Barrack Obama : A role model or simply an empty symbol

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In a recent conversation a senior African lady stated that “Barrack Obama is great for Africa, especially Kenyans! He will show Black people all over the world that whatever we set our minds to we can achieve: We can even be the president of the US if we want to be!”

By Tony Chomba Mwangi Njanja

The latest opinion polls show that there are many people out there who share this thought, and view Barrack Obama as a role model and a symbol of what Africans can achieve. However, it is also the case that many people see the exact opposite. For many individuals this as an extremely flawed way of thinking for a number of reasons.

There Is Nothing Left For Africans To Prove

The worlds of sports, politics, entertainment and music are literally bursting at the seams with talented Black people, who have shown the world that Africans are able to dominate and excel at anything they wish. Personalities such as Tiger Woods, Serena Williams, Kwame Nkrumah, the Mau Mau, Martin Luther King, Steve Biko, Oprah Winfrey, and Richard D Parsons are extremely high profile Blacks who have overcome what many thought were insurmountable odds. And even though the international community may not realise it, Africa also has some extremely successful countries. Botswana, even though ravaged by a very high AIDS rate, is still one of the most prosperous nations on Earth for example.

In short, many Africans feel like they have nothing left to prove. They have broken through all the glass ceilings and cultural and racial barriers. The problem is not that there are a lack of role models, the problem is that if an individual feels they need another Ellen John Sirleaf, another Oprah Winfrey or another Barrack Obama at this stage, then they clearly have an unwillingness to recognise the African role models who are already there.

Who Is In Control Of The Symbol?

The deepest problem is that the African people have absolutely no control or influence over Barack Obama, his life, his campaign, or the propaganda and images of him that are presented to the world. All of these things are controlled by the American corporate political power base. A large number of American based corporations and financial institutions are investing in Obama, and should he sit on the seat in the Whitehouse, they will be expecting their investment in him to pay dividend.

Is this really the type of man who should be put on a pedestal to be displayed to young Africans who have no control over the policies he will implement? A vast majority of people think not.

Barrack necessary symbol or a waste of time?

So far, the African American and African communities have shown almost unconditional support towards Barrack Obama and what he stands for. There is a general public feeling that as Black people, the African and African American communities have fallen prey to social injustices and racial discrimination many times before. Unfortunately this is something that still occurs, even in this modern society. This situation brings Obama to the foreground, earning him a role as a legend and a hero to the Black communities.

Is Barrack Obama the only hero the Black community has to look to, or aspire to ? Of course not. So does this mean that Africans somehow value their heroes less than a Western culture values it’s heroes? Surely, could it be the case that the difference between a John F Kennedy and a Tom Mboya is not found in their significance to society but rather the way in which they are presented to their respective societies ?

Magnification principle

Western society is extremely good at celebrating the figures and icons who helped shape the past, and this honourable celebration deserves respect. In Australia, for instance, there are numerous museums and exhibition centres which have been built to celebrate the ongoing history of a nation that is less than a few hundred years old. Displays which guide tourists through areas where the early pioneers first landed have been developed. There is an almost incessant promotion of movies, books, short films and papers written about great Australian figures such as Ned Kelly. This constant over the top celebration is something that can be observed in almost all Western countries. All of which begs a number of questions:

Where is the African Mau Mau museum? Where is the government funded movie about the life and times of Robert Ouko? Or even Desmond Tutu for that matter?

There Will Always Be Heroes

The truth is that the Black community, both locally and internationally, has had heroes in the past, has heroes right now, and will continue to always have heroes. It’s true that Wangari Maathai has been on the receiving end of more taunting and abuse than many other people could withstand, but she has stood by her beliefs and is seen as a great hero and role model. A hero doesn’t even need to be awarded a Nobel Peace Prize; there are families in the Kenyan countryside who are taking people into their homes and communities regardless of tribal backgrounds.

As the situation in Kenya dies down and stabilizes, will the Kenyan people take a moment to celebrate and cherish these heroes like Western societies do? Will there be books written about their courage? Will there be museums created in their honour? Will generations of Kenyans tell their children stories about these acts of heroism, or, will the population of Kenya return to business as usual – complaining about the lack of leadership and role models they have.

If the Black community, both in Africa and America, are not willing to learn from Africans who do the right things well, then what gives them the right to absorb an icon who isn’t even theirs?. The point can be made in very concisely:

To earn the right to prop up Barrack Obama on a pedestal, we must first celebrate, cherish and elevate the icons and heroes in our own backyard.

If this is not done, the Black community will start falling for anyone who gives them any form of hope or upliftment, no matter who they are and how empty their effects will be upon the everyday lives of Black Africans and African Americans.

Tony Chomba Mwangi Njanja is an African immigrant who has lived in Australia for the past six years. His website, the Displaced African, is dedicated to the personal development of African immigrants.

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