By Fwamba NC Fwamba and Mulialia Okumu
“Now… my little African son, Obama wants to kill me, to take away the freedom of our country, to take away our free housing, our free medicine, our free education, our free food…”
These chilling words are contained in Muammar Gaddafi’s last official speech before his bullet-proof vehicle was hit by a missile from a US Drone, allowing for a small bunch of “rebels” to capture and humiliate the Libyan leader before publicly executing him.
These events marked the end of the beginning of the fast and deep descent of what was Africa’s beacon of quality living, as facilitated by the state, into what is undoubtedly the most deplorably and dehumanising conditions experienced by Africans since the apex of the slave trade over 300 years ago. Libya has literally become a hell-hole.
Africans are being traded as slaves in open markets in Libya. Reports from CNN as well as many independent videos floating on social media show Africans being bundled in lorries and piled by their 10s on top of each other in tiny rooms that easily evoke the horrendous conditions depicted in Djimon Hounsou’s “Amistad”, a Steven Spielberg directed historical motion picture about a slave revolt on board a ship where the conditions were so dehumanising that the captured Africans went berserk and tore apart their captors.
How did this happen? How did the most improved African economy offering, according to UN reports, the highest quality of life for Africans on the continent become a foreboding reminder that history often repeats itself? How did a civilised and fully informed 21st Century world sit back and watch through their 4k screens on broadband as Arabs captured, “broke-in” and auctioned semi-naked African bodies as though they were cattle, and not move a vocal cord?
The answer might be simpler than we expect.
All this was done with the backing and the blessing of the dominant military power in the world. The United States of America provided, not just the moral justification, but also the physical force to stop any other nation from intervening in the regime change process that removed a legitimate and greatly loved leader from office.
While the destruction of an African nation in the interest of a foreign power is nothing new, what is most shocking – debilitatingly so – to Africans around the world, is that the “foreign nation” behind this regress was at the time under the command of a first generation African American – the son of a Kenyan student who only lived in the US briefly enough to sire him before returning to the motherland.
As the chief executive of the US government and the commander-in-chief of the most powerful military in the history of the world, Barrack Hussein Obama singly had the power to decide on the fate of nations. His say-so immediately led to the execution the most wanted terrorist, Osama Bin Laden, as he watched TV with his family in a nondescript mansion halfway across the world in Pakistan, and released a carpet of bombs on Syrian cities and returned them to the Dark Ages.
The rule of African Obama was supposed to herald the age of esteem, equality, justice and the ultimate empowerment of a race that had been through and persevered neo-colonialism and its mind numbing effect, colonialism and its deprivation and depravation of resources and morality, and chattel (cattle) slavery – alienation of labour and dehumanisation of the person in its worst form. His 2008 election victory was not just a victory for African dignity; it was also a great hope for all nations and a tangible euphoria that seemed to signal the advent of a “New Man”.
Instead, what he left behind after 8 years of a “black-in-power” is a shameful legacy of a most maltreated African-American whose “Black Lives Don’t Matter” in the nation they call home where they are constantly targeted, harassed and killed (with documentary video evidence available) as the US government looked the other way. He has also left behind destroyed Northern African and Middle-Eastern nations where rogue militants under US protection and ISIS terrorists under US monitoring control large swathes of territories that were once under stable control of popular and legitimate leaderships.
Probably the worst of what he has left behind is an openly racist successor who governs the country through incoherent tweets that openly justify terrorist attacks by neo-Nazis on other races as well as ridicule the other races – from the indigenous Americans to the blacks, Chinese and Arabs.
The question for the greatly disappointed African, whether Diaspora or local is, where do go from here? It seems like to continue on the path that was charted by the fathers of African Liberation and independence, we will be forced to completely delete the legacy of Obama from our history, ignore the painful trajectory that he has set us on and redraw the struggle for emancipation from the struggle of our fore-bearers.
Dreams of our forefathers
Before winning his first election to the presidency, one of the biggest criticisms of Obama by the Black community in the US was that he was not black enough. This was not a discriminatory statement of exclusion based on his “Mulato” mix; rather it was the progeny of the former slave stating that the president-to-be did not share in their inherited historical struggle for emancipation from slavery. Because of this, he did not share in their anger against the establishment and would not truly be able to connect with the 500 year struggle against oppression by the white man.
