Foreign Policy Blogs

What Obama Means for Africa: From my Africa Traveling Notes

Ok, I know I suppose to be posting about news-driven materials, but after revisiting my Africa travel notebook, I couldn’t resist the temptation. Despite the reality that America is in the middle of the recession as well as fighting two wars, what struck me most, during my three-month visit to Namibia (via South Africa) in November last year,  is the realization that a large number of my fellow Africans were mostly interested in talking about Obama. They eagerly wanted to know how he is doing, and most importantly they expressed how proud they are for his achievements.

Apparently, the election of Barck Obama, whose father was from Kenya, as the first black president of the United Sates of America has unleashed a sense of pride across the African continent. Just like most of us here in the US, a lot of Africans throughout the continent had many sleepless nights throughout the campaign period. Kenya, a country where President Barack Obama’s father comes from, declared November 6 a public holiday in honor of his election victory.

At policy level, the consensus among scholars, politicians, and practitioners suggests that Africa has high hopes for the Obama administration than previous American administrations. However, apart from President Obama’s Ghana-Africa speech, the jury is still out on the extent of his administration’s engagement with the continent.

But amid the fever of excitement over President Obama being the proud son of the continent, what has been lost, however, is the fact that Obama’s father, like many other African fathers across the continent, did not step up to the plate. Barack saw his Harvard educated father only once when he was 10 years. Let’s give credit where it is due, and credit the American family system, in particular his mother and grandparents who provided him with a strong foundation to succeed in life.

Yes, Obama has African roots, but as much as Obama’s presidency is significance to Africa, the continent’s pride stops there. Africa cannot claim Obama’s success because it cannot be traced back to Africa. The father-child relationship ceased to exit when Obama senior abandoned him, period!

What Obama may mean to Africa, though, is that we should use this opportunity as a teachable moment for the continent to reflect about the African family value system, in particular the role of fathers in parenting. There is a need for a broader engagement to encourage African men to step up, and be present in the lives of their children, whether married or not. I am not only referring to financial support here, but I am talking about the ability to be that omnipresent role-model in the child’s life.



Ndumba J. Kamwanyah

Ndumba Jonnah Kamwanyah, a native of Namibia in Southern Africa, is an independent consultant providing trusted advice and capacity building through training, research, and social impact analysis to customers around the world. Mos recently Ndumba returned from a consulting assignment in Liberia in support of the UN Mission in Liberia (UNMIL).
In his recent previous life Ndumba taught (as an Adjunct Professor) traditional justice and indigenous African political institutions in sub-Saharan Africa at the Rhode Island College-Anthropology Department.

He is very passionate about democracy development and peace-building, and considers himself as a street researcher interested in the politics of everyday life.
Twitter: NdumbaKamwanyah