As Bush Term Ends, The View From Africa

Morning Edition is speaking this week with thinkers and scholars overseas about the transition from the Bush presidency to the Obama administration. We turn now to Africa. Renee Montagne talks with Veronique Tadjo, an author, poet and painter from Ivory Coast. She teaches in Johannesburg, South Africa, and gives workshops across Africa.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

This week on Morning Edition, we're speaking with thinkers and scholars overseas about the transition from the Bush presidency to the Obama administration. And today we're going to hear Renee Montagne's conversation with Veronique Tadjo. She's a writer and poet from Ivory Coast. She teaches in Johannesburg, South Africa, and gives workshops across Africa. So Renee asked Tadjo how young Africans view the United States at this moment in history.

Ms. VERONIQUE TADJO (Writer; Poet; French Teacher; Johannesburg): There's no doubt that the U.S. has redeemed itself in many, many ways. Prior to Obama election, people were very skeptical about America and the possibility of change in the world, and I think there's a new hope now.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

Do your students see Barack Obama, who is the son, of course, of a Kenyan, as any kind of a revolutionary figure?

Ms. TADJO: Historically he is, absolutely. Because the problem we have on the continent is that we have a lack of self-confidence. Sometimes you will hear people thinking aloud and saying, is the black race doomed? Or, why are we still lagging behind, why can't we do it? And I think that to see one of us do it, in a sense, you know, reach that level, it can only be a positive model for us.

MONTAGNE: Much has been made of the idea of post-racial politics in the United States. Is this talk getting young Africans to think about overcoming the ethnic divisions that have proved so deadly in some of their countries?

Ms. TADJO: Yeah, absolutely. That would be the good lesson that we could take from the Obama election. If only we could think of governance in a much more positive way. There has been terrible ethnic violence. It has to be brought under control. It has to be eradicated.

MONTAGNE: Do you think, though, that realistically this election in the U.S., or the coming Obama administration, would have any real effect on that, and if so, how?

Ms. TADJO: I mean, Barack Obama is today the most powerful man in the world, you can say that. And he's a mixed-race person. And we can't even deal with our own people without immediately asking questions like, Are you a 100 percent Ivorian, or you know, show us your ID papers, who is your father, who is your mother, who is your grandfather, who is your grandmother, where do you come from? At least this is a, for me, the most important lesson, is that we have to start uniting because otherwise we won't be able to meet the challenges that are coming ahead.

MONTAGNE: But looking back, of course, we're emerging from eight years of a Bush administration and at a point at which the United States is in a financial meltdown. The U.S. has preached free markets as a model for African nations to emulate. How do those of your students see what's happening in the U.S., and how do they process it as it regards them?

Ms. TADJO: You'd be surprised that for young people it is still often the place that is first in their minds, that they look at America with a lot of desire. Now, if you're talking about the parents, they tend to think that America is not what it used to be, and that its power has gone down tremendously.

MONTAGNE: One of the greatest successes of the Bush administration has been a project to tackle AIDS, and billions have been spent funding HIV-AIDS treatment for more than two million Africans. Will that be a lasting legacy of the Bush administration in the eyes of Africans?

Ms. TADJO: The unfortunate thing is that it hasn't been very well publicized. It's only really when you start thinking about the Bush administration in a deeper way, I mean, looking at facts, that you realize that in fact a lot was done in terms of health. And it's a shame. But I think that what really did Bush a lot of damage is the war in Iraq, and whatever he was doing elsewhere, people were focused on the lack of stability that it has brought to the world as a whole. That is what, unfortunately, we will remember the Bush administration with.

MONTAGNE: Thank you very much for joining us.

Ms. TADJO: Thank you very much for having me.

MONTAGNE: Veronique Tadjo is a professor of French studies in Johannesburg, South Africa, where we reached her.

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