Will Obama’s “change” anthem profit Africa?

November 5, 2008

    Barack Obama’s campaign for U.S. president was followed around the world, but perhaps nowhere more closely than in the tiny hamlet of Kogelo in remote western Kenya.

    Obama’s late father hailed from here — and that brought a media circus that rivalled any an African village has seen.

    His successful race to the White House has thrilled many ordinary Africans who hope that having a black man in the world’s most powerful job will mean concrete U.S. support to lift them out of  poverty, a theme taken up by South African President Kgalema Motlanthe.

    “We express the hope that poverty and under-development in Africa, which remains a challenge for humanity, will indeed continue to receive a greater attention of the focus of the new administration,” he said in a statement reacting to Obama’s win.


    But will it really? Or will wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, healthcare reform or the financial market meltdown wipe African issues off his agenda?

    Analysts have cautioned that the new U.S. president will have little scope to bring tangible benefits to Africans.

    Africans are used to all-powerful leaders who can make decisions unilaterally, while U.S. presidents face far greater checks and balances.

    On Kenyan TV on Wednesday, an 11-year-old schoolgirl called on Obama to use his new influence to end “oppressive” World Trade Organisation rules.

    But during a previous visit here in 2006, Obama reminded thousands of adoring fans that he was the senator for Illinois in the United States, not Kogelo.

    Will Obama’s election win make any difference at all to the people of western Kenya, or the majority on the rest of the world’s poorest continent?

    What do you think?





We welcome comments that advance the story through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of Reuters. For more information on our comment policy, see http://blogs.reuters.com/fulldisclosure/2010/09/27/toward-a-more-thoughtful-conversation-on-stories/

As a former missionary to the Maasai of Kenya, we have lived in Kenya and experienced the graciousness of her people. However, I agree with the tenure of the article. Obama may have Kenyan roots, but his focus is on the United States and the problems there.

He may look into the problems of Africa, but I believe he will do less than Bush has done in increasing assistance to treatment of AIDS and Malaria. In fact, I think Obama may reduce some to the foreign aid efforts in order to increase spending at home. After all, his re-election will depend on overcoming the problems facing the American economy rather than those facing Africa.

Posted by Darrel Hoffmaster | Report as abusive

Yes, Obama will make a differene in Kenya. This country will improve with the help from the new leadership and our relationship will flurrish

Posted by patricia hassell | Report as abusive

Not much change in regards to Africa will be seen. He is American, whether black or white (actually both in his case), and we have American problems for him to fix first. Africans should be more interested in who is our UN Ambassodor than who is our President. How can they expect an expatriot African’s son to fix their problems, when African leaders can not (or will not) do it.

Posted by Patrick | Report as abusive

First priority Americans! Second priority, everyone else!

Posted by Ben | Report as abusive

Ideally, it would be fantastic that Obama’s win as president-elect will translate into positive changes in Kenya and Africa as a whole. However, as it seems to me, a non-political person, the troubles in any country are due to its political administration and its own people. That said, too, the U.S. is not and should not be nor should preach that it is a saviour for other countries (as it pretty much has done for many decades – blowing its own horn). That said, too, the Kenyan people have a right to celebrate Obama’s victory; the people of the U.S. also celebrate Obama’s victory.

It is all rather symbolic that a man in the U.S., with parents from the U.S. and Africa, is now heading to the White House. Perhaps, as the good people of Africa rejoice, this will foster immediate and on-going aid to Kenya and the rest of Africa not only from the U.S. but from other countries as well. Obama is really connected to Africa in ways that 99.99% of the rest of us Americans will never be. This is an incredible moment in the world, really, as well as for the U.S. and Africa: the symbolism is clear. Africa people are suffering so much in Darfur, Chad, and in the Congo. The U.S. must address the violence in these three areas and provide aid to these regions. With Obama’s blood-ties to Kenya, perhaps the Sudanese “leaders” will be more receptive to aid not only from the U.S. but also accept aid worldwide. Peace to Kenya.

Cheers from the U.S.!

