Wole Soyinka on Obama’s Choice

The Nobel Laureate dissects the message the president's trip to Ghana should send to the corrupt and failing states of Africa.

Wole Soyinka in Nigeria in 2006 (PIUS UTOMI EKPEI/AFP/Getty Images)
Wole Soyinka in Nigeria in 2006 (PIUS UTOMI EKPEI/AFP/Getty Images)

The very astuteness of Barack Obama, one that dictated the strategy of a political campaign that catapulted him to victory from the underdog position of a rank outsider, should have informed the “patriotic” cheerleaders of African misgovernance that they can expect no preferential consideration from the 44th president of America. This, just to refresh memories, was a candidate who ensured from the beginning that he would break with corporate patronage and thus, indebtedness, and rely largely on the mass contribution of cents and pennies to ensure a mandate of maximum independence. By contrast, behold the permanent indentureship of the Nigerian power base, not merely to the moneyed oligarchy, but to the most corrupt, indeed criminal elements within that disreputable oligarchy. Nigeria is a nation that repeatedly blows its chances to stand tall, to present to the world a massively endowed colossus, bestriding the continent with the over-abundant productive genius of its people and the generosity of nature’s resources.

What, instead, has been the actuality? A plague of incontinent rulers in relay, some in military uniform, others in civilian clothing, but all clones of one another, united in a commitment to unabashed profligacy, mutually assisted corruption and, to add insult to injury, an obsessive hankering for self-perpetuation, necessitating the cultivation of outright disdain for the elementary right of their citizens to a voice in leadership choice. Is this truly a nation that deserves the recognition, much less a gesture of respect, from any democratically elected leader of the world, and one especially of such unprecedented political significance for the African continent itself?

A decade ago, needless to say, Ghana would also have been a non-contender. But the continent has witnessed, and remains envious of, the transformation that has taken place in Ghana, an internal process of self-recovery that nearly matches that of the United States in her transition from George W. Bush to Barack Obama. Among the attributes of intelligence is the ability to create or recognize the opportunity for self-renewal. Nigerians, at home or residing in the United States during the past decade, have not been slow to observe that the eight previous years in U.S. governance were uncannily paralleled within Nigeria—eight years of waste, deception, divisiveness and corruption, of advancing bankruptcy, eight years of arrogant subversion of democratic norms … all spearheaded by a man from whom the nation, the continent and the world expected so much, eight years that sent the nation spiraling into a reverse momentum that has earned it the humiliating designation of a “failed state.”

Should an incoming product of the repudiation of such a shared past compromise his mandate by a significant visit to the other half, while it remains fixated and unrepentant in its perpetuation of that disreputable past?