What you need to know:
- The next American president, unless he has Solomonic wisdom, will be damaged goods internationally by 2016 and will not be able to play a Clinton-type role in the world.
- The next four years will be tricky, and possibly very messy, for the US president. The issue of Iran’s nuclear ambitions will come to a head.
- If Israel decides to take a crack at Iran, the US president will have to enter the fray on the side of Israel – and alienate two-thirds of the world.
In five days, Americans go the polls and we will know whether or not President Barack Obama has a job.
In Kogelo, the home of his Kenyan father, reports have it that there have been daily prayers for their famous and powerful son to be blessed by the gods.
If Obama were an African leader, the people of Kogelo would be having a very different kind of worry. They would be wondering if he would get re-elected with 90 per cent or a “mere” 65 per cent of the vote.
When Obama was elected in 2008, he gained the status of a demigod of some sort in most of Africa. The years that followed, however, were marked by disappointment.
Many Africans have been complaining that, as they say in Uganda, Obama “didn’t look into” Africa. He didn’t give Africa any groceries.
In recent weeks, as the race tightened and some opinion polls showed his Republican challenger Mitt Romney edging ahead, I sensed from sentiments on social media and the blogs that the mood in Africa is swinging towards Obama again.
He might be a prodigal son, yes, but he still has African blood in his veins and is our son, many disillusioned Obama fans are saying.
Now, on Tuesday evening, I watched the emotionally wracking documentary about the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls in South Africa.
It tells how the US TV star was inspired to start the school by Nelson Mandela, the unnerving struggles some of the students went through; and the heroic triumph with the first class graduating.
I think it is impossible to watch it without moments of tears; and being drained by how difficult life can be for children from poor African families.
Anyhow, I was once again struck by how much difference a determined and charismatic private citizen can make. I started thinking that the best thing for Obama, and maybe the world, is if he were beaten by Romney.
Here is why. For starters, the global non-governmental and feel-good market is not producing enough stars. Mandela was one of its stars, but now the grand statesman is in his 90s and very frail, and cannot play.
There was Mother Theresa, she died. From East Africa, we had Nobel laureate Wangari Maathai. She too passed on. There is, of course, Bishop Desmond Tutu. But the outspoken man of God has been slowed down by age and illness.
The only person of African descent left in that arena is former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, but he is still developing his voice and positioning.
Today, two men have been left to dominate the global non-state do-good industry – former US President Bill Clinton, and Microsoft founder and billionaire philanthropist Bill Gates.
There is no woman (except, perhaps, Melinda Gates), and black or brown person in the league of Clinton and Gates. The only person of colour I see who can enter the club is a former President Obama.
The next four years will be tricky, and possibly very messy, for the US president. The issue of Iran’s nuclear ambitions will come to a head. If Israel decides to take a crack at Iran, the US president will have to enter the fray on the side of Israel – and alienate two-thirds of the world.
There is the matter of the conflict in Syria. The next American will have to get blood on his hands removing the Bashar al-Assad regime directly or through proxies.
Then there is Mali, where al-Qaeda has allegedly taken over the northern part of the country. The French have already put a foot in, and the US is reportedly pulling some ropes in the background as the West African bloc, Ecowas, moves to send in a Somali-type intervention force.
And the US, going by campaign rhetoric, will have to get into an unpleasant scuffle with China over its alleged “currency manipulation”.
The next American president, unless he has Solomonic wisdom, will be damaged goods internationally by 2016 and will not be able to play a Clinton-type role in the world.
Obama has the energy and smarts to be an influential international citizen and non-state actor, and to join Clinton and Gates as the non-white face at the top of the international NGO high priesthood. To do that, he first has to lose the election.