Thursday, June 12, 2008

Honestly, I Never Even Thought of it That Way

From Cros; how Obama's African popularity could change the region should he become president:

"Sen. Obama is a superstar in Africa, and should he become President, his popularity in Africa will continue to skyrocket, and his first official visit to the continent will be huge. I wonder what effect it would have if he, while speaking to a stadium full of thousands of people, in a speech broadcast worldwide, called out dictators like Mugabe, Omar Al-Bashir of the Sudan, and lesser known but nearly as bad apples such as Eritrea's Isayas Afewerki or Equitorial Guinea's Teodoro Obiang Nguema, and told them, and more importantly, told Africans and African leaders in no uncertain terms that they were hurting their nations and their continent, and that it was past time for them to go. Obama's used strong words when speaking about Mugabe before, but speaking as the President would go a lot farther than speaking as a Senator from Illinois.

"What could such a speech provoke? Could it provoke open revolt? Maybe in Zimbabwe, which is getting close to that already, less likely in a place like Eritrea where the government has more of a stranglehold on the media. Hopefully it would first provoke leaders to finally tell Mugabe that the game was up, and his best option would be to hightail it out of Zimbabwe as fast as possible.

"Whether or not Obama would make such a bold statement is, of course, an open question. As President, he might just use his first trip to Africa to offer praise to reformists and promise bucketloads of foreign aid - less controversial stances that wouldn't jeopardize his popularity. It is apparently asking a lot of a President to take such a stance - after all, nobody believes President Bush is terribly shy about confronting dictators, and he, despite being fairly well-liked in Africa, hasn't confronted Mugabe and his ilk the way one might expect. But regardless of how you feel about his stance on any other issue, the truth is Obama would start his Presidency with influence in Africa that John McCain (or even Bush, for that matter) will never be able to match.

"And if you thought he'd really do it, you'd have to think a little harder about just maybe even voting for him."

Props to Cros on this one, and for discussing Mugabe and other global issues on his site. I've been so immersed in seeing Obama through the lens of what he can do for the US as president (including pulling us out of Iraq) that I really haven't thought about what kind of change his presidency could make in Africa (or the rest of the world for that matter) other than perception. Of course a part of this has to do with the little coverage Africa gets in the M$M, and another part has to do with liberal reluctance to think about foreign intervention post-Bush, but the argument Cros makes about Obama's potential soft power is awfully persuasive if effecting change in Africa is an issue on your radar. I can't seeing this argument playing much of a role in the general election, but if Clooney, Cheadle, the Pitts and the Celeb crew endorsed him and phrased their argument for him in this way it might snowball and have the added bonus of forcing a President Obama to take more direct and sincere action in Africa other than just, 'offer praise to reformists and promise bucketloads of foreign aid'.

You know, the more I think about it, the more I feel that his presidency would affect an entire paradigm shift between Africa and other non-white countries and the West. Much as Obama's candidacy threatens to destroy much of the dynamic of race politics in America, so could it potentially threaten the racial and post-imperalist politics that helps maintain dictatorships across the globe, from Mugabe to Chavez. But let me not jump the shark here; needless to say Cros has given me alot to think about.

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