When Barack Obama won the US election in 2008, there was hope that his foreign policy would boost economic opportunities, not least for Africa, where he traces his Kenyan roots. Four years later, many have expressed disappointment in the president. Boniface Mwangi is one such person. And yet, as the award-winning Kenyan photographer said when speaking to RNW via Skype on Election Day, Obama now has a second chance to make it right.
By Cíntia Taylor, Hilversum
At Mwangi’s office in Nairobi, among the photos of historical activists, such as Malcolm X, Che Guevara and Martin Luther King, is a life-size cardboard image of Obama. “He’s an inspiration to anyone out there that you can achieve what you want in life,” Mwangi says.
In 2008, his admiration for Obama proved compelling enough to take out a bank loan so he could travel to the US and witness election euphoria first hand. Today the 29 year old still has three months' worth of loans to pay off, but he believes the debt was worth incurring. “I had never seen anything like it,” he says about his visit Stateside.
“Young people were so excited about politics, even beyond America. Everyone in Kenya was talking about Obama, kids were being born called Obama, public transport was being called Obama. Everything was just Obama,” he recalls. “It was Obamamania across the world. And I thought it was good for me to see history in the making.”
Although Mwangi says George W. Bush has so far done more for Africa than Obama, he remains adamant that the president of Kenyan descent is the right man for the job because, more than any other US leader, he understands the continent’s needs.
“Obama has African heritage, has come to Africa, has African relatives,” he says. “He may be the American President, but what America does affects Africa.”
Still, Mwangi wonders what has happened to the changes pledged four years ago.
“Obama is afraid of how he’ll be judged, how he’ll come out. So he’s not truly himself,” the photographer offers as a possible explanation for unfulfilled promises.
Yet, Mwangi believes that now that the president has dealt with complex national issues, such as the American healthcare system, this time he’ll hit the ground running. And this time perhaps he won’t forget about the promises he made to the world – Kenya included.