April 29, 2009



Wednesday, April 29, 2009

President Obama’s first 100 days

The great black American poet, William Cuney, captured a not dissimilar moment of exuberance, pride and hope almost exactly a century earlier when he proclaimed ‘My Lord, what a morning!” (Oh my Lord, what a feeling). The swearing in, a hundred days ago of an African-American as the President of the United States, was a great confirmation of the audacity of hope. What was inconceivable, ten, even five, years ago was confirmed in the full glare of an enraptured worldwide audience. The American dream was not just mythology; it was well and truly alive.

It is true of course that great expectations were raised with the inauguration of Mr. Barack Obama. He also had promises to keep. How has he fared so far? This newspaper will not hesitate to give him an overwhelming pass mark. He has crossed the first hundred days in flying colours. As a leading United States newspaper, The Boston Globe, remarked on Sunday, “What appears to be a natural gift for the presidency has allowed Obama to avoid amateurish mistakes.”

The self-confidence shown so far by Obama is truly poignant when put in the context of the criticisms made during the Democratic Party primaries that he was lacking in experience. It is even more remarkable when put in the context of the worst economic crises since the great depression in the 1930’s. The present economic situation would have taxed the countenance of even the most experienced of operators, that Obama has acquitted himself with such Èlan and panache harbingers what could turn out to be a remarkable presidency. Previous ‘hundred days’ have not been so assessed. For example, President John F. Kennedy’s ended with the ill thought-out Bay of Pigs fiasco.

Not surprisingly, reviving the ailing economy has been the centerpiece of Obama’s young presidency. It is on this premise that his administration will be assessed as the United States endures its worst recession since the Second World War. The achievement on this front has been important. The unprecedented $787 billion economic stimulus required great political skill to steer through Congress and it was achieved. The atmosphere created through Obama’s charm offensive in getting the stimulus through has been crucial. So far he has commanded strong public support in spite of a relentless rise in unemployment to 25 years highs, staggering rates of home foreclosures and a budget deficit that looks set to reach nearly two trillion dollars.

In spite of this, a mid April poll of respondents said the president has a clear plan to deal with the recession – well more than double the 24% who thought the same of the Republican Party. Remarkable, for before Obama’s inauguration, only 19% said the country was on the right track. Now the figure is 50% according to a Washington Post/ABC News survey on Sunday. This represents a truly remarkable shift from the poisonous atmosphere of the Bush era.

Overall, Obama’s intention is to remodel the United States economy which will include ending the nation’s addiction to foreign oil (Nigeria please take note) and measures such as enacting universal health care and fixing Wall Street.

The new atmosphere has been recreated on other fronts. One of his first acts on the first day in office was to extend the scope of the Freedom of Information Act as it affects the federal government. This act of extending openness in the process of governance should be food for thought to those in Nigeria who cannot countenance the enactment of a Freedom of Information Act. Obama also sensibly ordered the closure of the notorious Guantanamo Bay military detention facility and abolished ‘enhanced interrogation facilities’. He has set a fixed timetable for withdrawing United States combat forces from Iraq. Turning the focus to the perils of Afghanistan he has ordered 21,000 additional troops and is seeking to enlist, with modest new assistance, European allies in a new multiplayer strategy there and crucially in Pakistan. Furthermore, the commitment to initiate a process of general nuclear disbarment will help to bring down temperatures.

Away from the military battleground, he is seeking to return science to its rightful place by amongst other policies extending the frontier of Stem Cell research. Overall, unlike the times of childlike belligerence and braggadocio of the Bush era he has been engaging world leaders with ‘strength and humility’. The huge crowds which greeted his public appearance in Europe, Canada and Mexico is testimony to the new dawn.

As for us here in Africa, it will be improper for any reasonable person to have expected Obama to put Africa on the front burner in his first hundred days. That time will certainly come. However, a host of measurers already enunciated will be of immense benefit to the African continent. The trillion dollar aid package to cushion the economic meltdown will be of great assistance. In addition, and very crucially, Obama’s insistence on free trade will help to block protectionist tendencies which are now, given the recession, very much, sadly, in vogue. Africa needs open trade and this will be of unquantifiable assistance. Africa’s moment will come, but the continent too has to prepare for that moment by embracing the new spirit of openness and renewed commitment to democracy as a way of being in sync with the age of Obama.

The position of former President George W. Bush is quite instructive. Pressed to comment on Obama’s performance so far, he merely retorted that he would not be partisan. “He has earned my silence,” said Bush. For us, his first hundred days has made us all very proud. The sureness of touch, the competence and self-assurance should be emulated by leaders on the African continent

%d bloggers like this: