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November 16, 2018

What will be Obama's legacy for Africa?

President Obama
President Obama

Many pundits across the United States and the world are beginning to write the final chapters of the Obama Presidency. On his election, many pundits proclaimed that Obama was the first world President, considering his linkages with various corners of the globe. Africa is one region that felt particularly proud to have one of its sons at the apex of global power. This is more so for a continent that has for a long time only been a footnote in the US foreign policy.

But what exactly will be Obama’s legacy for Africa? The best Obama legacy for Africa is that the US President has shown what Africa is capable of. In him, Africans have seen one of their own ascend to the most powerful office in the land. However, here is the catch. President Obama represents all that Africa is capable of, but which it has not achieved. Remember, as the celebrated intellectual Prof Ali Mazrui opined in one of his columns for a local daily, his basic question was whether America or Kenya would be the first to elect a President with Luo descent.

In Obama, we see Africa’s loss to the rest of the world. The continent exports the best of its talent, materials, and resources and never gains from it. But more crucially, the question that we should ask ourselves is whether individuals of Obama’s calibre can succeed in Kenya and Africa in general. The sad answer is ‘No’. In fact, the common joke in Kenya is that Obama would never have been elected Kenyan President considering the rough and tumble of our politics.

In effect then, consider that our best intellectuals are able to produce their best ideas when they are abroad rather than when they are at home. When at home, we give our best only a sparing appreciation but when these brains are appreciated abroad, we jump on the fray and claim them as one of our own, when in fact we had never given them a chance to excel locally. What is it with Africa in general that the best find it extremely hard to excel until they have to pack their bags and leave?

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