The initial rejection by the black community was also fuelled by the often repeated narrative by the European in the cover of their guilt for the slave trade which said that the African in Africa also participated in some form of local slave trade and that the European just extended the trade to another continent. This lie puts the blame of the slave trade squarely on the African and creates a hidden antagonism between the American ex-slave and the Africans left behind who allegedly sold them into their predicament.
Barrack Obama stood precariously in the middle of these two critiques for he was neither fully African, since he did not connect with the consciousness of the continental African struggle. He was also not “Black American” since he was not raised within the “Black Experience” but was the privileged grandson of a white couple who raised him fully within the white-American experience. His connection with the African (continental or diaspora) was an intellectual pursuit devoid of the true empathy that would have allowed him to act in the interest of these dichotomies.
The Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan is famously quoted for saying, “… blacks should be careful to separate between ‘black leaders’ and ‘leaders who are black’… those appointed by white-power to rule over them…” Of course, claiming emancipatory authority under the cover of Islam is in itself hugely problematic since this religion was the hand-maiden of the Arab in their quest to enslave the African as part of their conquest of African land.
Slavery of Africans by the Arabs in the Middle-East long preceded the boom of slavery by the Europeans from the 16th Century. It was also the worst form since it did not allow the slaves to reproduce as they were immediately castrated to prevent them mating with their masters’ women. Due to this, the African slaves did not populate the Middle-Eastern countries. Along with the scant documentation of this occurrence by Middle-Eastern historians, there are fewer records and less evidence of Arabian enslavement of Africans compared to European enslavement of the African.
What we are left with, and what has inspired the African’s struggle towards his full re-humanisation, is what the history books and the blood and tears of the former slaves and colonial subjects have passed on to us. It is here that we can begin to trace the journey of African liberation and fully understand the betrayal of the “Son of Africa” and the uncomfortable irony of the black presidency.
Political power, abolition of slavery and the burden of a black president
Until 2008, Africans have never held significant political power in one of the dominant states of the world – that is, those that had the power to influence the rest of the world towards common policies. That’s why the burden on the first “African president” of a global power to outdo his global predecessors in their stride towards the total emancipation of the African was quite heavy.
His regime needed to do more than the first all-white convention of the newly declared northern American Republic of Vermont which, in 1777, became the first republic to abolish slavery. They passed a law which stated that no adult can be indentured to another and this stance was to influence the rest of the northern states of the US when Vermont was to join the Union in 1791 as the 14th state.
Obama needed to do more than Toussaint Louverture, a freed slave in the French Colony of Haiti who, in 1791, led a group of militants to free the 700,000 slaves who were working for the 25,000 whites and who were under the protection of the French Military. This was the most inspiring slave-revolt in history and he cited the charter adopted by the French Republic after the 1789 French Revolution where all men were declared free and equal. He declared Haiti a slave-free colony of France. In 1801, Haiti was declared an independent nation and adopted a separatist constitution with a government in place led by the General Toussaint. The French resisted and General Napoleon Bonaparte sent an expedition of over 50,000 troops and sailors and even though many of them died, they were able to capture General Toussaint and bring him back to France to face trial the following year. He died in 1803 while in prison in France.
Barrack Obama should have done more than Jacques Pierre Brissot, a white French writer who, in 1788, formed the “Society of the Friends of the Blacks”, a lobby for the abolition of slavery. Influenced and inspired by the 1791 Haiti revolt, they pushed France to grant full citizenship to “free people of colour” in 1792, and to abolish slavery altogether in 1794. However, in 1804, Napoleon took over power and restored slavery in the republic and its colonies, and like Obama, rolled back all the gains made.
As a former legislator in the US Senate, Barrack Obama should definitely have done more for the cause of Black Liberation than the white legislator William Wilberforce, a Member of Parliament in Britain who, from 1787, led a parliamentary campaign for the abolition of slavery. William was to see the first part of his success when in 1807 the British Parliament passed the Slave Trade Act which made slave trade illegal through the British Empire. Unfortunately he had retired and passed on when, in 1833, the Abolition Movement revived the campaign and succeeded in making parliament pass the “Abolition of Slavery Act” which effectively banned slavery throughout the British Empire.
