Point of View Columns

Obama in Africa and Unfinished Business

When President Obama visited Africa he took the opportunity of being in Africa to speak to the truths about Africa. He correctly stated that the African continent is overflowing with potential for progress and growth. He also correctly stated that until Africa confronts its challenges with respect to women, governance and human rights that it will never reach that potential. In other words, there is unfinished business in Africa.

When he spoke before the leadership of the African Union, President Obama said things that it would have been difficult for an African leader to say. As President of the United States he is cloaked with the power and prestige of his office. As the son of an African, as the grandson of Africans, as the brother of African brothers and sisters, Barack Hussein Obama has family ties that remove the possibility of him being considered a disinterested outsider lecturing the “natives”.

It is difficult to imagine President Mitt Romney giving Barack Obama’s speech in front of the African Union. It is virtually impossible to envision President John McCain, or President Donald Trump or President Scott Walker at the podium delivering that message. For that matter, it is difficult to envision President Hillary Clinton or President Bernie Sanders standing in that place – it had to be Obama.

And President Obama told the truth about the role and status of women in Africa – it must change. He said that the African traditions that oppress women and mutilate the genitals of girls and bind women with the chains of ignorance are bad traditions. He told the truth when he said that Africa will never, can never, reach anywhere near its true potential while half of its population is entrapped in the rickety cages of “tradition”.

President Obama was faithful to the truth when he pointed out that in a democracy there can be no “presidents for life”. He told the leaders of the fifty four countries on the continent that the peaceful transfer of power ensures peace just as holding on to power indefinitely ensures that there will never be peace. And, just as importantly, the peaceful transfer of power guarantees that the energy and genius of the youth of Africa will be encouraged to stay in Africa rather than taking their talents elsewhere.

President Obama also took the occasion to point out that respect for the human rights and dignity of all persons is necessary, otherwise no one will have their human rights and dignity respected. Marginalizing or imprisoning or murdering someone because they are from a different country or a different tribe, or because they love a man instead of a woman or a woman instead of a man are practices that keep Africa mired in the past. And marginalizing, imprisoning or murdering in the name of tradition can only mean that the tradition is wrong – as President Obama put it, “it is a bad tradition”.

What was so interesting about his address is that President Obama ultimately spoke in terms of unfinished business in Africa. But he alluded to the fact that there is also unfinished business in the United States. He could have pointed out that while American women have made major strides during the past fifty years, women still earn less than men and women are the majority population of the poor in this country.

He could have said that while this country has been governed by a democracy for over two hundred years, and at this very moment there are cadres of lawyers and activists all over this country who celebrated the demolition of the Voting Rights Act in 2013. He could have mentioned that voter suppression has now become a political tactic and that thanks to the Citizens United and McCullough Supreme Court decisions, obscene amounts of money flood and pollute the political process like never before.

President Obama could have mentioned that while there have been major advances in respecting the rights of individuals in this country, there are still states that fly the Confederate flag and there are legislatures considering bills that will somehow outlaw same sex marriage and constrain a woman’s right to choose.

He could have said all of those things. There is unfinished business in Africa. And there is also unfinished business in these United States.

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Point of View Columns

A Tale of Two Tragedies

It is a part of human nature that the latest outrage, the latest tragedy, will overshadow the disaster that precedes it. So it should come as no surprise that the carnage related to the shootings at the Charlie Hebdo magazine in Paris has riveted the attention of much of the global media. What should be a surprise, or at least a cause for concern, is that the ongoing death march being conducted by Boko Haram in Nigeria barely moves the media needle.

Last week self-proclaimed Islamic jihadists wreaked murder and havoc in Paris and spread fear through much France. The reaction of the French government and its allies around the world was immediate and swift. With the deaths of seventeen people, over 18,000 French police and military personnel were deployed to seek and kill the perpetrators and to act as a deterrent to further terrorist actions.

Within days of the Charlie Hebdo massacre, leaders from most of Europe (and Israel and the Palestinian Authority) marched through the streets of Paris in an unprecedented show of unity and determination. These images, which were carried around the world, conveyed an opposition to the reign of terror proposed by jihadist terrorists who had attacked a little more than 100 hours earlier.

Meanwhile, in Abuja, the capital of Nigeria, the streets moved with business as usual. This, despite the fact that about a week before the slaughter in France, the killers who call themselves Boko Haram attacked and killed as many as 2000 men, women and children. This, despite the fact that during the past few years thousands of Nigerians have been slain by Nigerians, the murderers calling themselves inspired by their God, although it would seem that their motives and calling come straight from Hell.