Posted by good day | Report as abusive

OMG! Americans wanted Barack because the problems we have here, are becoming almost overwhelming for many of us. Even an article like this blows my mind! Of course we want to see places like Africa benefit from what policies our President might enact. That in itself entails who and what Americans are. But please right now we need time to get our own acts together before we can even think about the rest of the world. And remember for every country like yours thats looking for our help we have many many others that have cursed it!

Posted by Lisa Freira | Report as abusive

He will be President of the United States and not of the World, regardless of how they perceived him in Berlin during his speech there. There are too many problems at home that need to be fixed.

Times have changed and the U.S. is not as financially sound as it has always been. Funds need to stay in the U.S. and each country should take care of their own.
The U.S. is always the first to aid other countries when disasters occur, but who helps the U.S???

Posted by Marissa | Report as abusive


Posted by nik | Report as abusive

Kenya thinks that with Obama in the white house they will recieve more aid from the U.S….No one like us but they sure like the American dollar.

Posted by old ewok | Report as abusive

Yeah, our African problems should be solved by we Africans. But upliftment can also come from outside – Sometimes the sad truth is that our African leaders are so busy lining their own pockets the man in the street (or village) suffers. In fact the last thing our leaders want is educated people – who start asking questions. It’s not easy to say to a totally malnourished child ‘your government should sort out it’s own problems.’ Ask me – I’m from Zimbawe.
But that aside_ Go Obama! The fact that America is finally judging people on ability, not race, is so awesome.

Posted by bomber | Report as abusive

Unfortunatly, Bomber, your last statment is incorrect. A large number of people looked at Obama’s race, and decided to vote for him based on that reasoning, rather than looking into the actual politics involved.

Posted by Jordan | Report as abusive

Please don’t take offense to this, my friends in Africa…

How about helping YOURSELVES?

This is exactly why Obama and his Democratic friends will destroy the USA forever. Because an increasing amount of LOSERS in the states depend on others to help them.

Here in America more and more people FAIL to do basic things to help them succeed…like WORK HARD.

Obama has people actually thinking that they no longer have to worry about paying their bills.

And Obama is promising to send more of our money to help other countries…who won’t help themselves either.

So if all of this money goes to other countries and to those who refuse to pay their bills, how fast will this country burn to the ground?

1-20-13 Obama’s last day. End of an Error.

Posted by Harry Reid | Report as abusive

Its a fascinating conundrum. Over the last 24 hours [We were given a 24 hour holiday after the election here in Kenya and it was surreal watching Americans trek to work], I have to concur that a lot of hopes in Africa are riding on President Obama and one senses that in many cases, they are absurdly unrealistic.

However, it would be plain churlish not to recognise that it is a game changer. Revolutions do not have to occur with the pulling down of physical walls and street revolutions. This is revolutioniary but it is a little intangible. I think it liberates in the sense of the Muhammed Ali catchphrase;

‘Impossible is Nothing.’

Every Parent of colour can turn and point at him and say the same. It is in that regard that I feel this is revolutioniary. Hillary pierced the glass ceiling for women and Obama is set to do the same for people of colour and that has to be a good thing.

There are serious problems at home and the President will sink or swim on that record. Africa, in reality, comes second.

However, the process towards freedom and democracy in Africa, has a beacon to look at and the cry across the Continent might well be;

‘We deserve the same [quality of leadership.’

Things are changing.

Aly-Khan Satchu

Posted by Aly-Khan Satchu | Report as abusive

The best thing Obama could do for Africa is to end Africom, the further U.S. militarization of Africa with the expansion of U.S.military bases throughout the continent. This would be in keeping with the financial pressures he faces at home.

Will he do it? If so inclined, he’s going to face a huge wall of resistance; the only thing I can imagine helping much would be American taxpayers’ refusing to pay the bill for aggression that is really not helping but hurting them.

Posted by Ann Garrison | Report as abusive

I´ve always had this daydreamed of a question ” will a Black ever be offered a space in the Whitehouse” well, as you well know my answer…!
This by itself is history.A mental and emotional boost is all we needed, not your dollars as most of still vehemently believe, afterall the world also does need africa to sustain itself. long live Africa…!

