Sunday, July 12, 2009

Obama deeply moved by 'evil' slave fortress.

It was moving enough when Obama visited Buchenwald, and used the attention that the entire world focuses on him at the moment to highlight the evil which occurred there.

However, not being black, I can only imagine what it must mean to see Obama - the most powerful man in the world - visit the slave fortress of Cape Coast Castle where many Africans walked in chains through the infamous "door of no return" to a life of misery and humiliation in Obama's homeland.

Speaking as the leader of the free world he stated:

"It is reminiscent of the trip that I took to Buchenwald. It reminds us of the capacity of human beings to commit great evil," he said, adding that he had been especially struck by the seeemingly incongruous presence of a church near the slave dungeons. "Sometimes we can tolerate and stand by great evil even as we think we are doing good," he said.

The moment has immense symbolism for both Africans and black Americans, so many of whom can trace their ancestors back to the slave trade. Though Obama himself is not descended from slaves, his wife and two daughters are. "It is particularly important for Malia and Sasha who are growing up in such a blessed way [to know] that history can take very cruel turns," he said.

In his speech earlier, he delivered a rallying call to end corruption and warfare. Obama lectured a crowd of assembled dignitaries - and an entire continent watching on television - to break from their troubled history. "At this moment history is on the move ... America will be with you every step of the way as a partner, as a friend," he said.

At times his speech resembled the tenor of his campaign oratory of last year, rising and falling in tempo and employing lofty language to speak hard truths. It was an impression furthered by a huge banner draped in the hall that echoed Obama's most famous campaign slogan by declaring: "Yes, together we can!"

Here is that earlier speech in full:

Watching this speech, one can't help but be struck by the way Obama is able to straddle so many entirely different worlds and use his extraordinary life story to let those he is addressing realise that he understands their own story, even as he refuses to allow them to use anti-Americanism as an excuse for all their problems.

Obama's speech ran the gamut of the modern African experience, condemning war, corruption and dictatorships and urging Africans to take responsibility for solving their own problems even as he acknowledged the role outside powers had too often taken in meddling in African affairs. He cited countries from Congo to Sudan and Zimbabwe as having failed their people. "For far too many Africans conflict is a part of life ... these conflicts are a millstone around Africa's neck," he said.

Obama was also brutally honest about corruption and dictatorship. "No country is going to create wealth if its leaders exploit the economy to enrich themselves or the police can be bought off by drug traffickers. No business wants to invest in a place where the government skims 20% off the top... That is not democracy. That is tyranny even if you sprinkle an election in it," he chided. "Africa does not need strong men, it needs strong institutions," he said.

Obama can get away with this for several reasons. Firstly, one gets the feeling that Obama truly believes what he is saying. And, more importantly, he does not carry Bush's legacy of using democracy as a cover for invasion.

And when he talks of the US allowing imports from Ghana into the US one realises that Obama has not come simply to lecture, he also understands the things which make Africans believe the board is tilted against them.

What's extraordinary is how well this speech is received. He is talking in universal truths. The reaction of the audience proves that. He is telling Africa that the past cannot be used as an excuse for the future. He will work to level the playing field but it will then be up to individual Africans, especially the young, to walk through the doors which a level playing field will open.

He is offering not charity, but equality and opportunity. And it's a message which his audience welcomes.

Click title for full article.

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