A week or so ago, I was out for drinks and overheard a typical Obamaphile going on about how great this speech of his was. Nothing struck me until he expounded as to why he liked it: The president had actually called on Africans to take responsibility for themselves and practiced some tough-love, according to this friend-of-a-friend of mine. Having not read it, I withheld comment. As I read through it in putting together the aforementioned post, I actually was struck by the tone.
Of course the beginning is perfunctory bla bla about thanks and how we’re great friends of Ghana and (natch) how America is bad. But directly after the quote I used to display the president’s penchant for voicing derision for America comes this:
But the West is not responsible for the destruction of the Zimbabwean economy over the last decade, or wars in which children are enlisted as combatants. In my father’s life, it was partly tribalism and patronage and nepotism in an independent Kenya that for a long stretch derailed his career, and we know that this kind of corruption is still a daily fact of life for far too many.
He also goes on to lecture Africans about their need for self-sustainment and -reliance as well as taking responsibility for their own success:
[J]ust as it is important to emerge from the control of other nations, it is even more important to build one’s own nation.
Then he hits us with this:
As for America and the West, our commitment must be measured by more than just the dollars we spend. I’ve pledged substantial increases in our foreign assistance, which is in Africa’s interests and America’s interests. But the true sign of success is not whether we are a source of perpetual aid that helps people scrape by — it’s whether we are partners in building the capacity for transformational change.
Two questions arise here:
1) Does he mean this? I mean is the West (and in particular, America) going to develop a new relationship with African nations that relies less on simply dollars and more on the development of democratic forms of government? Could it be that we are rounding a corner with Africa where we’ll be more likely to “teach them to fish”, rather than throw money (and rice) at them? And if so,
2) Why isn’t this good enough for the rest of the world? If Obama really believes that the future of success for Africa is not found in the dollars of our charity but rather in the “transformational change” of theirs into a modern society led by a transparent and democratically representative government of citizens, what was wrong with wanting that in places like, say, Iran?
The president’s speech goes on to highlight four ways in which he hopes to see improvement over the continent and ways he wants to help. The categories are: democratic governments, thriving economics, public health, and ending violence.
I have to say, having heard for over two years now (well, actually, since 2004 to a lesser extent) how rousing and inspiring The One is, I’ve never been moved. (I even stood on the west lawn of the Capitol listening to his Inaugural Address and felt more that I didn’t recognize the America he was describing than I did motivated or inspired at all.) And, fair enough, I didn’t hear this speech, but rather read it. And yes, he probably didn’t write it anyway. And certainly I am not nearly as impressed as the guy I overheard or any other acolytes of The One…
All that said, though, I have to give the president props for not giving Africans a pass here. It would have been easy (and oh, so typical) to go there and bawl over how it’s not their fault and how America will just send tons of more money for them (in fairness, he did linger on both of those themes, too). But Obama’s speech, if to be taken seriously, is a kick in the pants to the continent. Not necessarily putting them on notice that the gravy train won’t run forever, but perhaps a heads-up from the benefactor that progress is expected, and that while we’ll be there to help and cheer Africa along, they oughtn’t simply sit back–like, say, some welfare queen–collecting checks from the West.
(Okay, before the flaming ensues, given I was called-out (even by my fellow blogger) for having given Jared Polis credit for writing a letter to Nancy Pelosi this week–because it was “just a letter”–keep in mind that for Obama, words are everything. This is a guy who won’t even say that the election in Iran was a sham and who changed the words we use to describe war and terrorism. It is a big deal for him to actually use rhetoric in this way. Taken from his perspective, that is.)
Which brings me to this: Why is the president willing to prod Africa to pull itself up and take some responsibility for itself, but won’t say the same thing to his own constituents?
-Nick (ColoradoPatriot, from HQ)