Africa should envy the US-UK partnership
Imagine two leaders: one is head of the mightiest country on earth in practically everything (mighty in economy, military et al). The other is head of a powerful country in its own right, but now rather of bygone glory, the country having been an empire that colonised and fought the former.
As individual leaders, one is supposed to be of exuberant and sometimes boisterous nature, being American, while the other, being English, is supposed to bee of stilted and cautious nature. Wouldn’t anyone envisage awkward moments?
President Barack Obama and Prime Minister David Cameron were together mid this month, the former hosting the latter. But rather than awkwardness, in conduct and speech, jokes or no jokes, you saw serious business.
Opening his welcoming remarks of Prime Minister Cameron and his delegation, President Obama goes straight to “Good morning everyone.” Then he goes on to joke about how he shared “bracketology” with Cameron and how, for appreciating it, the prime minister was going to install a “hoop” at Downing Street, to hearty laughter.
Of course, the joke was unclear to non-Americans and you could see there were some in the British delegation who were in the dark. “Bracketology” is the process of predicting the field of the NCAA Basketball Tournament and that “hoop” is the basketball ring. The terms are strictly American and alien to Britons, whose favourites are cricket and football.
But all were now relaxed and Obama could go into the official address of: “Prime Minister Cameron, Mrs. Cameron, Members of the British delegation.....”. First, though, the injection of another doze of comic relief, now hinging on the painful history of the war between them. How do you turn the sore history of war into a light moment?
Remember, for several reasons, all of them in the cause of liberation from British influence, Americans declared war on the British Empire in 1812. The war went on in many areas of USA until August 1814 when a British force attacked Washington, D.C. and set fire to all public buildings following the American defeat at the Battle of Bladensburg. Those burnt-down buildings included the White House!
In the end, USA won the war but, still, joking about it can hurt sensibilities. So, how did Obama turn it into a joke?
His words: “It’s now been 200 years since the British came here, to the White House – under somewhat different circumstances. (Laughter) They made quite an impression. (Laughter) They really lit up the place. (Laughter) But we moved on.” (Laughter)
And, indeed, Americans have moved on. Today, they are the biggest super power in the world and have dwarfed Great Britain. But the joke was not on anybody.
The meeting of Americans and Britons was a “meeting of kindred spirits” (Cameron) and was teasing no one, as Obama said: “And today, like so many presidents and prime ministers before us, we meet to reaffirm one of the greatest alliances the world has ever known.” Without doubt, this was a celebration of “the rock-solid alliance” (Obama) existing between the US and the UK.
And so Obama restates that alliance at length and it is only after that that he can return to his comic turns. Says he: “We Americans and Brits speak the same language – most of the time.” (Laughter) Then he delves into British slang that must have sounded like Greek to many of his countrymen/women but it was time for banter and everybody laughed.
When Cameron’s turn came to thank his host, the stilted nature was evident but it didn’t stop him from working on the war era for jest, too: “....Barack, with that spectacular command of our shared language – (laughter) – you are.....making me feel....at home...”
For a Brit, he had certainly warmed up to his host’s free spirit. He continued: “So, I am a little embarrassed......to think that 200 years ago – (laughter) – my ancestors tried to burn this place down. (Laughter) Now, looking around me, I can see you’ve got the place a little better defended today. (Laughter) You’re clearly not taking any risks with the Brits this time.” (Laughter)
So, they can afford to joke but, in between jokes, the two leaders are on the rock-solid ground of the serious business of further reinforcing the creative collaborations that have for long bound their special relationship. It is this partnership that provides their people with the environment in which blossom the spirit of shared creativity, innovation, risk-taking, enterprise and liberty.
The US and the UK are begging African countries to emulate them. African countries, bilaterally or multilaterally, must seek this shared endeavour if they are to grow and leave behind the unsteadiness of today’s world. That’s how they can hope to one day embrace modernity and see optimism that stretches “across the [continents] and across the decades” and to do away with the begging bowl.
Alas, with some countries firmly in the way of such an endeavour, in the misguided conviction that their unused and useless land will be grabbed, such a noble cause remains a distant flicker. By their old adage, Rwandans saw this: ‘Umutwe umwe wifasha gusara’. Literally: one head, rather than more heads, can only assist itself to go mad.
In short, two heads are better than one. Hopefully, all Africans will open their eyes to this truism.
Contact email: butapa[at]gmail.com, butamire.wordpress.com