It's very curious to me the way everyone who's a fan of Obama (such as I am), tends to behave as though they're about to fall off the earth's edge when suddenly they find that they disagree with him on a thing.
Just because we admire someone doesn't mean we will automatically agree with them. (I most certainly hope.) I for one reserve the right to criticise Obama as and when I feel it is necessary, even while I continue to admire him and consider him a great man and leader on the whole.
That said, once Mutuma Mathiu gets past the puzzling “I disagree with the man so the sky is probably going to fall on my head” introduction to his Sunday column, he makes some valid points about nuance and back story.
The contentious issue is what Obama, whom I count among the precious few public figures able to apprehend and communicate nuance on the global stage, said in Italy about his cousin in Kenya not being able to get a job without paying a bribe.
I agree with Mathiu that we’ve been standing at this corner for way too long and we need to move this conversation along already.
According to ABC News, Obama told African leaders who attended the latter part of the G8 summit in L'Aquila, Italy that, "his cousin in Kenya can’t find a job without paying a bribe, and that’s not the fault of the G-8. And when companies can’t operate without paying, in some parts of Africa, without paying the 25 per cent fee off the top in bribes, that’s not colonialism."
Mutuma argues that whereas the anecdote is open to the (stereo)typical interpretation that Africa is steeped in corruption and that this is the explanation most western commentators (well-meaning or otherwise) will arrive at, there are other more accessible explanations.
"Why must young Africans pay a bribe to get a job? One possible explanation is that Africans are bad, corrupt people who cannot rule themselves. That is the subtext of international discourse on "governance" in Africa.
The more accessible explanation is that families pay bribes simply because there are too many people and too few opportunities. The reason for that is that our economies simply aren't growing. And, yes, part of the cause of that is corruption and stupid leaders."
He then goes on to say that:
“If you reduce the competition for jobs by creating more opportunities, you reduce corruption exponentially, and you can take that to the bank.”
I even take to heart his indignation with
“these Kenyan generalisations of how corrupt and tribal we are,” and ask alongside him, “what about me who has never taken a bribe, who puts in many hours every day, loves my country and desperately wants to fix it? What about the many Kenyans who are like me, are not in it just for money but because we want to build a country we can take pride in?”
I’m not asking that we as Africans (or our leaders) be allowed to abdicate our responsibility, you understand. I’m just engaging in some wishful thinking here, I suppose.
I wish that when the world tells Africa’s story, rather than confine it to the briefs where complex issues are simplified into attention-grabbing anecdotes, it would assign it adequate column space, so that there would not need to merely be a squeaky clean Ghana and a murky messy Kenya, but there would be room to discuss the range of nuance, to grapple with the back story and the complexity of it all.
With the Saturday speech in Ghana, I was pleased, for the most part. Maybe I’ll get around to blogging about that, but not today.