What Barack Obama means to African politics – By Teodros Kiros (Ph.D)

March 29th, 2008 Print Print Email Email

I must preface the title of the article philosophically. On first blush it appears sloppy to reduce a name, as if it was simply a word, to a meaning. Names are not only meaningful or meaningless, since the primary function of names is not meaning but designation and classification. Words are can have a meaning, whereas names are primarily markers and signifiers. Some names do have a meaning, but that is only their secondary function. Of course in ordinary language, we do say, perhaps imprecisely, what does your name mean, and the person either gives a meaning, or simply says, my name has no meaning- it is a just a name. (more…)

I must preface the title of the article philosophically. On first blush it appears sloppy to reduce a name, as if it was simply a word, to a meaning. Names are not only meaningful or meaningless, since the primary function of names is not meaning but designation and classification. Words are can have a meaning, whereas names are primarily markers and signifiers. Some names do have a meaning, but that is only their secondary function. Of course in ordinary language, we do say, perhaps imprecisely, what does your name mean, and the person either gives a meaning, or simply says, my name has no meaning- it is a just a name.

The preface above says, that it is not the name Obama that I will be examining, except metaphorically, but the meaning of his potential presidency in African politics. If Obama becomes the next American president, dictators on the African landscape, and Ethiopia’s Dictator in particular will be called upon either to behave or to leave. I should now like to defend that hypothesis.

Under the Bush presidency, given Bush’s biased understanding of American national interest, Ethiopia is being served very poorly. One hopes and rightly expects that Obama will behave differently, and Ethiopian will be treated fairly. Obama’s understanding of American national interest will be inextricably linked with human rights; the rights of the human person will be paramount to his articulation of a viable foreign policy, by way of directly contrasting the Republican administration’s America only centered foreign policy.

My vision of what Obama would say is based on my hope of what he might say, and what his administration might want to adopt as a genuine Africa centered foreign policy, based on a dispassionate analyses of the failed Bush policy. In the absence of a comprehensive Africa centered foreign policy, I can only present what Obama could say by consulting African experts who understand the needs of the continent. My own take focuses on the needs the Ethiopia, which I know the most.

Outlining his vision for the future of the continent, Obama declared,

In addition, we need effective collaboration on pressing global issues among all the major powers — including such newly emerging ones as Brazil, India, Nigeria, and South Africa. We need to give all of them a stake in upholding the international order. To that end, the United Nations requires far-reaching reform. The UN Secretariat’s management practices remain weak. Peacekeeping operations are overextended. The new UN Human Rights Council has passed eight resolutions condemning Israel — but not a single resolution condemning the genocide in Darfur or human rights abuses in Zimbabwe. Yet none of these problems will be solved unless America rededicates itself to the organization and its mission.

These are bold words, and I imagine Obama saying much more. Consider what Obama could say, continuing the imaginary flare of his foreign policy speech.

As an African-American of a Kenyan ancestry, I am reminded of my father’s dream, the dream of putting Kenya on the world map, as a player in world politics. I wish every African nation to abide by International law, and treat its citizens as dignities, with inviolable human rights, and call upon Ethiopia’s Meles Zenawi to treat Ethiopians with fairness, respect and dignity. I demand that African leaders to either be transparent or move out of the way. No African nation will get our aid if it intimidates tortures and imprisons its citizens.
I imagine Obama’s new politics of hope to ground American foreign policy on the respect of human rights, and not merely vacuous and America centered national interest.

Obama’s wish for perpetual peace must be propelled by a perpetual respect of human rights everywhere.

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