The call from the president of the United States for Africans to take responsibility for the continent has generated enthusiasm, but also some reservations.

Barack Obama’s speech from Accra, Ghana last Sunday continues to provoke a lot of enthusiasm and some criticism. Returning to his campaign slogan of “yes we can,” the president of the United States called on Africans to “take responsibility for their future.” The speech was warmly received by a large part of the continent’s press. However, this call to development via “good governance” leaves several African observers perplexed, including the Committee for the Abolition of Third World Debt (CATWD). It recalls that the domination of Africa wasn’t finished when the colonial administrations left: “The International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank (WB) have replaced violent and direct methods of domination with more subtle methods,” deems Eric Toussaint, president of the CATWD. “Today, the major decisions affecting the continent are made by these institutions, following the Washington consensus.”

Immense Popularity

Another key aspect of Barack Obama’s speech mentioned that it “is easy to blame these problems on or to attribute these problems to others,” a reference to the idea that colonialism was the cause for underdevelopment in Africa. “The West is not responsible for the destruction of the Zimbabwean economy over the last decade, or wars in which children are enlisted as combatants.”

Some of the remarks echoed those of a speech given by Nicholas Sarkozy at the University of Dakar which had provoked debate in 2007. This time the popularity of Barack Obama was absolutely decisive for the speech’s acceptance. “In Europe as in Sub-Saharan Africa, they are still in the spell of Obamania. And a lot of people have yet to find a critical voice against him,” Eric Toussaint assumes. According to writer Venance Konan, the speeches of the Barack Obama and Nicolas Sarkozy were “practically identical.” Konan added to his remarks in the magazine “L’Inter,” saying that “moreover, he [Sarkozy] was white. That speech wasn’t acceptable as a result.”

Lingering Interventionism

However nuanced, Barack Obama unequivocally condemned colonialism. Adding a personal dimension to his speech, Barack Obama recalled the story of his Kenyan grandfather, a cook for a family of British colonists: “he was a respected elder in his village, yet his employers called him "boy" for much of his life.”

But the president’s speech misses an important point: Western interventions have not stopped since African independence. “I agree with Obama - and I am not alone on this -that Africa’s future belongs to the Africans,” Roger Buangi Puati, a Congolese pastor in Lausanne assesses. But the hope surround Barack Obama is that he will translate his words into actions. “Like him, I hope that the continent will take responsibility for itself. I don’t believe that we have to blame the colonial past forever. But the United States -his own country- intervenes in a lot of countries by destabilizing them. A lot of Africans have wanted that to change. But a lot among them have been assassinated, Patrice Lumumba being one of them. Some decades before Obama, Lumumba wanted the Congolese to take advantage of the riches of their country. He wanted show the world what the black man could do when he works freely.”