Nevertheless, the same leaders who marched the streets in Paris are nowhere to be found in Nigeria. Nevertheless, the response of the Nigerian government, with the largest military force in Africa, has been tepid at best and obviously ineffectual.

Despite the fact that Boko Haram threatens to destabilize the largest economy on the African continent, the African Union has been muted in its response to this regional threat. And, despite the obvious trampling of the human rights of the Nigerian people, there has been no call in the halls of the United States Congress or the White House to “do something” to stop these war crimes against humanity.

This tale of two tragedies reveals that it matters where crimes against humanity occur and who the victims are. A terrorist monstrosity raises its bloody head in Europe and a million voices are raised against it and robust military action takes place immediately. A terrorist monstrosity of even greater magnitude in Africa spills out over the media channels and the response in Africa is undeniably weak and the global response reveals that human rights violations in Africa are simply not a priority.

Of course, given the less than robust response to the depredations of Boko Haram by the African Union and the Nigerian government, it is difficult to understand how the former African colonialists and neo-colonialists are supposed to come to the rescue. And without an African response to the death and destruction currently raging in West Africa, there is no doubt that the global response will be rhetorical at best.

All lives matter. All lives have intrinsic value. All murder is senseless, whether it occurs in Ferguson, Paris or Nigeria. But it is clear that the venue of the tragedy and the identity of the victims do matter. And that is an injustice that simply cannot be allowed to continue.

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Point of View Columns

Weekend Edition – February 4, 2011

As the first week of the second month comes to an end we should remember that Egypt and Tunisia are in Africa. Also, do we still care that the Republicans took over Congress one month ago and can anybody spare $3 million for a Super Bowl ad?

Egypt and Tunisia – A Lesson in Geography

In a little more than a fortnight the oligarchy in Tunisia collapsed and the ones in Egypt, Yemen and Algeria are teetering. Most observers correctly point to these events as a precursor to further seismic changes in the Arab world, places like Jordan, Syria and Saudi Arabia.

But these same observers seem to have forgotten their sixth grade geography lessons.
While Egypt, Tunisia, Algeria and Yemen are identified as Arab countries they are most certainly African. Their importance as a part of the African Union cannot be overstated.

So it is a mystery why none of the contemporary commentary points to possible seismic changes in the rest of Africa where there is also no shortage of oligarchies, ruling elites and one-party faux democracies. In this transglobal 24/7 news world in which we live it would be ludicrous to think that young men and women in many of these countries aren’t wondering why the miracle of change cannot visit them as well.

The serial tragedies that have visited Africa have many roots and causes. But in the present day the causal connection between elite oligarchies and the burdens of poverty, instability and economic dysfunction are crystal clear.

There have been references made to the “domino effect” in the Arab world as a result of what is happening in Tunisia and Egypt. Do not be surprised when some of those dominoes begin to fall in Africa.

Republican Countdown

Let’s see……..at the beginning of January 2011 the Republicans took control of the House of Representatives amid clarion calls for immediate and uplifting change. The G.O.Tea Party promised its supporters the red meat of defying President Obama and the potatoes of taking back this country.

It’s been a month now and what has happened? There was the grade school exercise of reading the Constitution out loud. The only real result was that the Americans that bothered to listen learned that the Constitution is not a series of commandments but it is a working document that was designed to be flexible.

Then there was the vote to repeal the recently passed health care reform legislation that the Republicans like to call “Obamacare”. Of course the vote passed in the House, went nowhere in the Senate and would never have made it past the promised presidential veto in any event.

The only other occurrences worthy of note were the dopey utterances of some Republicans to the effect that they would carry guns to town hall meetings in the aftermath of the Tucson Massacre.

Others have promised to shut down the federal government and evaporate the global financial standing of the United States as a serious strategy to accomplish their goals to restructure the federal budget.

In the meantime the educational system in this country is in need of immediate attention, unemployment continues to beleaguer too many Americans and there are wars in Iraq and Afghanistan that demand attention and treasure.

The crises in Egypt and Tunisia and elsewhere point out the urgent need to re-examine this country’s foreign policy. And where is the Party of No on the great issues of the day?

Gone missing.

Can You Spare $3 Million?

As a fan of the New York Jets I have to grudgingly and sadly accept the fact that the Super Bowl will be held this coming Sunday without the Jets.

In accepting this sad reality I have also learned that Super Bowl ads will be costing advertisers $3 million per minute! What on earth could they have to say that was so important that it would be worth spending that much money?

Is there a new kind of taco that flies? The Jesus hates Obama ad was banned, perhaps there are sneakers that make you invisible?

I guess we will just have to find out on Sunday.

Have a great weekend!

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