The Historic Obama Years


The tenure of the first African-American president in US history will come to an end in a few days. Demola Ojo, with agency reports, highlights some of the key moments

On Friday January 20, US President Barack Obama will hand over the reins of government and the keys to the White House to President-elect Donald Trump.
It is easy to underestimate the positive change Obama brought to the US with progress made on issues like the economy, affordable health care and immigration, making US a more inclusive country.

However under his leadership, the US witnessed an upheaval of racial tensions that spread throughout the country, starting from the acquittal of George Zimmerman for the shooting of an unarmed African-American teenager, Trayvon Martin. This among other similar events has prompted a “Black Lives Matter” movement.
Nationwide protests against police brutality have escalated into riots, including a shooting of five police officers at an anti-violence rally in Dallas, with nearly 90% of African Americans believing they do not have recourse to equal justice.

Eight years ago, Barack Hussein Obama made history as the first African-American President of the US. Winning an election emphatically on the twin promises of “hope and change”, he entered the White House with the US deeply embroiled in wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. On the home front, his country faced the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression of the 1930s.

2009: Peacemaker, Peace Prize
A fresh President Obama promised to close Guantánamo Bay, the contentious US facility in Cuba used to detain terror suspects, many of whom are held without charge. To this day, it remains open.
Early that same year, Obama signed $787bn stimulus bill designed to save and create thousands of jobs to boost the beleaguered US economy.
With violence escalating in Afghanistan, Obama pledged an extra 17,000 military personnel, doubling the US presence there. Days later he promised to end the war in Iraq: “Let me say this as plainly as I can: by August 31, 2010, our combat mission in Iraq will end.”

Still early in his presidency, he went to London for the G20 summit where he met the British prime minister, Gordon Brown, and other world leaders to discuss the global financial crisis. Leaving the UK, Obama visited Turkey where he proclaimed: “The United States is not, and will never be, at war with Islam.”
In July 2009, President Obama acted as peacemaker by holding a “beer summit” at the White House with a black Harvard professor arrested for alleged disorderly conduct outside his home in Massachusetts and the white police officer who took him in.
President Obama later won the 2009 Nobel peace prize. The Nobel committee said the award was given in honour of “his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples”.

2010: Obamacare, WikiLeaks
In 2010, Obama’s healthcare reform bill, also known as Obamacare, was passed by Congress. Bitterly opposed by Republicans, the policy, estimated to cost $940bn, aims to bring near-universal health coverage to Americans.
In another landmark deal, Obama and then Russian leader, Dmitry Medvedev, signed the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New Start). The treaty was to cut US and Russian strategic nuclear warheads from 2,200 to 1,550 over seven years.
As 2010 wound down, details of American diplomatic cables, some marked “secret” or “confidential”, from the WikiLeaks whistleblowing website were published by some major news outlets.

In response, the White House said, “President Obama supports responsible, accountable and open government at home and around the world, but this reckless and dangerous action runs counter to that goal.” The founder of WikiLeaks, Julian Assange, then replied that the US authorities were afraid of being held to account.
Later in the year, the Arab Spring began. Obama lauded the uprisings in the Middle East and North Africa as “a moment of opportunity” for change in the region.

2011: “Birther” Questions, Osama Termination
The “worst mistake” of his presidency is how Obama described his lack of support to Libya after Muammar Gaddafi was deposed. The UK, US and France had attacked Gaddafi’s forces in Libya to enforce a UN-mandated no-fly zone.
In the same month as Obama announced his bid for re-election, he also yielded to “birthers” and Donald Trump, who insisted he publish his birth certificate, to quash rumours that he was born outside the US.

On May 2, President Obama secured a massive PR boost after he oversaw the mission that led to Osama bin Laden, the world’s most wanted man, being killed by US Special Forces in a night-time raid of his secret compound in Pakistan. Obama and his top advisers, including Vice President Joe Biden and then Secretary of State Hilary Clinton, watched a live feed of the mission from the White House Situation Room.
Later in the year, Obama formally declared the Iraq war over and that the US would pull out. In a speech at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, the president was careful not to say the US won the nine-year conflict.

2012: Racial Tensions, Re-election
The fatal shooting of Trayvon Martin, an unarmed black teenager, in Florida by an armed neighborhood-watch volunteer prompted Obama to say: “If I had a son, he’d look like Trayvon.” The man who shot Martin, George Zimmerman, was found not guilty of second-degree murder and acquitted of manslaughter, a lesser charge.
The judgment caused an upheaval of racial tensions that spread throughout the country with some protesters claiming Martin was only stopped because of racial profiling.

In May that year, Obama became the first sitting US president to back the right of gay and lesbian couples to marry.
In September, the Democratic party convention backed Obama as nominee for the 2012 presidential race. Despite his popularity waning, he won re-election, beating Republican challenger Mitt Romney. In his victory speech, he said: “I have never been more hopeful about America. And I ask you to sustain that hope.”
In December, Obama had to wipe away his tears when addressing the nation about the 20 children and six adults who died in a mass shooting at an elementary school in Connecticut. Promising meaningful action, he said, “As a country, we have been through this too many times.”

