(This week my regular commentary is presented in the form of a “flash drama” on Obama (a sub-genre of theatrical play sometimes described as a “ten minute one-act play”).
The scene is a barbershop somewhere in Africa. Two young African college friends are talking soccer as they await their turn in the barber’s chair. Their conversation shifts from sports to international politics on the news that President Obama is scheduled to visit Africa in late June 2013.
I have opted to use “flash drama” to add creative range to my commentaries and expand my reach to the younger generation of Ethiopians and other African youth. The names of the two characters have special meaning.)
Shudi: By the way, have you heard?!
Shudi: Obama is coming!
Duma: Where? Here. To Africa?
Shudi: Here. To Africa! How cool is that?
Duma: For summer vacation?
Shudi: No, man. To make glorious summer of the winter of discontent in the dark continent! Ha ha… ha…
Duma: Who was that African prince in “Coming to America”? Eddie Murphy?
Shudi: That’s right. American President Obama is “Coming to Africa”.
Duma: Ah! Xi Jinping was here.
Duma: China’s new president. A day late, a dollar short for Obama!
Shudi: Aren’t you excited, Duma?!
Duma: Obama coming?! Obama came. Obama saw. Obama conquered! Obama promised! That was in ’09. Accra, Ghana.
Shudi: He is coming to…
Duma: Wait, wait, don’t tell me! He is coming to go on a safari?
Shudi: Yes, but that was cancelled. In Tanzania. But he is going to Robben Island!
Duma: But Nelson Mandela is no longer there? Long Live Nelson Mandela!!!
Shudi: Of course he is not.
Duma: Let me guess. He is coming to visit Nigeria and Ethiopia? And Kenya, his “father grew up there herding goats in a tiny village…”
Shudi: No, Duma. He is not going there.
Duma: Not going to Ethiopia!? America’s no. 1 African “partner” in the “war on terror”! Not going to Nigeria!? America’s biggest oil supplier in Africa! Not going to Kenya…
Shudi: Not even…
Duma: Rwanda, Uganda, Liberia, Libya, Namibia, um…?
Shudi: Try Cape Verde, Senegal, Tanzania, South Africa.
Duma: What!? Cape Verde? Senegal? Big oil suppliers to U.S.A.?
Shudi: No, no. Not that.
Duma: Tanzania, South Africa? Big partners in the war on terror?
Shudi: No, man.
Duma: Why is he going to Cape Verde and…?
Shudi: To “reinforce” how much Africa means to America.
Duma: Africa means something to America?
Shudi: He wants to tell Cape Verdeans, Tanzanians and… he will be working to “expand economic growth, investment, and trade in Africa.”
Duma: China has that locked up! A day late and a dollar short again.
Shudi: But not for “strengthening democratic institutions and investing in the next generation of African leaders.”
Duma: In South Africa, Senegal and…
Shudi: But the South Africans, Senegalese, Tan…
Duma: Already have the next generation of African leaders?
Shudi: Sort of…
Duma: What is the population of Nigeria and Ethiopia, Shudi?
Shudi: Don’t know.
Duma: 255 million.
Shudi: That’s a quarter of a billion people.
Duma: And Cape Verde, Senegal, Tanzania and South Africa?
Shudi: Maybe 70 million.
Duma: Barely 100 million.
Shudi: Cape Verde has only half a million people… tiny island.
Duma: What’s the percentage of young people in Africa, Shudi?
Shudi: Don’t know.
Duma: Seventy percent!
Shudi: Hmm! Oldest continent. Youngest people?
Duma: No, Shudi. Africa is the Continent of Young People.
Shudi: What are you saying, Duma?
Duma: If Obama wants to talk to the “next generation of African leaders”, wouldn’t it be better to go to a place where you have the largest number of young Africans?
Shudi: Or talk to your best and closest partners in Africa?
Duma: That’s right. Preach the gospel of democracy in the jungles of African tyranny.
Shudi: Or where democracy is an elaborate corruption game?
Duma: Is Obama ashamed to be seen in public with America’s best friends and partners in Africa?
Shudi: What do you mean?
Duma: Ethiopia, Nigeria. He can do business with them, but can’t be seen in public with them?
Shudi: If you must put it that way… Well, can’t be seen going into a bordello.
Duma: Aah! Obama is coming back to his African roots, that’s good Shudi.
Shudi: No, coming to talk to Africans.
Duma: Talk… Sweet talk. Tough talk. Small talk. Talk peace. Talk war. Walk the talk. Don’t walk the talk. Talk the talk. Talk sense. Talk nonsense. Talk is cheap. Money talks, bull_ _ _ _ walks. Talk, talk, talk…?
Shudi: You know…
Duma: I know. Heard the talk before. “Africa is a fundamental part of our interconnected world.” “Africa’s future is up to Africans.” “This is a new moment of promise. It will not be giants like Nkrumah and Kenyatta who will determine Africa’s future… It will be the young people…”
Shudi: What do you want him to talk about, Duma?
Duma: Talk about… no. Talk to us.
Shudi: Us. Who is “us”?
Duma: We, the young people of Africa. We, the future of Africa. We, the next generation of African leaders. We, the 70 percenters.
Shudi: We, the African Cheetahs!!
Duma: Let him tell us which one of the promises he made in Accra, Ghana he’s kept?
