Obama Fills Black Leadership Vacuum

Written by Ben Lawrence

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By Ben Lawrence

Once upon a galaxy of African stars that lighted the dark corners of the hearts and minds of their peoples. The intensity of their rays penetrated even the dark recesses of doubts and released positive action. Dr Kwegyir Aggrey arrived in the second decade of the last century and proclaimed that he was black and proud, which became the chant of Black enfranchisement in the United States of America. He spoke of his dark skin that shone and his durable woolly hair. He spurred African youths to action through self-liberation by educating themselves to earn a place in human society. Despite the evil effects of World War II and the influenza that came in their wake, African youths picked the gauntlet and braved all odds to seek the golden fleece in Europe and America.

The result was the emergence of succeeding stars like Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe (Renascent Africa), Leopold Sedar Senghor (Negritude) and Jomo Kenyatta (Uhuru). There was no stopping the train of the continent’s march to emancipation because hundreds of young Africans hearkened to the clarion call for progress. Isaac Theophilus, Akunna Wallace-Johnson and Michael Oaemen A. Imoudu had taken practical steps to organise workers to challenge oppression, a move that was the very beginning of revolution in West Africa as early as 1931. Largely, the black man was not ashamed to stand before the white man any longer because he could intellectually and practically defend every course of his action. The climax was in 1940 when Dr Kwame Nkrumah (Positive Action) Dr Kingsley O. Mbadiwe (Forward Ever, Backward Never), Dr Nwafor Orizu (Horizontal Education), Chief Mbonu Ojike (Boycott the Boycottable) Dr Ako Adjei and others launched their Pan African Students Movement and brought Eleanor Roosevelt, the wife of the President of America, Franklyn Delano, to be guest. There they asked for the liberation of the African continent, a demand that President Roosevelt took to the Yalta Summit of Allied Forces, which made Winston Churchill a bit uncomfortable.

The message of self-development broke down all barriers of disunity and enkindled co-operation among the black people in the 1930s and 1940s. Africa had heroes and heroines to worship then on the global scene and the continent’s recourse to external support was minimal even in technological aspirations. Other young leaders like Julius Nyerere and Nelson Mandela joined the scene. They were self-assured and not to be pushed around by some supra-national organisations that did not mean well. After all, man’s animal wish is to suppress his neighbour.

Mandela is alive but out of the picture; so there is a vacuum in leadership in Africa. The so-called rulers now are jesters, unpractised in the art of leadership and given to worsening Africa’s plight, corrupt and selfish. It was this that brought Barack Obama’s politics and victory in the last election home to every hamlet on the African continent. My youngest daughter, Kehinde, an American and a medical technologist, briefed me almost every six hours for three weeks before the election. Their mother, Harriet, was one of the activists with Stokely Carmichael at Howard University in the late 1960s and so politically, though disappointed in the sharp descent in human awareness in Nigeria in the last 10 of her 21 years sojourn, she is still every inch a Garveyist in America.

Disappointed when Zik made his return-to-politics speech in 1978, she said no American would have done better. When Obafemi Awolowo launched his four-point agenda, she could not see how any of the two leading American parties would have transcended the boundaries the scheme set. Here we are in Nigeria in 2012 bereft of everything that can create hope for the people. That was why most Africans who took Obama’s politics and elections too seriously to heart did so as face saving. Obama may lack the experience of that great American leader who understands mankind, Bill Clinton. But Obama has enough self-confidence capacity to grow.

Clinton was buffeted by many crises before even he became deputy governor of Arkansas. He was a conscientious draft dodger and stayed in Russia with about 15 others on their leaving Oxford University against the wish of the American establishment. He lost re-election as deputy governor and returned to be governor. Clinton faced the establishment squarely, so he was not afraid to gamble with his bright ideas.

Despite Obama’s limitations in the preparation for office, his abiding faith that he is working for the masses and not the fat cats of the American establishment made him acceptable to the majority. Obama’s weakness in his first term was his being beholden to Wall Street, a development that caused the economic disaster America now faces. When the Tea Party appeared on the scene, the members underrated the positive force of the Rainbow Coalition of minorities, labour and Jews. The Tea Party was drowned when millions of people took over Wall Street, The City of London, Champ Elysees and other capitalist bastions of the World. The Tea Party leadership later retreated to its shell. But Obama was still not bold enough to confront them as Clinton did when he caused a shut down of government. Perhaps, he did not want to be labelled a communist or socialist. What was wrong in being labelled a socialist? Franklin Roosevelt was labelled as one because of his grand mobilisation of all Americans to beat the Great Depression. The result was the massive infrastructural development of America. He foresaw the value of science and set up a commission under Senator Bush to work out the place it would take in America’s future. That was government’s initiative, not private sector’s. He won election to the White House four times – 1932, 1936, 1940 and 1944. In 1936 he was called a socialist by the right wing press, yet he won a landslide. In 1948, New York Daily News published that his successor, Harry Truman, had lost the election to Thomas Dewey, governor of New York. It was the worst journalist mishap in American history because Truman won.

They also called Clinton a socialist and he did not care. He, Al Gore, John Kerry and others attended meetings of Socialist International. Obama is the only consolation of the black man now. He should defy Wall Street and apply socialist methods to solve America’s problems to regain our pride.

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