In late 2008, an overwhelming majority of people across the African continent joined Americans in celebrating the electoral victory of America. It was a milestone. The first black president of the mightiest nation in the world. Most people felt this was monumental and black people on the continent of Africa were not left out in that feeling. For us, it was more than the symbolism of it all. A part of us felt that this victory was going to herald an increase in support for the continent. After all, one of us, a man with African heritage (Kenyan) was now the leader of the Free World (and the richest nation in the world, GDP wise).
The fun fare continued when Obama touched down in Ghana. Cloths with his “funny ears” and beaming smile were sold all over the country and activities in the national capital came to a standstill during the time he was in Accra. It did not take long for that ecstatic bubble to be burst.
From basically aiding and abetting in the destruction of the Libyan state as we once knew it to doing very little in protracted conflicts around the continent, noticeably in Nigeria where his administration refused to sell arms to the government (over human rights issues), Obama has failed to matchup to what his Caucasian predecessor did in Africa. The point here is not to make a claim for handouts or a sense of entitlement. It is however to point out how misguided we were as a people in thinking Obama was some savior in shining armor. Obama’s record in conflict resolution and direct financial and technical aid to the continent is dwarfed by what Bush achieved. This US News article on the issue is revealing enough.
It was thus baffling to note how some Africans were excited about Emmanuel Macron’s win in the French elections. Pitted against the FNP’s nationalistic and protectionist Marie Le Pen, Africans saw Macron as some sort of hope against her xenophobia and anti-immigration stance. So when Macron came out on top in the election, a host of black people were excited. They saw his victory as some sort of vanguard against France’s ugly history of abhorrent policies and rhetoric towards the African continent. The dashing looks and charming smile of Macron was enough to get people swayed.
But it turns out Macron has not always been the darling most people made him out to be. As reported in a Guardian article, Macron quickly doubled back on comments he made condemning France’s genocide in Algeria when voters expressed their displeasure. The façade should have been evident to all. Macron is just like any other politician. The parochial interests of his constituents matter more than the objective truth.
That is the more reason why I found it baffling that people expressed utter shock that Macron said Africa’s problems were “civilizational” and not France’s history of plundering in Francophone Africa. The comments of course are utterly racist and regrettable. For a country whose very existence today was built on the backs of Francophone Africa (as averred by former leader Jacques Chirac , it comes across as very ironic that its leader blames Africa’s problems on “civilizational” issues. It is widely reported that Francophone Africa even in its post-independence days paid “colonial” debt and is said to be obliged to keep “85% of their foreign reserve into France’s Central Bank under French minister of Finance control” (according to siliconafrica.com).
Macron is cut from the same cloth as all western leaders. At the end of the day, they owe no allegiance to Africans. We do however have every right to be offended. That is an enshrined right in this age of political correctness and civility. But we also have a responsibility to tamper our expectations of western leaders. If even Obama failed to live up to our expectations, a Caucasian Frenchman is certainly not going to!!!