Obama in Africa

BERKELEY – On July 10, one very important descendant of black Africa will make a triumphant return to the motherland.

Scholars speak of “the empire striking back,” referring to former colonized peoples, such as immigrants from Africa and India, settling in Europe and North America and then challenging norms of race and identity. In his first official trip to Africa, US President Barack Obama is striking back in a novel way. His visit to Ghana highlights the desirability of prominent people from the diaspora making a positive contribution to African affairs.

But Obama’s visit, while heavy on symbolism, reveals the limits of his power. Burdened by economic problems in America and wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, he can’t act boldly in Africa or make big promises.

Indeed, six months into his presidency, he has already undercut expectations. He has approached with great caution the task of settling the region’s violent conflicts – in Darfur, eastern Congo, and Somalia. He has also kept a safe distance from Africa’s political failures, notably in Zimbabwe, where he has resisted calls to assist in the removal of Robert Mugabe.