Shudi: He promised “us” in Accra? “This is a new moment of promise…”
Duma: We Africans say, “A promise is a cloud; fulfillment is rain.”
Shudi: But he…
Duma: He promised to “support strong and sustainable democratic governments.” He promised to support “strong parliaments and honest police forces; independent judges and journalists; a vibrant private sector and civil society.” Where is the rain?
Shudi: Cape Verde, Senegal, Sou…?
Shudi: He wants to preach to the choir?
Duma: And sing and dance with them too.
Shudi: That don’t make sense.
Duma: Obama prefers silent diplomacy.
Shudi: What’s that?
Duma: Silent diplomacy, Shudi, is like expecting rain without clouds, without thunder and lightning.
Shudi: No omelet without cracking eggs? They should call it diplocrisy.
Duma: Is that diplomacy by hypocrisy?
Shudi: It’s the diplomacy of silence.
Duma: With your friends and partners, Shudi, you speak in the language of silence?
Shudi: Only when you speak with them behind closed doors and the light’s off.
Duma: In the end, we will remember not the words and promises of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.
Shudi: Or those who say are our friends? Who said that?
Duma: Martin Luther King.
Shudi: The hypocrisy of the powerfully silent!
Duma: Don’t you remember Shudi how we felt when Obama said in Accra, “We must stand up to inhumanity in our midst. We need for an international system where the universal rights of human beings are respected, and violations of those rights are opposed.”
Shudi: Maybe I shouldn’t remember those words.
Duma: No free expression, unending press suppression, religious persecution, dissident intimidation, detention… in Africa.
Shudi: Gender discrimination, tribalization, ethnic subjugation…
Duma: Didn’t we chant “Oh! Bama, Oh! Bama” when he told it like it is: “Africa doesn’t need strongmen, it needs strong institutions. Make no mistake: history is on the side of these brave Africans, and not with those who use coups or change Constitutions to stay in power.”
Shudi: If history is on the side of few brave young Africans, who is on the side of Africa’s strongmen?
Duma: Obama? Did he make a mistake?
Shudi: Who is on the side of the millions of frightened Africans living in misery and quiet desperation?
Duma: Under the boots of Africa’s strongmen?
Shudi: With iron fists.
Duma: God. Ask Obama. No, tell him.
Duma: “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality.”
Shudi: I know somebody said that.
Duma: Desmond Tutu.
Shudi: Is Obama on the side of the elephant or the mouse?
Duma: He is on the side of history.
Shudi: What should he tell Africa’s elephants, I mean strongmen?
Duma: Shudi, to tell or not to tell Africa’s strongmen to take their foot off the mouse’s tail, that’s the question.
Shudi: Tell them what?
Duma: They are doing a good job.
Shudi: A good job?!!!
Duma: Fighting terrorism, of course.
Shudi: Not fighting corruption, human rights violation?
Duma: Fighting the independent press and winning a crushing victory. Smashing civil society organizations. Trashing elections, how about that? African strongmen are doing a great job!
Shudi: Then on whose side is Obama?
Duma: History, of course.
Shudi: But is history on the side of Obama?
Duma: History is on the side of the brave…
Shudi: I don’t understand.
Duma: Shudi. There is nothing to understand from history. To learn or not to learn, that’s the question with history. “Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.”
Shudi: What do you mean?
Duma: History is not about remembering. It is about forgetting.
Duma: Forgetting mistaken promises.
Shudi: Don’t you care about what Obama has to say when he comes to Africa?
Duma: I care only about what he does. Let him speak with his actions.
Duma: What has Obama done for Africans lately?
Shudi: “My fellow AfricanCheetahs, ask not what Obama can do for Africa, ask what you can do for your Africa.”
Duma: That’s JFK. Kennedy said something like that to Americans.
Shudi: What do you say to Africans.
Duma: Make a choice.
Shudi: Like Obama?
Duma: That’s right. Choose between African elephants and African mice.
Shudi: Between African Cheetahs and Hippos.
Duma: Between human rights and government wrongs.
Shudi: Obama has made his choice?
Duma: Might trumps human rights. Wrong is right if the choice is between brave young Africans who march for the love freedom and African strongmen who chase terrorists for the love of power. Only the strong survive, the brave…
Shudi: I think the brave survive and thrive more than the strong. You know why Duma? There is a brave new young Africa rising, rising like the sun on the dark continent. When the sun rises and shines on the brave new young Africa, right shall make might, Duma.
Duma: When the sun rises and shines on the brave new Africa and the darkness is lifted from the dark continent Shudi, human right shall make human might.
Shudi: What do you dream for the brave new young Africa, Duma?
Duma: “I dream of an Africa which is in peace with itself.”
Shudi: Like Nelson Mandela?
Duma: Yes, Nelson Mandela, the Dreamweaver of Africa. I dream of a brave new young Africa at peace with itself.
Shudi: Peace, truth and reconciliation for Africa. May he live a thousand years!
Duma: A thousand long years! Long Live Nelson Mandela!!!
Professor Alemayehu G. Mariam teaches political science at California State University, San Bernardino and is a practicing defense lawyer.
Previous commentaries by the author are available at:
Amharic translations of recent commentaries by the author may be found at:
“Cowardice asks the question: is it safe? Expediency asks the question: is it political? Vanity asks the question: is it popular? But conscience asks the question: is it right? And there comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor political, nor popular – but one must take it simply because it is right.” –Dr. Martin L. King