Tolu Ogunlesi is a freelance journalist in Lagos, Nigeria. In 2009 he was awarded the Arts and Culture prize in the annual CNN Multichoice African Journalism Awards.
Taken at face value, a Barack Obama presidency should be a big deal for Africa.
On Election Day I attended an all-nighter organized in Lagos by the U.S. Diplomatic Mission to celebrate America’s democracy. Two large screens relayed CNN’s coverage while a succession of speakers — including a recently re-elected Nigerian governor — took to the stage to reflect on America and its democratic ideals.
Outside the hall sat a mock polling booth, where guests filled a ballot paper and dropped it in a box, watched over by life-size cardboard cut-outs of the two contenders.
In the early hours of the morning the results were tallied and announced. Obama took 219 Nigerian votes, to Mitt Romney’s 30.
A friend standing with me when the results were announced couldn’t help wondering aloud who those 30 people were who had chosen Romney over Obama.
As I pointed out in a recent CNN piece, Nigerians, like the rest of sub-Saharan Africa, have an “instinctive fondness” for Mr. Obama, and for an obvious reason: he is a “son” of the continent — his father was born in Kenya; his grandmother still lives there.
Just before I left the event, a friend observed that he still hadn’t found a single Nigerian who could point to any reason why they were rooting for Obama, beyond his African roots.
That obsession with Obama appears to obscure the fact that his predecessor — the white, Republican George W. Bush — demonstrated a more obvious commitment to the continent during his first presidential term.
In 2003, a few months after the U.S. invasion of Iraq, Bush signed into law a bill establishing the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), in fulfilment of a promise made during his State of the Union Address earlier that year.
Under the terms of the plan, Bush pledged $15 billion towards fighting HIV/AIDS. In 2008 he renewed the commitment for another five years…»Continue Story