Prof. Emmanuel Yenshu Vubo, Political Sociology lecturer, University of Buea, talks on outgoing US President Barack Obama's legacy on Africa.
Generally speaking, how do you assess President Barack Obama's tenure, especially in regards to Africa?
For Barack Obama to succeed, he had to adopt the posture and act like a president of the United States of America. As the third President in the post-Cold War era, he had to continue to affirm America’s position as unique super power while at the same time working for Americans at home. That has been a difficult balance for him. He has tried for some time, paradoxically, to continue to make his country felt all over the world while engaging in a peculiar style of disengagement.
That is why in this policy, his administration was behind support for rebels in Libya, Egypt and Syria, while at the same American troops have left Afghanistan and Iraq. For these two policies, he was heavily criticised by his successor, President-elect Donald Trump. He did not want America to be a war monger, but also allowed a vacuum where his troops left. At the same time, by supporting rebellions in Syria and Libya in the name of regime change, he has been faulted for creating trouble spots.
His international legacy is a plus and minus. Unlike Bush or Clinton, his administration did not seem to have a specific policy towards Africa except one tied closely to the traditional questions of geostrategic interests, resources and interests (like in the Gulf of Guinea). Even then, these are not too publicised as his specific policies. Unresolved hotspots such as Palestine and the Western Sahara have not had any progress beyond wishful thinking or radical disagreements with some of the parties involved.
Where did he succeed?
Largely, he succeeded to maintain America’s hegemony in the post-Cold War era unchallenged in a world with a diminished Russia and a Western Europe ready to play the game of collective management of world affairs. At home, he is ending his mandate as a two-term President with popular rating.
He was also seen as one who could ensure social progress through the Obamacare healthcare reform. The economy has improved considerably, leading to improvements in jobs and coming out of the recession of the 2000s. Obama is the incarnation of a de-racialised America. There may be a movement in the reverse direction, but this may not be overturned anymore.
In what aspects did he fail?
The inscription of Barack Obama’s economic policies within the doctrine of globalisation led him to maintain NAFTA and enter into trans-Pacific trade agreements, but these have had a boomerang effect on the US economy. At home, he is leaving with many unfulfilled promises to a wide variety of his people. Racism, to which his election seemed like a panacea, has not abated. It has rather led to the election of another person with a rather popularly opposed stance (except roved otherwise).
Obama is also one who has had the most opposition from a Parliament dominated by the opponents (the Republicans). He could have done more, but he was limited not only as every human being, but by the shivery context. The new administration may retain some of his policies but move in totally different directions from his compromises with traditional American foreign policy.