Africans Mull What an Obama Presidency Could Mean

By Stephen Mbogo | July 7, 2008 | 8:19 PM EDT

Nairobi, Kenya ( - Africans should not expect any major changes in U.S. policies towards the continent if Sen. Barack Obama becomes the next American president, political analysts are cautioning as Africans celebrate his all-but-certain nomination.

In Kenya, the home of Obama's late father, talk from the streets to government offices has been dominated by the issue, with many debating the possible benefits an Obama presidency could hold for Kenya and Africa.

Having secured the Democratic nomination, the Illinois senator is expected to face Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) in November's presidential election.

Njoki Ngari, a Nairobi nurse, said she expected that as president Obama would help finance the building of needed social infrastructure, such as public hospitals.

James Onyango, who hails from the same locality as Obama's father -- a Kenyan also named Barack who returned to the country when his son was young, and died more than 20 years ago -- said the villagers were hopeful that if Obama became president, they would see the construction of roads, schools and hospitals.

Analysts here say Africa has received considerable positive attention from President George W. Bush, and from former President Bill Clinton before him, especially in helping the continent meet the challenges of diseases like AIDS, end conflicts as in the case of Sudan's north-south civil war, and obtain preferential trade access to the U.S. market.

But Dr. James Khangati, who teaches political science at several private universities here, said that with his part-African heritage, Obama will find himself under pressure to exceed his predecessors' achievements when it comes to Africa.

It was difficult to know exactly how he would respond, he said.

"If we go by the history of American politics, we should not expect drastic policy changes," Khangati said. "The focus issues will continue to be dominated by anti-AIDS and malaria campaigns, terrorism, oil and [promoting] democracy."

Prof. Makau Mutua, a Kenyan who teaches at the State University of New York at Buffalo Law School, said Africans should lower their expectations regarding the possibility of an Obama victory in November, because an American presidency is subject to larger national interests.

The basic duties of an American president -- to implement foreign policy to enhance U.S. interests abroad and pursue a domestic policy that will bring economic prosperity to the nation -- would continue to be the key focus, he wrote in the Nairobi Daily Nation .

"Kenyans, Africans and black people the world over must curb their enthusiasm about what an Obama presidency can do for them," Mutua said.

Meanwhile, Sheikh Mohamed Khalifa of the Council of Imams and Preachers, Kenya's top Islamic body, said he expected Obama to improve relations between the U.S. and Muslims across the world.

"We expect Obama to move away from confrontational policies and unite the U.S. and the rest of the world," he said. "We expect him to be close to Africa if he finally wins the presidency."

The challenge posed by Islamic extremism has been an important factor in Washington's relations with Kenya, which has experienced more terrorism than any other country in sub-Saharan Africa.

Al-Qaeda bombed the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi -- and its counterpart in Dar-es-Salaam, Tanzania -- in August 1998, killing more than 200 people. Terrorists in Nov. 2002 bombed an Israeli-owned hotel in Mombasa and tried to shoot down an Israeli passenger jet leaving Nairobi.

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