As and academic and author, Obama had a more privileged upbringing than Frederick Douglass and should have done more than the freed slave who had taught himself how to read and write at a young age. Frederick Douglass went on to write several books about his experience as a slave and while pricking the conscience of the white society in seeing the black man as a fellow human being, he also inspired the slaves to rise and escape as he addressed several underground meetings where his speeches really charged the slave in search of emancipation. It is possible that his writings from 1845 onwards tipped the scales towards making white America work more urgently on the slavery question. He was greatly involved in the Civil War of America which, between 1861 and 1865, pitted the slave-owning Southern states against the industrialised and emancipated northern states.
As the 45th President of the United States of America, Black Obama should have done more than white Abraham Lincoln, who, as the 16th President of the United States of America, led the Union against the Confederates who, after the 1860 elections which Lincoln won, had sought to secede so that they could keep their rights to owning slaves which the northern leaning Abe was against. With the victory of the north in 1865 came the “Emancipation Proclamation”, which declared all slaves freed throughout all the United States; this was cemented in the 13th Amendment of the United States Constitution which begins by saying, “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any other place subject to their jurisdiction.”
Obama was clearly outdone by simple men like Marcus Garvey who, in 1916, with a firm belief in himself, set out to the US from Jamaica and started the biggest organisation of Africans to date. At its peak, the United Negro Improvement Association and African Communities League (UNIA-ACL) boasted over 5 million members. He shared his self-belief and self-efficacy with his members as they started joint ventures meant to empower the African American as a collective but his movement was shut down by the US State as he was considered a threat to white dominance. Garvey’s contemporary, W.E.B. Dubois had had a bit more success in 1909 with his formation of the National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People (NAACP) exists until today as the voice of a section of the black community.
As a self-declared community organiser, Obama should have had more purpose than Malcolm X, a reformed petty hustler who, through the Nation of Islam, was able to lead the most militant anti-segregation movement in the ‘50s and ‘60s. Malcolm X called for the separation of the Black and White Nations of America “if America cannot learn to respect the black man”.
As an orator and exceptional public speaker in control of the state, Obama’s voice should have inspired more action than Martin Luther King whose moving speeches were able to prick the conscious of white America and make the state act out of guilt in abolishing the “segregation laws”. These laws separated the former slave from his master in all aspect of life – socially, economically and politically. The blacks could neither go to white schools nor go to white restaurants or bathrooms. It was a form of slavery that existed 100 years after it was officially abolished.
As a black man “with a dog in the fight”, Obama should have been willing to sacrifice more than John F. Kennedy, the 35th President of the United States, who “paid the ultimate price” for his ideological beliefs – among these was the full emancipation of the blacks in America. JFK was aware that, other than the Indigenous Americans, all other people were immigrants to America and therefore no one had the right to treat the other as an outsider.
As a fully legitimate president who won the 2008 Election with a clear majority, President Obama should have done more than Lyndon B. Johnson, the 36th President who took over from JFK upon his death but still had the conviction to stand up against some of the racist states that had refused to enact and implement the anti-segregation laws and had even threatened militant action against the federal government if it persisted. He literally risked a second civil war in ensuring that the African American could live as a full five-fifths human being.
As the most quoted African-American so far in the 21st Century, Barry should have put more of his words into action than Tupac Shakur, the slain rapper and the son of “Black Panther” parents, who used his songs to mentally arm the black youth of America in their fight against an oppressive and unjust system. Leading a simple “Thug Life” in the streets of America, his desire to change the condition of racism could only go as far as his songs allowed, for he was repeatedly incarcerated for his awakening and radicalising lyrics. His 1992 track “Changes” seems to be a prophetic ode to Obama where says, “… and although it seems heaven sent, we ain’t ready, to see a black President.” 16 years before the Obama presidency and 24 years to the reality, it seems he could not have been more accurate.
