http://www.monitor. co.ug/artman/ publish/opinions /US_President_ Barack_Obama_ s_first_100_ days_86708. shtml
US President Barack Obama’s first 100 days
Prof. Ali A. Mazrui
The 44th President of the United States has a triple ancestral heritage. Obama is descended from Africans, from Muslims and from mainstream Americans. In the bid to be elected President of the US, Barack Obama emphasised his affinity with mainstream Americans, and underplayed his African and his Muslim ancestry. Yet, there are great expectations of his presidency among Muslims and people of African descent, both within the United States and worldwide. The basis of such expectations rely on three kinds of credentials. One set of credentials are existential concerning Obama’s own identity and his personal attributes. Obama’s intelligence, his social and political skills and his personal style of leadership are, of course, part and parcel of the man.
Also existential is Obama’s African and Muslim ancestry. He is the first United States’ president whose father was born a Muslim and whose grandfather was, by all accounts, devout in the faith. Obama is the first president none of whose names were either European or Jewish. His first name was based on the Swahili name Baraka (blessing), his second name Hussein is Arab-Muslim, and his family name Obama is Luo from Kenya. It is to his credit that Obama never tried to suppress his middle name Hussein, which was politically risky in the United States.
He is also the first US President whose childhood education was partly in a Muslim country, Indonesia. Obama’s childhood was also in Hawaii, arguably the most multicultural part of the US. His school in Indonesia was secular and not a traditional madrasa. But his fellow students were overwhelmingly Muslim, as were indeed the majority of his instructors. He was exposed to Islam in the human composition of the school if not necessarily in the syllabi and curriculum.
Next to the existential criteria for basing our expectations of the Obama presidency are the credentials of performance itself. Within his first 100 days Obama made no spectacular move to either Africa or Black America other than expressing concern over the crisis of Darfur in the Sudan and offering to assist in the quest for solving the problem. But although his Afro-oriented gestures in his first 100 days were modest, Obama’s moves in the Muslim world were more substantial. His first major television interview for foreign audiences was with Arabiya television network targeting the Arab world. He also addressed the people of Iran on their national day, extending America’s hand of goodwill if Iran would “unclench its own fist.” For the Arab-Israeli conflict President Obama appointed as his envoy the former majority leader in the US Senate, George Mitchell, an experienced mediator and negotiator who had successfully mediated the Good Friday Agreement for Northern Ireland in 1998. Senator Mitchell has Lebanese, as well as Irish ancestry.
Obama also appointed Richard Holbrook, another experienced and distinguished mediator, as special envoy for both Pakistan and Afghanistan. Obama also invited the Presidents of both Afghanistan and Pakistan to join him at the White House early in May for more fundamental evaluation of their joint policies towards the Taliban insurgents in both countries and towards general struggle against Muslim extremists. Although the government of Israel which came to power early this year was at best lukewarm about a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestinian problem, the Obama administration has emphasised to both the Israelis and the Arabs that a two-state solution is still the policy of the US. Vice-President Joseph Biden has also emphasised the two-state approach to Jewish audiences within the US.
Obama’s policy towards Africa has been less noteworthy than his moves towards the Muslim world. The President may feel inhibited precisely because his father was not only an African but also a citizen of an African country. Obama may be cautious not to betray either racial nepotism or a manifest bias towards Africa. When faced with a dilemma between helping Kenya and helping Bangladesh, Obama may feel compelled to help Bangladesh as a poorer and more deserving supplicant for American aid.
Given such considerations as these, would Africa have been better off if Hillary Clinton had been elected President of the United States instead of Barack Obama?
Prof. Mazrui teaches political science and African studies at State University New York