Posted by archibong | Report as abusive

Obama’s win has inspired Africans because leaders in Africa have failed to inspire their own people. The celebrations in Africa, is a message to the African leaders that CHANGE is on way.

Posted by Abbas Murbe | Report as abusive

Obama is not the savior of the world or the USA. He is only a man who has promised much to get elected and of whom much more is expected.
What we are already seeing in this country (USA) is a move toward a one-party, one-mind system where the leadership says “What I want is what you want”.
You tell me. How have systems like that worked in the past?

Posted by George | Report as abusive

The Chinese will help Africa change, if the Africans want to change themselves. If not, another Idi Amin is waiting in thw wings.

Posted by cody | Report as abusive

If it were only that easy Abbas….then it truly would be a day to celebrate change in Africa.

However…. as long as there’s examples of continental divide at the highest levels of governance, and such easy indifference towards humanitarian urgency as demonstrated by SADC in conducting yet another wasted talking forum while demanding nothing of the criminality taking place in Zimbabwe…that message you speak of is clearly not getting through to all the leaders of Africa.

As for help from beyond;…many Americans from all political sides whom I’ve listened to about this new presidency, seem to be preaching from the same book…one of the foundation issues of the electorate and an expectation of the new administration…they hope, is to take longer, more critical review of putting out a helping hand to anyone, anywhere. Thus ensuring to some degree the US electorate is helping only those who first demonstrate they are seriously willing to help themselves. We’ll see of course how well this plays out over time…but SADC this week has done less-than-nothing positive with regards to Zimbabwe to help itself and the greater African cause.

Going forward, undoubtedly there will be a few eloquent Africa speeches, verbal support for attempting to maintain some status-quo involvement in Africa…after all “foreign policy is a wieldy thing to shift course at the best of times”…but possibly little else of additional substance seeing as his mandate, the reason so many decided on giving Obama and Change a chance, was clearly to save the US from itself, first and foremost. I suspect other countries around the world including those in Africa, will need to get very comfortable with the realities of doing exactly the same!

Posted by Doug | Report as abusive

it will benefit africa in the area of tourism. more people will be interested in the place because he has roots here. As for handouts, i dont think they are coming our way any time soon and i dontthink they should.
he’s a son of our soil, we’re proud of him but we’ll solve our own problems we won’t burden him.

Posted by krystal kisia | Report as abusive

I’m an African and I’m delighted that Obama won the elections. He was the better candidate and will bring the change to the USA it so direly needs after GWB2. I hope though that he sends the message to Africa, the only continent still waiting for handouts. We, as Africans, need to depend on ourselves. Stop blaming others and start developing yourselves. I would not be holding my breath.

Posted by Josh | Report as abusive

The election of Barack Obama as the first black President of the United States of America (USA), has sparked up celebrations across the world. As congratulatory messages pour in from world leaders, many are still finding it difficult to understand how what seemed unimaginable few years back is now a reality. From Kenya to Nigeria and across the world, the election of Obama was greeted with different form of celebrations.

A second look at Obama’s story, one would note that he is not a descendant of the freed slaves, but an African, born just 47 years ago. Mr Obama’s father grew up in Kenya herding goats but gained a scholarship to study in Hawaii, USA where he met Obama’s mother, Ann Dunham, of Kansas. While still a toddler, his parents divorced, his mother married an Indonesian, Lolo Soetoro, and the young child spent four of his pre-teen years in the capital city, Jakarta. He moved back to Hawaii to live with his grandparents and attended school, before studying political science at Columbia University in New York.

In the real sense of it, Obama is an African. If it were in sports, Obama would have had the option of playing for the Harambee Stars of Kenya to the United States national football team. So, the wild celebration in Kenya and the public holiday to celebrate his victory are understandable.

But amid the celebrations are the debates about what Africa has to gain from Obama presidency. To some people, Obama would change US immigration policy so that Africans can have easy access to the country while to others, Obama would not think twice before granting loans to poor African countries while he would readily make US military available to resolve disputes in any war torn African states.

But as theses great expectations mount, an age old Yoruba aphorism comes to mind. It goes thus: A rich man in the midst of hundreds of poor would ended up becoming poor.
With the challenges of two wars and a global financial crisis at hand as noted by Obama in his victory speech, one can only imagine how much more the new president could take for a start.

