Obama’s Disappointing Legacy in Africa
By Anakwa Dwamena — October 31, 2016
The last we saw of President George W. Bush in Africa, he was literally dancing into the sunset of his presidency, on this occasion with President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf in Monrovia, Liberia, America’s only former colony on the continent. There was much to celebrate. Despite the fact that his legacy was already being defined by a disastrous war in the Middle East and economic crisis at home, Bush has since been recognized by fans and critics alike to have done the most of any American president for the African continent since perhaps John F. Kennedy in the late 1960s. Bush’s President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), his signature Africa initiative, has been credited with saving millions of lives on the continent. Despite backlash about the program’s moralistic focus on abstinence, it was an unprecedented success.
Bush’s successor arrived in Accra, Ghana, in 2009 with a different message. Barack Obama, the first American president with African ancestry, visited the famous “door of no return” through which slaves were led out to waiting ships at the Cape Coast Castle. He addressed the Ghanaian parliament, declaring that “the 21st century will be shaped by what happens not just in Rome, or Moscow or Washington, but by what happens in Accra as well.” He added, “Africa’s future is up to Africans.”
Obama’s popularity surged with Africans. All over the continent there are residential areas, roads, even barber shops named after the president. Harvard economist Grieve Chelwa recalls the excitement that greeted an American president who had “clearly identifiable roots, within this century,” to the continent. On the day of Obama’s inauguration, a cab driver in Kinshasa, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, told Grieve, “Since a black man is the president of U.S., things are finally going to change for us black people.”