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I shall sing no song for Obama


Busani Ngcaweni is Director-General of the National School of Government, South Africa.

My tongue is tied against celebrating race, especially if my own race ignores my people’s suffering.

I wanted to sing a song: ‘Why Obama is not my Hero’. But in this “world without others”, as Sabelo Ndlovu-Gatsheni calls it, the Euro-American world of othering, of bigotry, of xenophobia, of homophobia, of inequality, of alterity, I quickly recall that Obama didn’t choose the weight of history that circumscribed his presidency.

Ndlovu-Gatsheni reminds us that just as we live in gated communities, join exclusive clubs and private schools, and yearn for VIP access, so do western governing elites, reordering social relations, building gates and walls – all meant to keep “others” out in the interest of safety, security and exclusivity.

I wanted to nod to God Bless America. Then I remembered that saving America means condemning all else, especially the nations of the global south. At least history tells us that. There is zero evidence that those blessings have had residual effect on us.

I tried to reminisce about Yes We Can. Immediately it occurred to me: No he Couldn’t: he couldn’t champion pluriversality, social justice, fair trade and the advancement of the global south. He didn’t speak out against Islamaphobia. He didn’t use his power to stop the ethnic cleansing of blacks by the police in the streets of America. In fact, he created conditions and cheered the murder of Gaddafi, plunging North Africa and the whole of the Middle East into chaos. The weapons he supplied in Syria and Lybia are now turned against ordinary citizens. 

I wanted to join in Amazing Grace until I recalled that our blessings became our curse. As Africans we were either ignored, sidelined or bullied.

We had trade agreements imposed on us and reassured us of our place as a junior member of the global community dominated by the Anglo-American. What amazing grace when such disgrace of genocide happened in the stormy waters of the Mediterranean in full view of the leader of the free world?

Yes, man makes history under conditions given by history. But given to the same man are powers that can be used to alter the weight of history; to fight just global courses of economic justice for all, not impunity for tax dodging transnational corporations.

I wish I knew how it would feel to be free, sings Simone – to a dream deferred. Louder the people of the Global South take it further: we wish we could break all the chains of Euro-American imperialism. Notwithstanding, like Maya Angelou, they will rise again.

I wanted to hum “mama, I made it” until I saw images of defenseless children of Pakistan, Somalia and Yemen running from humless drones, indiscriminately bombing their vilages.

I nearly cheered the Nobel Prize. Then came the screams of children of Venezuela whose livelihoods have been systematically eroded by Washington dictates. The economic hitman enjoys the loot. Global progressive forces are under siege. Coloniality is a standing order.

I thought of the lyrics “Don’t cry for me, America”. But why would you really coz I’m the other and don’t matter to you.

There was I, singing we shall overcome; but quickly silenced by chants of the Black Lives Matter movement.

I was reading signs of commitment to build a better world and to respect people’s choices of governance. Thank you Castro for penning Brother Obama: In the Footprints of the Conquistadores.

So I shall sing no song for Obama, at least not yet, for my tongue is tied against celebrating race especially if my own race ignores my people’s suffering. Indifference is just as deadly as narrow race solidarity.

But maybe, just maybe, in this world of Caucasian superiority where men make history under inherited conditions, perhaps Obama is a monument of hope and black affirmation – making our children believe, Yes we Can live in an equal and socially just world. Just maybe. DM

Ngcaweni is co-editor of the book Nelson Mandela: Decolonial Ethics of Liberation and Servant Leadership, published by Africa World Press and Deputy Director-General & Head of the Private Office of the Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa. Views contained here are private.


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