Monday, July 14, 2008

Public Forum: Barack Obama and Africa - a local perspective


After a successful inaugural seminar (which I blogged about here and here) The Weekender and Wits University will be co-hosting another of their discussion forums. This time the focus is on developments in the United States, specifically the meteoric rise of Democratic Party presidential nominee Barack Obama. The panel will be debating the significance of Obama's candidacy for the African continent. Below are the details, click on the image to enlarge:

I have put together a preparation pack for those wishing to attend in order to facilitate a more meaningful interaction on the night. Do not show up without looking at this material:

'Senator Obama goes to Africa'
This is a film made during Mr. Obama's 2006 trip to Africa. It is a glowing portrait of a man deeply connected to his African roots and reflects his vision of the continent, albeit through the lens of the diaspora:
Part personal odyssey and part chronicle of diplomacy in action, this timely documentary follows Senator Barack Obama as he travels to the land of his ancestry. From South Africa to Kenya to a Darfur refugee camp in Chad, Obama explores the vast continent that is gaining increasing importance in this age of globalization.
An excerpt from the film can also be viewed on the site. Here Obama talks movingly of his father, a Kenyan economist about whom he knew very little, but whose affect on his life was substantial. He also addresses some of the dreams and failings of a country struggling to fulfill its potential and the disease of corruption that prevents it from doing so.


Obama-mania sweeps Africa, but could he deliver?
This Reuters article by Andrew Cawthorne appeared in several publications around the world on June 9th. It raises some cautionary thoughts from various quarters in Africa about the meaning of the recent Obama nomination.
Obama's late father was Kenyan, and on a trip here two years ago he was feted like a rock star. But apart from visits to his ancestral roots, Obama does not have a particularly strong track record of interest in Africa, analysts say.


'Obama or McCain: Who would be better for SA?'
I don't want to steal too much of the thunder from the upcoming event, but Tony Leon has already spoken about the US presidential candidates (to the Cape Town Press Club on the 11th of June 2008) and he is likely to raise some similar points. Leon, the former leader of the DA, is now the party's spokesperson on international affairs. He is fitting nicely into his new role as public intellectual, and he seems unencumbered by the need to chase votes or play the party politics game (as much).

Mr. Leon has also spent some significant time in the USA, having recently completed a fellowship at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, nogal. So his finger is on the pulse of this issue, more so I would imagine, than many other politicians in SA.

His speech considers the two candidates at some length; both in their areas of convergence and difference. But focusing on the Democratic candidate for a moment, although Leon sees enormous promise in an Obama presidency, he also considers it as important to deconstruct some of the misconceptions around the candidate's likely international policy positions.

There is an assumption which I believe to be mistaken, or a far too superficial reading of the situation, that because of Barack Obama's provenance and his sense of identity with Africa, that somehow he will be a soft touch when it comes to our continent. A closer analysis would suggest that his approach could be described as something akin to ‘tough love".
In a similar vein, he continues with a good measure of rhetorical verve:
The point I'm making here is that contrary to what some of the fabulists among his opposition and perhaps among some wishful thinkers at home in South Africa, Senator Barack Obama is not some effete, limp-wristed, Chardonnay-swilling, latté-drinking defeatist who would withdraw America from world engagement and provide a kind of uncritical mother love and apple pie approach to developing democracies and to global issues.
Leon argues that Obama would have a more muscular approach to Darfur, (having piloted the Darfur Peace and Accountability Act with conservative Senator Sam Brownback) as well as a foreign aid policy with some pretty stringent conditions attached to it.


'The Pan-African Meaning Of Barack Obama'
Moving away from the liberal perspective, Milton Allimadi of the Black Star News has a more radical take on Obama's ascendency:

To many African peoples, here in the United States, in the Diaspora, and on the African continent, Obama is not merely a candidate for the Presidency of the United States. With his intellect and with his ability to attract millions of voters and excel in the world‘s biggest political arena, Obama is seen as an affirmation of all the latent positive attributes that African people harbor. At the same time, he’s seen as a repudiation of all the negative attributes that have historically been assigned to Africans.

On the same site there is another article on Barack Obama's political career which provides a good introduction (or a supplement) to the topic. 'Barack Obama And Africa'


'US Democrats urged to register to vote in close poll'
This piece of reportage features Monica Stewart, who will be speaking on Monday. She is the Vice Chair of the SA chapter of Democrats Abroad and will be attending the Dem Convention where Obama will receive his party's official blessing. The article also talks about the upcoming visit of Howard Dean, the Democratic Party Chairman who is urging Dems living in South Africa to register to vote as early as possible. Apparently there are 20 000 of these folks (out of a total of 6 million US expats worldwide) living in the country. Although the article doesn't mention it, it is safe to say that about 19 500 of them are Semester Study Abroad students at UCT.


No discussion on the Obama candidacy at the moment would be complete without some wanton speculation as to the identity of his Vice-Presidential running mate. Check out The G-Spot for a great rough guide on how to pick a Veep...

... and how not to!!!


An exhaustive list of stuff to plough through. So get reading, you only have a week.

Please email Lebo Moliki on by 16 July to RSVP. Also, let me know if you will be attending, I'd love to have a chat about this man Obama and what he means to us.


  1. Hello QPQ readers

    As you can see by this post I am experimenting with block quotes. They are the words in red. I am unsure about using them in future & I would like to hear your thoughts on whether or not you believe they work - aesthetically I mean.

  2. Dave, I think that block quotes are useful, and they work aesthetically. The only thing that I would say is that having in them in red might make people think you are disagreeing, or being aggressive towards these individuals. Maybe I'm stereotyping the colour red, but hey?

  3. If y'all don't know what Simon is talking about its because I have heeded his advice and removed the red from the block quotes.

    Although I don't know that this makes me look angry, I think it is far too busy (what with links, pics, etc as well)and overly distracting. The BQ text format was almost impossible to change through the template, so I had to delve into the world of html - which was scary, but not too bad.