ness.


That is why he pledged to support Israel the other day. He did not pledge to support Vanuatu, or Malaysia, or Burkina Faso. What does that indicate?


It indicates that in matters of foreign policy, he may intend to continue along certain lines. I do not know what those lines may be (with the possible exception of Israel), but I have chosen to wait and see.


More specifically, what does it indicate for us Africans?


I do not think, to take an example that affects me directly, that he is going to come to Francophone Africa and send the French scuttling back to France so we can get rid of their puppets and manage our own affairs at last. I do not think of Obama as Richard Coeur de Lion or Uthman dan Fodio. He is our brother, yes, but brotherhood has its limits.


I fear he would not last six days if he tried to do anything really useful for us. He’ll have his hands full with his countrymen anyway. Oh yes, and with Israel.


Consider this too: even if Obama were the Messiah of modern America and really wanted to do something, it would be very difficult for him to do it at all. Let’s face it. The world is run by white men. The white men who run the world will have a significant influence on the choice of who is going to be in power in Washington.


In spite of the effervescence in the press and online news comment pages, the people who vote that they are being influenced and manipulated in ways that they may not apprehend. Do you really think the military-industrial complex would let one president or the will of the people get in the way of business?

Therefore, even if Obama were kindly disposed towards the world’s meek and lowly, his hands would be quite effectively tied. To reflect a constant fear, if he tried too vigorously to untie them, a JFK-type tragedy might ensue.


Obama is a politician


I will not quote the adage that begins with politics and ends with business. However, I will say that no one who enters the business of wielding power over human beings is there for the sole benefit of those human beings.


You have to be fairly warped to enter politics. I admit that some people are warped in a nice way and others in a way that is not nice at all.


Campaign finance


The political system is organised in a way that only allows people who can collect enough money to run an expensive campaign to have a decent shot at achieving their aims. Obama has collected huge sums of money, we are told. Some of it is from individuals. But some of it might come from powerful vested interests. When people fund your campaign, they do so because they want you to speak for them.


And if Mr Obama were to become president and wanted a second term, he would do well, if he has accepted money from these vested interests, to see that such interests are protected. I do not know whether he has, mind you. But this is something to consider when we look forward to what his presidency might bring to his country and to the world. One of the abiding truths about politicians is that they know how to look out for number one.


And talking of second terms, if, as president, Mr Obama intends to institute radical reforms, he would have to do so bearing in mind that he would probably not get a second term. The real powers would not make the mistake of letting a real reformer stay in the white house for longer than necessary. So, whatever his views, Mr Obama as president might have to compromise on some issues in order to stay in power, if that is what he seeks.


Racial politics


In an article in the June issue of Le Monde Diplomatique, Walter Benn Michaels argues that Obama’s impact will not be at the level of ideology (where, Mr. Benn says, there is little to choose between him and Clinton); the change will be cultural. This means the change in racial attitudes. The hopes of Africans depend on whether this change in racial attitudes will seep into America’s foreign policy under an Obama presidency.


Still with regard to race, if Mr Obama became president, he would set a precedent for real power wielded by a black person. He would have to play an important trailblazing role. He would have to be careful to ensure that any measures he tool do not reflect adversely on people of African descent. That in itself is a lot of work. It may well seriously hamper him because he would be too busy trying to be careful to do anything worthwhile.


However Mr Obama is not president yet and may never be. This is just me getting ahead of myself.


But who am I kidding? I want him to win. I want him to win because even if he is a politician, he is at least half black. That makes him fully black in some eyes. Because, in spite of my fears and scepticism, I see him as embodying the hope of countless millions. In fact, it is because of my hope that I have to express my doubts. I have to have some hope that something will change in America.


The prospect of things continuing as they are is too bleak to contemplate. I see Mr Obama as the person most likely to bring about that change. So in spite of my hair-splitting about racial appellations, I think of him as black too. I cannot afford not to. He is my only hope.


Mr Obama is not the Messiah. But for millions of black people, he is probably the closest thing to a saviour they will ever get in this age.


Rosemary Ekosso is with the Internation Court of Justice, the Hague, Holland. She blogs at www.ekosso.com


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