The discreet part of Africa in Obama’s memories

An entire continent had celebrated one of his son’s victories during the election of Barack Obama as President of the United States in 2009. The first volume of his memoir as head of state, “A Promised Land (Fayard), however, confirms the anecdotal nature of Africa, in its universe as in its experience.

From the beginning of his long history, more than 800 pages, Barack Obama mentions his father to say that he is “absent”, but includes a photo of him and his half-sisters in one of the photographic posts he himself wrote: “My father grew up in Kenya and studied economics at the University of Hawaii, where he met my mother, then at Harvard. After their divorce, he returned to live in Africa. “Nothing else will be said about him.

A few lines are devoted to his first 17-day African tour in August 2006, as a senator and possible candidate for the White House. After visiting Mandela’s cell in Cape Town and catching a glimpse of Desmond Tutu, who haunts him by asking him if he will be “the first African president of the United States”, he flies to Nairobi. A “delirious welcome” is given to him in Kenya, but he is very happy to get out of “all this commotion” during a family trip with “wildebeest and lion in the middle of the savannah” during a safari.

He competes through Somalia, Ethiopia and Chad, plagued by other issues. “At every step I took, I saw men and women working with heroism, under terrible circumstances. At every step, I was told that I had learned that America could have done much more to alleviate the suffering of these peoples. And at each of my steps, I wondered if I was a presidential candidate.

“Son of a black African with a Muslim name”

African issues are not mentioned, despite the growing terrorist threat on the continent, when he reconsiders his decision to hand over foreign affairs to Hillary Clinton. It was above all the presence of 180,000 American soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan that worried him then and the beginning of their withdrawal. In addition, “in February 2009, it was the economy that occupied me, not politics”, he wrote due to the international financial crisis.

In the section on his foreign policy, he still quotes Kenya, but to talk about the United States. “When I first visited Kenya, family members I met told me how much they admired American democracy and the rule of law – which they did,” they told me. said, with the tribalism and corruption that plagued their country ”.

He also recalls, between the lines, how American diplomacy is still linked to domestic political issues and returns to the criticism that he is the target at home. He knows he is perceived by his opponents as “the son of a black African with a Muslim name and socialist ideas installed in the White House, against whom they wanted to be defended.”

Jacob Zuma “quite nice”

In a chapter entitled “The Noble Battle”, he paints a picture of his relations with world leaders in 2010. He itches Nicolas Sarkozy, but also the president of Brazil Lula, who for him seems “convincing”. “It is said that he was as meticulous as a New York boss from Tammany Hall’s heyday and rumors circulated about the government for chronism, convenience deals and bribes. wine amounting to several billion. “

Barack Obama could have said the same thing to Jacob Zuma, who had just taken control of South Africa in May 2009. He thought it was “quite nice” and even eloquent, although “in the general opinion, a large part of the goodwill” acquired through Mandela’s heroic struggle was wasted due to corruption and incompetence on the part of world leaders. “The ANC, which leaves a significant section of the black population still trapped in poverty and despair.”

Arab Spring and intervention in Libya

A tour of the Middle East takes him through Egypt and inspires him with reflections on Nasser’s glory and a portrait in counterpoint to Mubarak: “I remained under the impression that I would often get when I met autocrats from ‘a certain age: locked in his palace, with the only contact with the outside world the thoughtful officials with difficult faces surrounding them, they could not distinguish between their personal interests and their nation, their actions motivated the only ambition to maintain the tangled network of chronism and commercial interests that kept them in power. “

He talks about the success of his famous speech at the University of Cairo on June 4, 2009 on human rights and democracy and his feeling that “things will explode somewhere” in the Arab world. The former president returns to the end of his book on the Arab Spring of 2011 and reflects on thirteen pages the events in Tunisia and Egypt, where he advises Mubarak to leave.

When the popular protest triggers a massive repression in Libya, he wonders about a military intervention in a country that “did not represent a threat to us”, but where he describes Muammar Gadhafi as a “maniac ready to massacre his people”. “Why in Libya and not in Congo, for example, where a series of conflicts had cost millions of civilian lives?”

Barack Obama weighs the pros and cons, “annoyed” at being “caught by Sarkozy and Cameron”, who proposes a flight over Libya – a “shit” plane according to him. His roadmap, as president of the world’s leading power, can only win: the United States, partly because Susan Rice remains marked by international inaction in Rwanda in 1994, intervenes to prevent a massacre in Rwanda. Benghazi. Then NATO takes over with the European and Arab allies. The sequel, Gaddafi’s death and its effects on Mali, are not shown in this book – which is not as fascinating. She was blacked out by Bin Laden, killed on May 2, 2011 by US special forces.


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