The failure of most of the African leaders, intellectuals and activists both on the African continent and in the diaspora to call out Barack Obama when he was insulting and marginalising Africans, some even making all sorts of excuses to justify his actions because he is one of “our own,” might have emboldened Donald Trump to insult Africans.
Any Pan-Africanist worth his/her salt would harbour not an iota of hesitance to call out President Donald Trump for the racist undertone of the “Shit Hole” comment attributed to him, albeit which he has denied making. My basic argument here, however, is that those Black leaders, intellectuals and activists, both in Africa and the diaspora, who were silent when President Barack Obama insulted Africans as a people still steeped in primitive cultural behaviour when he was a guest in their own house in Ghana and African American males in the United States as being irresponsible fathers, and made those of us who called him out to pay a heavy price, have no moral standing to condemn Trump because their action constitutes either at best selective amnesia or at worst hypocrisy. Only those who have been consistent in their stance against any leader, no matter the race, insulting us have the moral standing to do so.
As a student of Mwalimu Malcolm X’s teachings, I subscribe religiously to the notion of calling out not only people of other races but also our own (Black or Biracial) who engage in actions that demean and/or marginalise us. The failure of most of our leaders, intellectuals and activists to call out Obama when he was insulting and marginalising us, some even making all sorts of excuses to justify his actions because he is one of “our own,” might have emboldened Trump to insult us, or as Mwalimu Malcolm X would have put it proverbially “The chickens coming home to roost.”
Many of our Black leaders, intellectuals and activists were silent not only when Obama was insulting Africans on the Motherland and African Americans, but also when he was increasingly militarising the continent, orchestrating the murder of Brother Muammar Gaddafi of Libya (which made possible the enslavement of Blacks that is taking place in that country today), ignoring our circumstances, marginalising us in his cabinet positions and other spheres, etc. They were oblivious to, as Stephen Gowans puts it in his article of 19 July 2009 in the Trinicenter.com, “Obama’s lies, hypocrisy, and a prescription for continued African dependence” in the advancement of imperialism.
For calling Obama out on his actions against our people, the few of us who did so paid a heavy price through insults, exclusion, and professional marginalisation by other Blacks in the United States and Africa. For instance, I was first considered a “good brother” when I called out people of other races who perpetrated racist acts against us in articles such as “EEOC ‘Diversity in Law Firms’ Report: A Heap of Stones” (Thee Black Commentator, issue 75, 29 January 2004), “The Problem with the Special Court for Sierra Leone” (The Black Commentator, issue 96, 24 June 2004), “White Mexican Racism Rears Its Ugly Head Again” (The Black Commentator, issue 145, 7 July 2005), “Racism is Alive and Well in the Academe” (The Black Commentator, issue 179, 13 April 2006), and “Charlie Hebdo, Insulting Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) Is an Affront to Africans and People of African Descent Everywhere” (The Black Commentator, issue 590, 22 January 2015); media interviews such as “Africa’s Reactions to the Inauguration of Barack Obama” (Voice of America worldwide Straight Talk Africa Show, 29 January 2009) and “African Expectations of President Barack Obama’s Visit to Ghana” (Danish Newspaper Information, 6 July 2009); and public lectures such as “You Can Take the African Out of the Continent, but You Cannot Take the Continent Out of Him/Her: Lasting Historical Connections between Africans on the Continent and Their Descendants in the Diaspora from King Abu Bakarr The Great to President Barack Obama (Bowie States University, 17 February 2009) and “African Peace Paradigms: How They Can Help Barack Obama” (Grand Valley State University, Michigan, 9 March 2009).
Contrastingly, spite was heaped on me when I called out Obama for his wrongs against our people in interviews such as “President Barack Obama’s Sending of Troops to Congo and Central African Republic” (WPFW 89.3 FM Radio Pacifica, 26 October 2011), “President Barack Obama’s Administration’s Policy towards Africa and His Upcoming Visit to Ethiopia and Kenya” (Voice of America worldwide Television, 22 July 2015); and articles such as “Barack Obama and Africa” (in Michael Frazier, ed. Global Perspectives: International Development, Politics, and Public Administration in an International Context, 2010), “Challenges to Africa’s Economic Development and Barack Obama’s Policies toward the Continent thus Far” CODESRIA Bulletin, 2010), “The African Renaissance: What Role for Obama’s America?” (Journal of International Studies and Development, 2016), and two chapters and the preface in our book titled Assessing Barack Obama’s Africa Policy: Suggestions for Him and African Leaders, 2014; and the public lecture titled “The ‘War on Terror’ in the African Theatre: Initiated by George W. Bush, Barack Obama Parlays and Exacerbates It” (Lakehead University Thunder Bay, Canada, 28 March 2013).
For me, the lessons here are twofold. First, I see the insults of our people by both Obama and Trump as playing to racist White constituents. By insulting our people, Obama was assuring some Whites that his was not a “Black Administration” that will give Blacks preferential treatments. Some Black leaders, intellectuals and activists even were quick to say that Obama was “President of the United States and not President of Black America,” while they never said about any other President before him being “President of the United States and not President of White America.” For Trump, by insulting Blacks, was shoring up a part of his political base comprising White racists. Both Obama and Trump did this for reelection purposes; while Obama needed Whites for securing a majority of the votes, Trump can do without the Black vote to be reelected.
Second, it was a serious mistake for many of our Black leaders, intellectuals and activists not to call Obama out when he was insulting and marginalising us, as we ended up with the proverbial short end of the stick during his presidency. This is most probably because he became convinced that Blacks would never abandon him and were happy just having “one of their own” in the Oval Office.
Calling out a President for his wrongs may have a positive effect. I recall when early in his tenure, we called President George W. Bush out on many occasions. It turned out that he and his folks in the White House were paying attention. I even received an E-mail from the White House about my criticisms of Bush and a White House staffer even sat in one of my classes at American University to engage me in a quite interesting debate. Subsequently, as we discovered and revealed in our book titled Assessing George W. Bush Africa Policy and Suggestions for Barack Obama and African Leaders (2009), Bush ended up doing more good things for our people in Africa than any other United States President before him, and definitely more so than the one who followed him as shown in our book on Obama’s Africa policy mentioned earlier.
In essence, Black leaders, intellectuals and activists must be consistent in their rebuke of leaders who insult and marginalise us, no matter their race. To be taken seriously, they cannot be perceived as giving a pass to “our own” leaders who do the same.
* Prof. Abdul Karim Bangura is a political Scientist and development economist. To learn more about him, please visit the following URL: http://theafricaninstitut.wixsite.com/abdulkarimbangura