"Village beats the drums for returning son."
This Kenyan newspaper headline greeted Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., as he arrived, rock-star-like, in that country. Obama, whose father was Kenyan, waved at thousands who stood in line in Nairobi to cheer him on. One Kenyan, after shaking Obama's hand, said, "He's our lion." Another said, "He will help us." After all, how often does the son of a Kenyan get elected to the U.S. Senate?
Obama's father, also named Barack Obama, once herded goats in Kenya. He won a scholarship to a Hawaiian university, where he met and married Obama's mother, a white woman from Kansas. Obama and his father had a difficult relationship, and barely knew each other. His parents separated soon after marriage, and Obama's father returned to Kenya, working as a government economist until his death in 1982.
On his four-nation tour, Sen. Obama -- to highlight the tragedy of AIDS in Africa -- planned to take an AIDS test. He criticized Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe, whose forced land redistribution caused that nation to plummet into poverty and starvation. Obama even properly attacked Kenyan corruption. "If the people cannot trust their government," said Obama, "to do the job for which it exists -- to protect them and promote their common welfare -- then all else is lost. That is why the struggle of corruption is one of the great struggles of our time."
But a reporter raised an issue about which Obama possesses more influence -- dealing with American protectionism that hurts Kenyan farmers. Why, asked the reporter, do Americans retain farm subsidies and tariffs that prevent Kenyan farmers from competing in the world's biggest market?
Obama's response? He talked about the soybean farmers in Illinois, and said, "It's important to me to be sure I'm looking out for their interests. It's part of my job." Absolutely incredible.
For, in July, the European Union and five nations, including the United States and Japan, met in Geneva, Switzerland, to discuss the elimination of farm subsidies and agricultural tariffs. After all, in 2002, the World Bank estimated that African exports would increase by almost $2.5 billion if the U.S., Europe, Japan and Canada eliminated their agricultural tariffs. This is especially true as to peanuts and tobacco. African farmers run up against farmers in wealthy nations whose laws ensure their success at the expense of Third World farmers.
What should Obama have said? "You're right. America is a rich nation. You are a poor one. Poor nations generally turn into rich ones by starting out with agriculture. So when I get back to Washington, I'm going to tell my colleagues about the devastating real-world effect American protectionism has on poor nations."