What President Obama, President Kiir and Mr. Snowden have in common

BY: Fanwell L. Edward, SOUTH SUDANESE, JUL/02/2013, SSN;

As a young man, Obama cut his teeth in student politics at the Harvard law school before horning his leadership skills as a legislator in the turbulent politics of the State of Illinois. In 2008, he won the presidency of the United States of America, becoming the country’s first ever black president. President Obama now presides over the world’s most powerful democracy.

Due to the clearly marked separation among judicial, legislative and executive powers, he rules by consensus. The man is at the beginning of the end of his political career as the president of the United States. And on a personal level, he hardly goes anywhere without his wife, Michelle, by his side.

President Kiir, on the other hand, dropped out of school as a young man to join the first war of liberation. He developed a career as an intelligence officer in the Sudanese Army before joining the second phase of the Sudanese civil war in 1983. However, as the second-in-command in the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement, led autocratically by Dr. John Garang, Mr. Kiir’s chief role bogged down to the protection of Garang’s leadership in the face of internal challenges until Dr. Garang’s death in a plane crash in 2005.

An accidental leader, Kiir has no discernible leadership skills. Furthermore, and with no institutions to speak of, let alone lines to demarcate their functions, he rules an ethnically fractured country through presidential decrees. He fancies 2015 as the beginning of another five-year term in office.

On a personal level, Kiir is almost never seen in public with any of his wives who include one of the daughters of the current Governor of Central Equatoria Region.

Intelligence Contractor Edward Snowden is obviously not a president. He is not even a government employee. After dropping out of school, Mr. Snowden taught himself computer skills which earned him a job with a company that handles sensitive information for the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).

Unlike presidents Obama and Kiir, Mr. Snowden is white, a non-politician and unconcerned about a political legacy. And on a personal level, he is not expected to go everywhere with his wife by his side. In fact, he is not even married. He lived with his nightclub dancer girlfriend in Hawaii before he fled.

Since it is more than obvious by now that the three men are radically different from one another, what would therefore cause any sane person to mention them in the same sentence other than to emphasize the obvious that they are God’s creations?

Well, you see, politics makes strange bedfellows indeed. The three gentlemen are united by a trip which each of them has undertaken in recent days. Each of the trips has come too little too late and adds little or no value to the political situation on the ground.

Moreover, each of the visits might as well turn out to be the last that each of the gentlemen would undertake to the respective destinations in the foreseeable future.

Shortly after blowing the lid off what is threatening to be a massive, surreptitious surveillance of private and official communications by the US government at home and abroad, Mr. Snowden fled to faraway Hong Kong, singing its praises as and an island of freedom of expression in the sea of repression and eavesdropping.

But only a few days later, Mr. Snowden curiously journeyed to Moscow, where he was expected to board a flight to Quito, Ecuador, where he would seek political asylum. Although he could have travelled to Ecuador directly from his home in Hawaii, it is curious that he chose to fly to Hong Kong and Moscow.

Currently holed up in the transit area at the Moscow airport, Mr. Snowden has managed to tightly squeeze himself between the devil that wants him extradited and banished forever and the deep blue sea that craves all his secrets in exchange for a safe haven in the shark-infested underworld of international espionage.

Whether he makes it to Ecuador or whether he is eventually extradited to the US or whether he is granted political asylum elsewhere, it is certain that Mr. Snowden will not undertake another meaningless trip to visit Hong Kong or anywhere else in the foreseeable future.

As for President Obama, he has embarked on a week-long trip to Senegal, South Africa and Tanzania. The three countries have been chosen because, according to the US government, because they are Africa’s sturdy democracies. This, of course, would suggest rather interestingly that a US present should only visit democratic countries.

If this were true, President Obama would have chosen to visit the democracies that the US and its allies have helped to establish by fomenting the so-called Arab Spring in northern Africa. But by staying away from Tunisia, Egypt and Libya, President Obama is tacitly acknowledging his administration’s failure to bring democracy to these countries.

Furthermore, if it were true that President Obama only visits ‘democratic countries’, then the President’s recent visit to Myanmar, where a military dictatorship has terrorized the population over the last fifty years by ruling the country with an iron, would be a clear sign of the US political hypocrisy and its double-standards when dealing with Africa.

President Obama’s visit to the three African countries is, first and foremost, about the protection of American interests including attempts to arrest the spread of political Islam in western and eastern Africa. The other objective of Obama’s trip is to pave the way for American businesses to compete with private and state-owned Chinese, Indian, Malaysian and Brazilian companies.

Unfortunately for President Obama, the US is trailing so badly in the African business sector that the President’s belated visit will add no value or competitive edge to US companies in Africa. As if that was not devastating enough, and based on the fact that the President managed to visit the continent only once in his first term in office, President Obama’s visits to Senegal, South Africa and Tanzania will most likely turn out to be his last as president of the United States.

Like Theodore Roosevelt, James Earl Carter, William Jefferson Clinton, and the Bushes before him, and given his relative youth and the African ancestry which he currently underplays, President Obama will most likely spend a lot of time in Africa after the end of his presidency.

At the time when President Obama and Mr. Snowden were undertaking their curious visits, President Kiir was quietly concluding a much belated, meaningless trip to Botswana, a country that, unlike South Sudan, has received accolades for both good governance and proper utilization of its mineral resources for the benefit to its citizens.

