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The Obama legacy

In a few days from today, President Barack Obama will leave the White House and his successor Donald Trump whom he campaigned against will step in. Like most American presidents who serve two terms, he has grown grey hair, yet he is only 55 years old; 15 years younger than Trump.

He was only 47 years when he won his presidency for the first term. This is in great contrast with the Africa of today. Most first presidents of African states were much younger than presidents and prime ministers of countries abroad. When Kwame Nkrumah became prime minister of the Gold Coast (Ghana) in 1952, he was 43 years old; Kenneth Kaunda was 40 years old in 1964 when Zambia attained independence; Patrice Lumumba, first prime minister of the Democratic Republic of Congo, was about 35 years old, and Rashid Mfaume Kawawa served as prime minister of Tanganyika for about two years when he was 33 years. Few of today’s African presidents are as youthful as the founding fathers.

I am not sure about the age of the president of Burundi but Joseph Kabila of DR Congo who has been in office for 15 years started ruling the sub-continent at the age of about 30 years following the assassination of his father. He still wants to serve a third or fourth term.

We might say the disadvantage of stepping into the presidency while still very young is that most of such presidents want to amend their countries’ constitutions and serve longer terms because they do not see how they will spend the rest of their youthful days. However, it is not only the youthful presidents who seek extension of office. Just look to the south of the Zambezi River. A president who is over 90 is expected to contest again. It does not matter if that is the wish of the people who do not seem to mind that through the lengthy regime, their country has become less prosperous and its national currency has lost value.

Obama’s story is that of succeeding against the odds. When he announced his candidature, the British novelist and Nobel Prize Laureate Doris Lessing warned that White Americans were going to kill him. The reason was that generally American presidents have been WASPs, meaning White Anglo-Saxon Protestants. But not only did he scoop majority white votes but got re-elected for the second term.

Obama according to the American race classification is member of the African American population because though his mother was white, his father was black. There were those who were saying he was not an American because his father was a Kenyan of the Luo tribe, hence his African name. As a black man, he was slightly at a disadvantage among African Americans because he was not a descendant of those who had come to America as slaves. He truly succeeded against the odds. By any reckoning, he is a man of multiple gifts.

By example, Americans have taught the world that race does not matter in judging a person for office. As Martin Luther King Jnr put it all people should be judged by their indidual characters. Had he not been assassinated Martin Luther King Jnr would still be under 90 today and would have seen the triumph of his satyagraha.

In South Africa, we should not pronounce apartheid as completely languished until we the majority blacks elect to office someone on merit even if he is of European or Asian descent. The late Michael Sata of Zambia appointed as his vice-president a white man. That was an exemplary gesture. This should be emulated anywhere. The world should move towards a real civilisation, a civilisation with a humanity face.

When Obama was elected, some Africans were expecting him to do more for Africa than other American presidents had done. Whether there was justification in such expectation, we must not forget he had a duty first and foremost to serve America interests. He visited some key African countries such as Ghana and Senegal in West Africa, South Africa, Tanzania, Kenya – his father’s country, and Ethiopia. He played a major part in the conquest of the Ebola disease. He had to work harder in those foreign countries where American interests were at risk such as the Middle East and Afghanistan.

At the African Union meeting in Addis Ababa, he appealed to African presidents who have served the two terms to step down as he was going to do. To this, we say Amen.

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