Choosing priorities: African youth and support for Obama

The supporters, fans and admirers of Sen Barack Obama continue to celebrate his victory as the Democratic Party nominee for the up coming United States presidential elections after a difficult campaign competing with Mrs. Hillary Clinton.
Barack obama eyes  the White House
Barack obama eyes the White House

The supporters, fans and admirers of Sen Barack Obama continue to celebrate his victory as the Democratic Party nominee for the up coming United States presidential elections after a difficult campaign competing with Mrs. Hillary Clinton.

In Africa particularly in Kenya, this success has been celebrated by Kenyans of all tribes and all walks of life, as it has become the global gospel that his father was Kenyan and his mother American.

The Illinois Senator won many hearts especially those of American young people who rarely concern themselves with political matters.

Some journalists refer to him as a rock star, a celebrity, a black person whose popularity is increasingly becoming overwhelming in a field where historically blacks do not excel on such high level.

It is fashionable to talk of Sen Obama in bars, small towns and big Cities, echoes of ‘one of us has made it, will represent us’. ‘Us’ used by members of different marginalized groups that the Senator is assumed to represent.

As the fashion trend flows from the Western Hemisphere and consumed by the idle African young minds a times without putting much thinking into it, this is not any different, the African youth is not to be left behind.

There was an article in the Kenyan Sunday Nation on June 8th 2008, which originated in Reuters reporting that there is a group of Kenyan youth who are launching a worldwide campaign to defend Obama’s Presidential candidacy.

The youth’s activities include online forums, public meetings and demonstrations to raise awareness on Obama’s policies, their plan to tour Kenyan towns and African major Cities to preach this gospel.

African Journal documentary aired on Kenya Television Network on 5th June 2008, a Nigerian youth eloquently outlined their strategies to create awareness for Obama’s endeavours in Africa, as he concluded that their actions will show that Nigeria is always ahead in Africa.

Last week, another newspaper carried a story of how Ugandan youth are organizing similar activities. These youth groups’ hope to trade their energy and their limited resources for Sen Obama’s favourable foreign policy towards Africa, they consider him to be the one who will deliver them from the arms of corruption, tribal wars and dare poverty that threatens their existence.  

However, what these youth seem to ignore is that a country’s foreign policy is not made by one person over night. There are significant foreign policy studies carried out since1950’s by scholars, career diplomats and members of the public have contributed to this debate looking at who is involved in foreign policy formulation of a given country.

Deborah J. Garner of the University of Kansas in her article Foreign Policy Analysis, argues that all foreign policy decisions occur in a particular domestic context and this environment includes the values, national character, political culture, and historical traditions of a society, its structural attributes (size, level of industrialization form of government etc.) and particular political issues that are important at any given time.

Even though a seating president of United States has the power to influence foreign policy formulation towards Africa, he is not the only one involved. Priority concerns of the United States foreign policy changes according to political realities that face the USA.

There are other key pressing issues such as devising ways to deal with Iraq war, solving the economic puzzle complicated by rising oil prices, the conflict in Middle East; these are some of the domestic realities that affect directly the American people.

Foreign Policy is formed through established institutions that up holds certain American values and traditions. Furthermore there are other non-state actors that influence this process.

These include non-governmental organizations, multinational corporations, the media and strong lobbying by special interest groups.

One can suggest that Sen Obama’s foreign policy advisers will be under pressure to listen to the special groups that represents the American People’s interests which may not favour the African youth’ wishes.

These youth groups ought to be encouraged to re-examine their priorities like yesterday, to spend all their energies, their resources to fight poverty, support or challenge their local leaders to work hard and revamp the economic disparity that African countries continue to experience.

If elected, Sen Obama will not save Africa from its woes, he will not find the cure of aids, he will not trade his powerful presidency to redress unfair trade policies between the North and the South that has characterized the relationship between both continents.

One can question these youth thinking, what is the urgency of creating awareness to Africans or the rest of the world outside the US citizens who can not cast a vote in the November elections?

What is the purpose of spending very much needed energy and creativity behind an emotional cause that does no add economic value to the Africans?

Is this campaign a priority of the unemployed youth or a finding an escape from one’s reality?

African youth should be reminded that the continent’s woes will be resolved internally and not from anybody outside…       

The author is a student on masters’ in international relations at the United States International University in Nairobi and can be reached at:

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