The statement by Rama Yade, a young Senegal born woman who serves under the French president as a junior minister for human rights, provoked my foray into this mined field that often triggers wrath from the “we love America” camp. Yade was euphoric that Barack Obama got elected US president and said: “This is the fall of the Berlin Wall times ten. America is becoming the new World. On this morning, we all want to be American so we can take a bite of this dream unfolding before our eyes”.
Rama Yade is biting a piece of a right wing French dream as Sarkozy’s human rights minister and, judging from her record up to now, no tin pot Francophone African dictator is trembling at the possibility of being pricked by her probes or disapprovals. This is how things are expected to be and should be, France riding her puppets in Africa from Cote d’Ivoire in the West to Djibouti in the Horn, no mention of human rights. What makes Yade provocative is her open affirmation that “we all want to be American” and want to have a “bite of the dream”. For official America that has great fears that everyone wants a bite of her and everyone in this world wants to be an American, this is a dangerous confirmation coming from a black woman no matter the significance of the Obama victory. “Rogue foreigners” refusing to change have always angered self indulgent America which has been interventionist and consequently missionary and now talks a lot about rogue states even. The contention that the world is flat, to quote Tom Friedman, and that the world is flowing into or can be made to flow into one American dug reservoir of American values and ethos is believed in by America but is dubious at best. Globalization has not erased the differences and levelled everyone into one dreary lot. On the contrary, every assault by the multinational has led to the search for roots, the ethnic is bedevilling us in the so called developing world where nation building has been wobbling for decades. The American dream, itself fuzzed by the materialistic and individualist insistence that accompanies it, is not the envy of all notwithstanding Hollywood and the cultural invasion. The contradictory nature of the American position–on the one hand wanting the whole world to be like America, to dream the so called American dream and on the other falling into the siege mentality of “the hordes are coming to bite pieces of us” (the schizoid mentality of the isolationist as it were) has made this world a tough place to live in as confused American foreign policy metamorphoses friends into enemies overnight (check Bin Laden, Noriega, Sadam) and makes foes into friends (Pakistan and Libya to mention a few) with a jarring double speed and double standard. American altruism or generosity, a credit to its people, is officially accompanied by the desire to control and humiliate. Aid has not been the panacea and America has used and abused its position in the world and caused the hatred against it that we see today in many parts of the world. The praise seeking do- gooder is often a blatant bully.
What has been called the capricious inconsistency of America is at the core of the problem. On the one hand the belief that other peoples and countries have no culture and value, no vision and future of their own worth keeping and that they should be dragged or bombed if need be to the American way. This zeal of a cult leader imbued with his self- worth and eternal correctness then clashes with the notion of “they are jealous of us the chosen people”. Ethiopians, and up the Red sea the Israeli and the Chinese afar, are familiar with the notion of the chosen people that considers all others envious (and disadvantaged) and leads to a syndrome that, to say the least, is not healthy throughout. The chosen people syndrome assumes that God or some power is behind “us only” as opposed to the others and it meets a cement wall when it is confronted by a rival “chosen” (Allah is with us and hates the others). As they say, the masquerading saint, often the religious zealot, is more dangerous than the open bully. The consideration of oneself as unique leads to the desire for a special treatment, we are special and you should bend to our will kind of logic. For example, the conclusion that Iraqis wanted an Iraq as seen and composed by America was shattered when “Mission Accomplished” turned out to be a sham and the war continued. Hypocritical from the outset, this has led to the obdurate refusal to accept the cartoon character Pogo’s famous saying “we have seen the enemy and it is us”. We came to liberate them and to make them have a taste of the American dream but how come they are resisting us? Unable to question the very basic premise that led to the primary act or mistake itself, resort is made to anger at and contempt for the one refusing to be so liberated. The recipe for disaster, for massacres–from Hiroshima to Vietnam, Yugoslavia and Iraq the road is littered with the victims of this fundamental misconception.
Obama aside, the Civil Rights Movement aside, America was, and still is to an extent, a white supremacist society. Change is coming for sure and Obama’s victory is an example of it so long as we refrain from taking the symbolic for the real and done deal. The drafters of America’s Declaration of Independence owned slaves (Jefferson had 300) and the first American president George Washington had 316 slaves on his plantation in Virginia. Nowadays, the lynching is done differently but the prisons of America hold a big number of African Americans and even the outgoing president Bush had signed and approved the execution of many black men prisoners. The injustices abound and barring the euphoria, to my mind, the road ahead is bound to be tortuous. That is why I will like to assure all Americans that I for one and many others like me do not want to be American just because a half African has made it to the White House and we do not dream of biting a slice off your American dream, no. We know Hitler refused to shake the hand of African American high jumper Cornelius Johnson but it was Roosevelt who did not shake the hand of Jesse Owen when he returned victorious from the Berlin Olympics. Maybe, all this is neither here nor there just now but the praise heaped upon Obama’s election (echoes of “Berlin Wall fall times ten” by Yade ) by African dictators makes us worry. The claim by Obama that America will lead and change the world is bothersome. Are we to be dragged and bombed into accepting the American way whatever that may be even if (we may dare not say it along with some others) it represents the “cesspool of morality and religious decay”? A Sudanese official found the election of Obama “inspiring” without clarifying what are the Darfurians to expect from this. Somalia’s warlord par excellence colonel Abdullahi stated it was a great moment for Africa (is he hankering for an invasion?), Mwai Kibaki gave Kenyans a day off to celebrate, Luos claimed Obama’s father as their own and Sudan said Obama has Sudanese roots given the “fact” that Luos were…….and so and on. The Nigerian president said “we have a lesson to draw from this historic event” without specifying if it has anything to do with fair election or not or treating the Nile Delta people and all Nigerians fairly. President Amadou Toure of Mali said America has given lesson in maturity and democracy without adding that he will try to learn from that if ever. And a Chadian official bluntly stated: it is an example to follow especially in Africa. What? The election? Electing a president who had/has an African father? The same official added that democracy knows no colour, religion or origin? Is this really a Chadian official in a country ruled by an ethnic chauvinist dictator called Idris Deby? And from Congo Brazzaville, the man who rules by the force of his horrible Ninja troops, Sassou Nguesso, said that Martin Luther King’s dream “has come true”. I do not know what the tyrant in Ethiopia said but I am sure it would be another useless hypocritical statement. The crux of the matter is that if an event makes both tyrants, their victims and democrats euphoric then there must be something wrong somewhere.
Without attempting to steal the thunder and lightning of the Obama victory, reality demands from us to be wary. The appointment of “Madams disaster for Africa”, that is to say Hilary Clinton and Susan Rice, by Obama jolts us awake. We want a tamer, gentler and more humane America. Hence, we do not want to spread fear by openly claiming we want to be Americans (to a paranoid country that says every visa seeker is a potential immigrant) or that we want a slice of the apple pie, the American Dream. We want to stay put in our own places to nurture our own dreams and values, to follow our own visions and roads. Americans are as wonderful a people as others are but it is not true that everyone on earth wants to be an American. After all, it may be a historic event for America to elect a half African (half white person) to the presidency. For us, we have had full blooded Africans ruling over us for centuries and it has not meant much in terms of our freedom because, colour aside, they were not really Africans, and more importantly, not gentle human beings at all. Our scepticism on real change in America being around the corner must be excused, perennial victims have the habit of exaggerating their pain–didn’t some one say even the American declaration of Independence was a “maudlin list of grievances”? Even the Bible asks rhetorically: Can the Ethiopian/African/ change his skin or the leopard his spots? Will Obama’s America ever understand us when we say we do not want to be Americans?