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Opinions of Sunday, 26 July 2009

Columnist: Akosah-Sarpong, Kofi

Barack Obama and Africans’ mindset

By Kofi Akosah-Sarpong

As various editorialists and commentators throughout Africa have analyzed the substance of US President Barack Obama’s Accra policy statement on Africa on July 12 wasn’t new. What was new was Obama’s metaphysics, the bold unto-your-face manner, the ambience, the level of confidence, the psychological import, and the attempts to hit home a new mindset for Africa’s development.

That one of the key stumbling blocks of Africa’s progress is its mindset is unarguable. And Obama set to knock off the self-immolation, inferiority complex and finger-pointing. To let Africa face its problems head-on Obama didn’t promise huge monies as George Bush and Bill Clinton had done earlier. Obama has thorough grasp of the African situation (his father being victim) and he played brutally into it unemotionally, using his own refinement against all odds that saw him become the first African-American president of the United States.

Obama becomes a man in the mirror, refracted continent-wide, where Africa has the capacity to fine-tune itself to be a superb progressive continent just like the Europeans or Japanese or Americans. “Yes, you can,” Obama told Africans in a therapeutic mood, more to Africans’ shameful elites and “Big Men,” who increasingly find it hard to draw from their traditional values to tackle most of the developmental challenges confounding them.

In the broader development game, everything has to do with values, confidence and psychology. And all these have to be homegrown first and any other second. The premise is that you start from your core home base values no matter how despicable and primitive you have been told they are (wrongly by the colonialists) and then you work with the values, confidence and psychology to the global prosperity level – mixing and juggling like an alchemist. Against this background, you don’t need to be the brainy Wole Soyinka to know that Africa is the only region in the world where its development process is dominated by foreign development paradigms that have stifled Africa’s rich indigenous values, institutions, confidence and psychology.

If colonialism caused this, African elites and their “Big Men” internalized colonialism’s twisting of their values and made them see themselves as inferior. The result is Africans becoming autistic and helplessly finding it hard to appropriate their own values, as psychological and logical tools, in policy development. From Kwame Nkrumah’s “African Personality” to George Ayitteh’s “African solution to African problems,” the attempts are to heal the inferiority complexes.

Despite all these, Africa finds it hard to genuinely free itself from such complexes and project confidence and deep-thinking in their progress drawn from within their traditional values. Short of this, Africans have become kids in the global prosperity game where they are ordered around, manipulated, castigated, and always told what to do to progress against their own stupidities. No doubt, in Accra, Obama becomes the parent allegorically talking down on the “childish,” messy, autistic African “Big Men,” elites, and intellectuals what they should to do to progress though they already know what they know to do to progress.

Obama, a student of history and with African blood boiling in him, knows all about these and knows Africans, too, know about all these. But Africans, despite their vastly endowed riches and immense human resources, seem too lazy to psychologically rejuvenate themselves from within their traditional values for progress.

And here comes Obama as the mentalist aiming to display an authoritative, commanding and charismatic stage presence and sleight-of-hand to tell Africans, and later African-Americans in Washington DC during the 100th anniversary of NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People), that there should be “no excuses,” that they shouldn’t “internalized a set of limitations,” that they shouldn’t “come to expect so little from the world and from ourselves,” and that “No one has written your destiny for you - your destiny is in your hands.”