During the campaigns of 2008, Obama infused the whole world with a hope never seen in entire ages. His words were therapy to the oppressed people of the world, and his story of “a skinny black kid from Chicago with a funny accent” connected with anyone who had ever been discriminated because he was different. Upon his being sworn in, the African in America and non-white people around the world believed that the time had come for all wrongs to be undone. There were even speculations among the “conspiracy theorists” as to whether he was the one who was to come, or if he was the anti-Christ… One way or the other, change had come to the world!
Reality check: The great irony
Eight years later, and upon the exit of the great black hope from the presidency of the United States of America, what we see as a result of his rule, which, at the very least, completely neglected his fellow Africans in America. At worst, he has executed the destruction of North Africa and the Middle-East.
In the, US blacks are now more targeted than ever, with the state and its officers clearly segregating even the middle-class blacks as they drive or shop. While the names of those on whom brutality was unleashed by either the police or fellow white citizens was documented on Video is endless, the unrecorded ones are the true body of the ice-berg. The most shocking bit is that even when these cases go to court, Obama’s regime constantly upheld these violations as the fault of the black victim.
Return to slavery
While he could “almost” be forgiven for rolling back the emancipation struggle to the segregation days of the 50s and 60s, what is unforgivable is the slavery that has returned into the full glare of the cameras and of our collective and historical conscious.
The destruction of Libyan Jamahiriya and all the institutions that provided for the Libyan People is in itself unacceptable. What chokes up anyone witnessing the atrocities within is the fact that all this was done for the expediency of US energy requirements and for the benefit of American oil companies and the associated businesses.
When we see the dehumanising auctions of black people being carried out in public for as little as $300 (Sh30,000), one cannot help but remember the passage on the slave-ships where live African bodies were stored like chained bodies in morgue drawers as they headed to be auctioned at some port of call where slave owners awaited the new booty with the anxiousness of a dog about to be fed.
When we see hundreds of living African bodies being stored in 40 foot truck containers as they groan in pain, we wonder if there is going to come a time when a black person shall be in power to move his brothers and sisters out of the hell they currently find themselves in. When we hear testimonies of young girls who have been raped repeatedly in the captivity of terrorist groups, we fear for the safety of our wives, sisters and mothers and pray to God to send one of our own who will end this.
When we see Africans in Libya being tortured and executed on video so that it serves as a warning to anyone else who is thinking of leaving their oppressive African state and using the failed state of Libya as a passage way to Europe, we are reminded of what the world, including other people of colour, truly think of black Africans.
Should it shock us that women are being kept in captivity in these terrorist-militant controlled areas in North Africa and the middle-east?
Then when we look at the closest thing that we have come to a black liberator in this new century, we remember that it was Obama’s government that supported “rebels” in Libya, when, in truth, they were the remnants of the former King Idris’ regime who took the opportunity of the uprisings in the middle-east to arm themselves and attempt to overthrow Muammar Gaddafi’s leadership.
We also remember that it is Obama’s government, with the complicity of Sarkozy’s France, which poured guns and other ammunitions in the “rebel controlled” areas so that they could overthrow Gaddafi.
We also remember that it was France, followed by the US, who were first to recognise the so-called “Transitional Federal Council” (TNC) right at the beginning of the conflict, and refused to talk to the peoples’ government and put in their only condition for the talks as “Gaddafi’s immediate removal without possibility of vying in elections, should they be called”. We remember that the members of the TNC were Libyans, born and raised in the diaspora, who had no experience of life in Libya or what the people wanted, which incidentally was regularly expressed through the grassroots-emanating General People’s Council, the supreme body of the people of Libya.
Let’s remember that it was Obama’s administration that supported the rise of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. Let’s even remember that the US and the Russians recently almost came to war because, in their bid to remove known ISIS militants from terrorist controlled areas in Syria, the US retaliated through Turkey claiming that Russia was killing its agents.
Let’s remember the 500 years of struggle against slavery, colonialism and neo-colonialism, and we realise that the Black Presidency of Barrack Hussein Obama has been the worst affliction that Africans have had to endure in our history of engagement with the western world! ^
Fwamba NC Fwamba writes on topical and contemporary issues while Mulialia Okumu is a Kenyan Pan Africanist