By Owei Lakemfa
THOSE who signed the July 4, 1776 American Declaration of Independence gave humanity one of the most imperishable declarations: “ We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
Yet, 41 of the 56 signatories including George Washington, James Madison and Benjamin Franklin, were slave owners. They did not believe that Black people are human beings who are created equal, or that they have inalienable rights including those of life and liberty. In fact, Thomas Jefferson who drafted the Declaration, owned 600 human beings as slaves!
President Abraham Lincoln who on January 1, 1863 signed the Emancipation Proclamation that freed slaves was a hard core racist who believed that Blacks were sub humans who should not have equal status with whites including the right to vote. In fact, he argued that freed slaves should not be allowed to pollute the American society, hence, he advocated that they be shipped out of America and colonised with the rest of Africa. He also suggested Panama as an area where freed Blacks should be bundled to. He signed the Proclamation to outmaneouvre the Confederates and preserve capital.
Perhaps, the most charismatic American President is John Fitzgerald Kennedy, JFK. But he was a war monger sending American troops to fight in Vietnam and invading Cuba. His successor, Lyndon Johnson transformed the war in Vietnam into a full scale one. Interestingly, Johnson was the President who on August 6, 1965 signed The Voting Rights Act which gave African-Americans the right to vote. 44 years later, Barack Obama, an African-American was sworn in as the 44th President of United States.
Studying the history of United States, I had come to the conclusion that the most intelligent, race-blind and resourceful American President was Bill Clinton. I had not reckoned with the emergence of an Obama; now I am uncertain. An edge Obama has is that he is not tainted by any scandal. It seems incredible to have a top American politician like Obama with no baggage even after eight years in office. Obama is young, brilliant, non-pretentious and might have been one of the greatest leaders in history were he not held captive by the American system and its well-oiled machinery. He came in with a clear message of hope promising Americans he would clear the local and international mess left by his predecessor, George Walker Bush. However, a lot of what we can see were his intentions. His promise to end the crisis in Iraq and Afghanistan and close down the criminal Guantanamo Bay detention centre, remain a mirage; the American war industry would not allow that.
The same industry frustrated his attempts to curb gun deaths which claimed over 300,000 lives during his Presidency. In frustration, he said last October: “We spend over a trillion dollars, and pass countless laws, and devote entire agencies to preventing terrorist attacks on our soil, and rightfully so. And yet, we have a Congress that explicitly blocks us from even collecting data on how we could potentially reduce gun deaths.”
Another of his frustrations is the rise in the extra judicial killing of Black people by the police leading to the ‘Black Lives Matter’ movement. A few years ago, I reunited with a friend who had relocated to America when we were young. I remarked that he seems to have risen remarkably in the American system. He said yes, but that as a Blackman he had to work twice harder than his white counterparts and that he had to constantly demonstrate to his white subordinates that his rise is not a fluke. I guess it is same with Obama. He had rescued American banks, auto industry and mortgage system from the brink, crashed unemployment rates from 10.1 percent in 2009 to 4.99 percent in 2016 and carried out a revolution in the health system by providing cover for over eighteen million Americans under the Affordable Care Act he introduced in 2010. He also stopped the torture policy of the Bush Jnr administration, and to his glory, there was no successful al Qaeda attack on American soil during his administration.
Obama employed diplomacy to address the Iranian Nuclear issue, restored diplomatic ties with Cuba after a half century break and told Israel the truth; that it cannot have peace if it denies its Palestinian neighbours peace, an homeland or continues the theft of Palestinian lands under the guise of building settlements. He cut the ‘Star Wars’ missile defence programme of Roland Reagan and signed with Russia, the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, START, reducing strategic warheads.
But tragically, he authorised the destruction of Libya which led to the murder of Moammar Ghadaffi, and, the bombing and destruction of Syria. His administration nurtured the Islamic State and turns a blind eye to the mindless bombing and destruction of Yemen by a murderous Saudi Coalition. Where Russia has scored a stunning diplomatic goal by coupling together a ceasefire in Syria, Obama in his last days in office, is fumbling with circumstantial claims that Russia intervened in the 2016 American elections. As he exits, he is trying to provoke an unnecessary diplomatic row by expelling some Russian diplomats.
Africa might not have benefitted in a significant way from the Obama Presidency, but his 2009 admonition in Ghana, that: “Africa doesn’t need strongmen, it needs strong institutions” is one of the best pieces of advice a son can give his parents. The other Obama advise – which Africa rightly rejected – was the inculcation of homosexuality into our cultural life. He owes his rise, to the struggles of many American minorities especially the Indian, Latino, Chinese and the Black. Those he referred to in his Tuesday farewell speech in Chicago as the “underserving minority.”
Obama stands on the shoulders of giants like Frederick Douglas, Harriet Tubman, Marcus Garvey, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King Jnr, Huey P. Newton, Bobby Seale, and one of the greatest Americans and humanist of all times, John Brown who in a Christ-like manner, laid down his life and those of his two sons so the Blackman can be free.
Obama came in to rescue America, he leaves it in the unsafe hands of Donald Trump, an unpredictable politician with mercurial temper whose moves are difficult to predict; he also leaves the world more dangerous than he met it. He arrived the White House with the slogan: ‘Yes We Can’ He departs with: ‘Yes We Can, Yes We Did”. I join him in appealing to Americans to look for the “reservoir of goodness” both within and outside. ‘God bless America’ as Trump steps in from January 20, 2017.