2013: Snowden Revelations, Cuban Relations
The year started with Obama pushing through a compromise bill which prevented the US falling off the “fiscal cliff” – a set of scheduled tax rises and sharp spending cuts likely to trigger a new recession.
In March, Obama warned President Assad of Syria about the use of chemical weapons, telling the regime that there is a “red line” that must not be crossed.
Within the US itself, three people were killed after two brothers planted homemade pressure cooker bombs near the finishing line of the Boston Marathon. One of the bombers was killed when cornered by police, the other captured and put on trial, found guilty and sentenced to death in 2015.

Again, leaked documents from whistle-blower Edward Snowden about the clandestine activities of the US National Security Agency, for whom he had previously worked, were published. In what was regarded as one of the most significant leaks in American political history, Snowden had evidence that the NSA maintained a number of mass surveillance programmes over its own citizens, including accessing information stored by some of the country’s biggest technology companies.
Responding, Obama said: “You can’t have 100% security, and also then have 100% privacy and zero inconvenience.”

The year was also when Obama unveiled the country’s first-ever climate change strategy, which included cutting power plant emissions and protecting coastlines. It also witnessed the first federal government shutdown in twenty years after Congress failed to pass legislation lifting the debt ceiling.
In December, Obama shook hands with Cuban leader, Raúl Castro, at the Nelson Mandela memorial service in South Africa, proving relations between the two countries had improved. Obama’s decision to pose for a selfie with David Cameron and the Danish prime minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt later on was not particularly well received.

2014: ISIS Intervention, “Black Lives Matter”
In February 2014, the White House accused Moscow of orchestrating a “military invasion and occupation” of the Crimea peninsula in southern Ukraine, putting the Kremlin and the West on a collision course.
In June, an Isis-led insurgency prompted Obama to send approximately 275 armed personnel to Iraq to help put down possibly the worst threat to the country since US troops left in 2011. Within months, he also authorized airstrikes against Isis positions in Syria.

Protesters chanting “black lives matter” clashed with police in the St Louis suburb of Ferguson after Michael Brown, an unarmed black 18-year-old, is shot and killed by the police officer Darren Wilson.
As an Ebola virus outbreak claimed about 4,500 victims in West Africa, Obama said the US must respond much more aggressively to prepare at home and confront the outbreak abroad.
In November, the Republican Party took control of Congress following midterm elections, leaving Obama with a bigger headache when passing new laws.
Later In the month, Obama said he would use executive powers to bypass Congress’s opposition to his controversial plan to allow four million undocumented US immigrants to apply for work permits.
In December, Obama declared the “end of the combat mission in Afghanistan”.

2015: Iran Deal, Kenya Visit

President Obama was criticised in January for not attending a peace rally in Paris to remember 17 people who died in a wave of attacks that included the Charlie Hebdo offices.
In March, the New York Times revealed that Hillary Clinton, when serving as Obama’s secretary of state, broke official rules by using a personal email instead of a government one for official correspondence. Clinton would continue to be dogged by the revelation.

In July, the Obama administration succeeded in getting Iran to make drastic cuts to its nuclear programme in return for the lifting of sanctions. In the same month, Cuba and the United States restored diplomatic relations, ending over 50 years of hostility. Obama also travelled to his paternal homeland of Kenya.
In November, Obama hailed the Paris climate change agreement as “a turning point for the world”. Months earlier he had announced his clean power action plan to get the US to curb carbon pollution.

2016: Trump Transition, Russian Expulsion
At a joint press conference in April with then British Prime Minister David Cameron in London, Obama warned the British public that a vote to leave the EU could put the UK at the “back of the queue” when negotiating trade deals with the US.
The next month, Obama called for a “world without nuclear weapons” during a visit to Hiroshima.
In July, Obama gave a rousing speech at the Democratic convention in Philadelphia, willing Hillary Clinton to triumph over the “home-grown demagogue” Donald Trump.
In September, Obama suffered the humiliation of having Congress override his veto for the first time. The president tried to block a law that allowed 9/11 families to sue Saudi Arabia for its alleged role in the September 11 attacks.

In November, Donald Trump defeated Hillary Clinton in one of the biggest upsets in US political history. Trump will be sworn in as the 45th president of the United States in a few days. Both the House and Senate will remain under Republican control.
Obama, having congratulated Trump by telephone, then met the president-elect at the Oval Office to discuss the transition of power between them. Obama had previously called Trump “unfit” for high office. Later in the month, he set off on a final international trip as president, landing first in Athens.
In December, the US abstained from voting in a UN Security Council resolution that declared Israeli settlements in Palestinian territory illegal. Previously, the US could always be counted on to veto such a bill.

Obama later designated two new national monuments, protecting over 150m acres of land, including sacred Native American sites, in Nevada and Utah. During Obama’s presidency, he had federally protected over 550m acres with his executive powers.
At the end of the year, Obama placed sanctions on Russia and expelled 35 Russian diplomats from the US in retaliation for a cyber-attack against the Democratic National Conmittee during the 2016 election that according to US intelligence agencies was intended to help Trump win the election.