Despite the flattery, the one-sided love affair is over is we don’t like you…


Protesters burn altered images of US President Barack Obama, outside the University of Johannesburg (Photo by Reuters / Dylan Martinez)

It’s a still, quiet day in Cape Town. Table Mountain stands proud in all its glory, birds chirp away and there’s not a breath of wind. Out of nowhere, this calm serenity is infiltrated by a loud distant hum. This distant droning grows in volume, reaching a peak of epic proportions as five US military helicopters become vaguely visible. The sky is now roaring, announcing to those underneath that the lauded President of the United States of America, mighty Barrack Obama, is here to grace us with his presence. “Are we being visited or invaded? We’re not quite sure,” Nik Rabinowitz, stand-up comedian, aptly quips on his weekly local radio slot.


Obama is in town as part of a 3 country whistle-stop tour through Africa – his ‘homeland’ – because, as rapper Rick Ross recently reconfirmed for the world at large, Africa is a country. What a douche. We are partial to Obama’s wit and charm, somehow suspending our usual disdain for anything American because, as we are told, ‘the same blood runs through our veins’. Obama is here to visit Senegal, South Africa and Tanzania – snubbing his Father’s birthplace, Kenya. Obama said in a press conference in Pretoria that the “timing was not right” for him to visit Kenya because the nation is “still working out issues with the international community”. A wonderfully euphemistic way of alluding to the fact that Kenya recently elected to presidential office Uhuru Kenyatta and his deputy, William Ruto, who are on trial with the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity – an off-shoot of their alleged role in the 2007 violence that claimed the lives of more than 1,000 Kenyans. Kenyans like to claim Obama as their own, but it appears their affection is misplaced. It’s the unrequited love tragedy of our times.

Why Obama cannot be seen rubbing shoulders with the ‘thug-like’ leaders of Kenya while he continues to irk the world by controversially keeping torturous Guantanamo Bay open and launching drone attacks which undoubtedly result in the deaths of innocent civilians is beyond me. And quite frankly, I’m not the only one who has noticed these glaring inconsistencies. While Senegal and Tanzania may be welcoming Obama with open arms and red carpets, South Africa is rolling out the red carpet but calling on Obama to watch his step and promising ‘the mother of all protests’. It seems Obama’s indiscretions are not going un-challenged. Mohamed Hussain Vawda, of the Society for the Protection of our Constitution, tried to press charges against Obama for war crimes and crimes against humanity. The Muslim Lawyer’s Association are un-charmed too, applying to the High Court in Pretoria for a warrant for Obama’s arrest. Imagine the most powerful man touching down in Africa a wanted man. The scandal.

On a serious note, the times they are a-changing. The wonder and glory of the first black man in the oval office is wearing off, the kinks and flaws in Obama’s conduct slowly being revealed. The man was virtually given a Nobel Peace Prize for having occupied the White House, a feat that seemed literally impossible for a black man to achieve. But why are we bestowing gifts that he has not rightfully earned? Years back I would have been first in line to see Obama talk – I was a true “Yes We Can” believer. But now, I’m fatigued by his empty words and blatant disregard for human life in countries other than America. Much like the Mad Magazine cover where a fictional Alfred E. Newman has added an ‘ed’ to his T-shirt, so it now reads ‘I loved Obama’.


One other thing that irks me – why are we and the international media at large drawing comparisons between iconic freedom fighter Nelson Mandela and Barrack Obama? Yes, they are both the first black skinned leaders of their respective nations but, I’m afraid, that is where the parallels meet a striking end. Mandela actually added substance to Obama’s campaign slogan, ‘Yes We Can’, by showing the world that with a heart of compassion the oppressed does not need to become the oppressor, instead he took South Africa down a path of reconciliation and democracy that we so desperately needed to walk. On the other hand, the man who coined the phrase has infamously spurned its counter phrase, quoted by no-bama protestors, ‘Then Why Didn’t You?” A bold detractor recently tweeting: “You ‘promised’ change and then you changed your promise”.

Emboldened South African no-bama protestors held up creative placards outside the University of Johannesburg’s Soweto campus upon Obama’s arrival to deliver a speech. Slogans like ‘World’s Top Assassin’ were held up high, despite the police’s best stun-grenade-hurling attempts to disperse the protestors. Obama was even given a Hitler moustache on some posters, wielded by protestors wearing ‘No You Can’t’ T-shirts. Much like Obama’s easy Nobel Peace Prize victory, students and detractors alike were protesting the University of Johannesburg’s desire to bestow upon Obama an honorary Doctorate. Voice of America spoke to UJ student, Nomagugu Hloma who had this to say on the matter, soon labelled the ‘dishonourary doctorate’: “I do not want to hear anything from Barack Obama. I am not interested in anything he is going to say to me. I do not view him as a credible leader, he is not.”

Now, Obama is not here to add some honorary doctorates to his collection, nor is he here to snap up a last-minute photo-op with his “personal hero”, the ailing Nelson Mandela, as he so emphatically told us. In the cat and mouse game that China and America so fondly like to play – in which Africa features as the cheese – America is currently losing. Though South Africa is labelled a long-time US ally, China’s influence on the rest of the continent is unparalleled. And, in essence, it is alleged China funded the ANC’s previous election campaign – though I’m sure Zuma failed to mention this recently when posing nicely for the camera side-by-side with his new pal, Barrack. I feel like this new-found interest in Africa and the declaration by Obama that “Africa is rising” harks to the playground era of lollipop envy. Let me explain. It’s like that moment when a kid is peacefully enjoying a lollipop when another kid spots the lollipop and realises that even though he wasn’t even thinking about a lollipop a moment ago, it is now hie greatest desire, the object of their affection. With child-like mentality, the the second kid then tries to stealthily steal the lollipop. Obama is trying to increase US influence in Africa because he doesn’t like that China is beating him to it, in a big way. The stats don’t lie – China’s annual trade with Africa is roughly $200 billion, which is twice that of the US. China’s president Xi Jinping recently visited Tanzania, in the grand game of cat and mouse, Obama is now following in his trails.

Obama heaped praise on South Africa this past weekend. He has inadvertently scorned Kenya, but he is attempting to woo Senegal, South Africa and Tanzania. Providing South Africa with a much needed ego-stroke in his address at the University of Cape Town, Obama said “I believe that my own nation will benefit enormously if you reach your full potential.” The inherent flaw with this statement is that, if anything, the recent no-bama protests have demonstrated that South Africans are not willing to entertain any kind of renewed imperialism, no matter how flattering and charismatic Obama may be. Perhaps we don’t want to contribute to empowering America further?


Though many are now excitedly exchanging stories of “Obama drove past me”, “did you see the limo?”, “I can’t believe I was so close to him” the fact remains that he was here and now he is gone. Our lives go on sans the droning sound his Air Force One Helicopters treated us to for a weekend. He has jetted off to Tanzania with his entourage and bulletproof glass, thereafter he will re-assume his seat in the oval office, claiming his role as ‘most powerful man in the world’, perhaps continuing to make decisions that have caused an enraged American man to print Obama’s face on toilet paper rolls and have created car bumper stickers reading ‘Nope’ instead of ‘Hope’.

He may have shot himself in the foot with this phrase though, “If there’s any country in the world that shows the ability of human beings to affect change, this is the one.” In a single sentence he disproved our ‘need’ for renewed American imperialism – as a nation and indeed continent, we can stand firm and actually put into practice his now empty campaign slogan, “Yes We Can”