One thing we cannot overlook is that, though Obama won a landslide victory over his Republican rival, John MacCain, some people are not convinced that the US is ready for a black president. Remember that two white supremacists were arrested last month for plotting to kill Obama? Also in August, just days before Obama accepted the Democratic nomination ticket, police arrested three men with white supremacist ties for possibly threatening him.

John Karl, the officer in charge of the Los Angeles Police Department’s criminal conspiracy unit was quoted as saying that there is a probable hypothesis that in the event that Obama becomes president, there could be a galvanization of these white supremacist groups.

The point I am trying to make from this is that these white supremacist groups would only be looking for how Obama will fail. When it’s time to address the issues concerning blacks or Africans, they would most likely bring up sentiments. If he does the right thing, they would most likely give the credit to his white lineage, and should he make a mistake, they are most likely to say, ‘Didn’t we say it? A Blackman in White House is an abomination.’

There is no doubt that Obama would either be disappointed or proud of the demands that would be pouring in from Africa. If it is going to be a call for Obama to intervene on crises such as the experiences in Kenya and Zimbabwe this year, or the shameful election in Nigeria, war in Democratic Republic of Congo or genocide in Dafur, the white extremists would have the last laugh.

Imagine if Obama had had the misfortune of living in Africa, he probably would not have grown above the current level of politics in Kenya. One great revelation from the Obama success is that many Africans that had died with their dreams in this continent would have realised their full potentials if they had had the opportunity of living in America or other lands that inspre hope.

With Obama, the world has changed and Africa has no option but to change with it. Whenever African leaders look at the USA now, it should be with a sense of responsibility. They should say to themselves that since Obama is our brother, if he could successfully lead the most powerful country in the world, why can’t we make a difference in our countries?

With the abundant natural resources in Nigeria and other African countries, it is no longer tenable to look up to Europe and America for aids, but to harness the potentials. So, whenever African leaders are going to Washington, it should be to discuss how to add value to civilisation, not as beggars, otherwise Bros Barack would be overwhelmed by the shame of a continent and have no choice but to say, ‘Lagbaja, nothing dey for you.’

This is why I disagreed with the section of Nigerian President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua’s congratulatory statement to President-elect Obama, where he said that Obama‘s emergence had proved that racial prejudices should have no place in governance.
As far as I am concerned, the racial prejudices he was referring to is not as bad as election rigging, joblessness, corruption, police brutality in Nigeria and the killing of the African dream by our leaders.

But I agreed with him on the need to do away with prejudices arising from differences in tribe, zones and regions, and that we should conduct ourselves purely as Nigerians to serve Nigeria and to serve humanity.

His words: ”When we find ourselves in position of responsibility, when we take decisions, we should take decisions as Nigerians in the best interest of the country and not try to bring about issues of where I come from or which tribe I come from. That is the old world, that is the old era, its coffin has been nailed throughout the world and we have entered a new era.”

Let us hope this will not end up as one of those empty promises!

Segun Adeleye

Posted by Segun Adeleye | Report as abusive

When the soul and the mind is sound, so would his path to salvation. Obama is inspiration, hope and confidence.His magic is working already around the world. Mugabe and others in his group now seek peace and reconcillation. God bless Obama and those who believe in peace and love.

Posted by Nduka Tolefe | Report as abusive

People in Kogelo still do not understand that nothing comes from government, unless accompanied by hard work. Maybe all Obama needs is to emphasize this reality, they may just beleive it coming if it came from him. Their leader Raila Odinga has obviously failed them by feeding them unrealisitic lies.

Posted by George kiplagat | Report as abusive

Obama has been elected the next president of the US and regardless of African links will be constrained to continue in the same direction US foreign policy has taken since the mid 20th century, promoting his own country’s interests, rightly or wrongly. Do you think the majority of Americans actually care about the plight of culturally and geographically alien people as their own country faces economic turmoil? The Democrats did not win by a huge landslide. Consequently Obama won’t have the powers to drastically change America’s foreign, domestic, or environmental policy.

Posted by Steve Andrews | Report as abusive