It could be argued vociferously the visit should have, for all practical purposes, taken place before July 2011 or shortly thereafter, when there was a subtle whisper about whether the new country should emulate oil-rich, corruption-ridden Nigeria or whether it should model itself after Botswana, where citizen welfare, good governance, the rule of law, extensive infrastructure projects and zero-tolerance for corruption reign supreme at the top of government.

Of course, the subtle debate dissipated quickly as if by a stroke of a magic wand when the dark clouds of massive corruption, flagrant human rights abuses, nepotism, political cronyism and lawlessness descended ominously on the newly independent country.

It was neither necessary for President Kiir and his ministers at that time to travel to Nigeria in order to learn the ropes of corruption nor to announce to the public that they had indeed opted to go the Nigerian way.

Now that government officials have not only stolen more than four billion US dollars including the 7.9 million dollars allegedly stolen last month by ministers Deng Alor Kuol and Kosti Manibe that should have been used to provide basic services; but have also misruled the new country with utter ruthlessness that South Sudan has now been described as a failed state by many reports.

The most recent of which comes from the Washington-based Fund for Peace, there is absolutely nothing that the man and his conniving ministers can learn from Botswana that can readily help the people of South Sudan in the foreseeable future.

The Nigerian and the Botswana models of development are so mutually exclusive paradigms that any naïve or underhanded attempt to belatedly introduce the latter into a hopelessly corrupt government only points to the president’s lack of appreciation of the fact that his government and powerful ministers have travelled too far on the Nigerian way to the extent that they are currently ‘too deformed to be reformed’ not even by a few good diamonds from Botswana.

The opportune time to have benefited from the Botswana experience is long gone. Therefore, any visit by President Kiir to the southern African country at this point in time or in the future is only a waste of the country’s meager resources as well as an extension of the expensive and extensive political tourism which the President and his cabinet have perfected in the last two years.

President Kiir, President Obama and Mr. Snowden are also united by their need for powerful embassies to ensure the success of their too-little-too-late trips. For Snowden, he needs an embassy to sleep in, at least, while Ecuadorian or any authorities process his request for political asylum.

Mr. Obama is comfortable that the goals of his belated African tour will be followed up properly because he already has well established embassies in Senegal, South Africa and the one bombed by Al Qaida in Tanzania in 1998.

Kiir, on the other hand, has no embassy in Botswana to effectively follow-up the implementation of whatever goals he might have in mind for his visit. However, as is the case with his other episodes of political tourism, no follow-up seems to be necessary as long as the President has come, toured and returned to Juba safely.

Determined to continue with the one-man road-show, it was the President, not his spouse, who in Botswana cut the ribbon for the foundation of a school whose name he probably had never heard before his visit. It was also the man in the black cowboy hat, not one his wives, who eventually received all the gifts including a portrait of the man in the black cowboy hat painted by one of the students.

In contrast, it was Michelle Obama, not her husband, who visited Dr. Martin Luther King High School in Dakar, Senegal.

If the political profiles of both Botswana and South Sudan should serve as indicators, and there is no reason why they shouldn’t, it could be said therefore with a lot of confidence that President Kiir might have already made his first and last visit to Botswana.

Furthermore, with the image of South Sudan expected to suffer further damage when the UN Security Council releases its damning report on rights abuses in the country in the coming weeks, President Kiir’s chances of visiting this fiercely independent country in the near future will dim greatly.

This is because Botswana, the lone dissenter in the African Union (AU) on the issue of the International Criminal court (ICC), neither minces words about the repugnance of human rights abuses nor suffers abusers of human rights.

If President Kiir has the slightest doubt about this fact, he had better ask the AU and the presidents of the Sudan and Kenya.

Nothing points to the deteriorating image of South Sudan in several world capitals including Washington more strongly than President Obama’s decision to avoid the country during his first African visit after South Sudan’s independence in 2011.

That he has not visited the country this time and that it is unlikely that he will visit during his presidency, is a reality that should send a strong signal to President Kiir that one cannot fool all the people all of the time about one’s political health, certainly not the ones who pay one’s medical bills.

President Kiir’s advisors may try to explain away Mr. Obama’s no-show in South Sudan by arguing that it was not possible for the US president to visit every country on the continent.

While the point is well taken, it must however be noted that it is not every day that the US president visits the neighbourhood where a two-year-old country brags noisily about being the legitimate child of the world’s superpower.

In the end, the ill-advised trips that the three gentlemen have undertaken recently accomplish nothing else other than to expose the rotten state of affairs in both the wire-tapping Obama administration and the rudderless, corruption-crippled Kiir’s administration as well as the naivety of whistle-blower Snowden and his gross underestimation of the ruthlessness of the underworld.

As for the farmers in Senegal, South Africa, Tanzania and South Sudan on whose behalf some of these too-little-too-late visits were purportedly undertaken, they have learnt a long time ago to continue to till the land without being bothered by where the planes flying overhead come from, fly to, or whom they carry in their silvery bellies.

The farmers no longer fancy manna falling from heaven. In fact, the only thing they hope will fall from the African skies at this time of the year is rain and more African rain!

Accra, Ghana

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