Tuesday, November 11, 2008

The Obama Win: Can Africa Learn Anything

By: ralph geeplay

Barack Obama

The epic American presidential election cycle just ended, was one the longest in campaign history, and should make Guinness Book of world records. The tenacity and fierceness with which the hotly contested American presidency was waged would certainly put roman gladiators to shame. But it was a beautiful spectacle. Yes it was.

Before the world’s naked eyes once again the greatness of America shone like a beacon. The lows and blows to which neo-conservatism and the Bush administration sunk United States prestige and soft power in world affairs during his eight years in office can now hoped to be redeemable under a president elect who himself admits ‘I was not the likeliest candidate for this office.” His message of change and hope and his ‘improbable American journey,’ must inspired not just Americans, but Africans who see Obama as their own through his direct paternal and fraternal link to the continent, something many African Americans like Obama lacked and cannot say. But what can Africa learn from the 'improbable' Obama win?

While little progress has been made in a post 1960 independent Africa, a spade must be call a spade and one must say the continent largely is still a stagnant overburden place where a message of change is even truer than anytime since Western European colonialists lost political authority about 50 years ago to a bunch of African leaders whose passion for greed, power, sectarianism and tribalism exceeds the requisite norms necessary to build any sustainable functioning democracy anywhere, least of all Africa.

Today Africa wallows in debt, poverty, wars and despotism. If change is any mantra glean from Obama’s successful presidential run, I see no reason why some leaders on the African continent have been in power for up to forty years, and yet still bidding again and again to lead.

A snap shot of African dictators

Take a look: Gabon's 73 years old Oman Bongo who is planning another bid at his country presidency in 2012, and Libya Muammar Kaddafi shares the record for being in power since 1969; 40 years apiece in power!

Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak 26 years, Angola’s Eduardo dos Santo, and Congo Republic Denis Saussou Nguesso 30 years apiece.

Western Africa Guinea’s sick chain smoking president Lassana Conte 25 years. Even shameful is Meles Zenawi almost two decades in power while his country host the African Union headquarters. The last elections he held were marred by political violence while throng of opposition leaders and students went to jail for demanding a fairer outcome of poll results.

A leader like Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe is a poster child or godfather of what is wrong with the continent, but look deeper and you will see a carcass that runs a belt around the hopes and aspirations of the African people.

No wonder why critics lambaste the west and so-called rights defenders for double standards, because not until a leader like Mugabe reaches the peak of brutality and senile stupidity do you hear their voices loudly.

No functioning democracy succeed where the will of an entire people are constantly subjected to the whims of men whose agenda is a selfish individualism clothe in graft, politically motivated violence, and old ideas. Little kids and old grey-haired men who danced barefooted to the Obama victory across Africa, if anything want change too. 'A change they too can believe in' if we must borrow a catch phrase here.

To rise, Africa must tap its best talent, and that means giving way to a new era where ideas and debates rule, rather than guns and bullying old men still steep in the ways of the colonial masters they once detested!

Towards this junction, it is safe to say the rise of Barack Obama was an American coup. From Bangalore to Banjul and from Liberia to Lithuania ordinary citizens of all stripes rejoiced and sang for America.

The White House seat of the presidency

Part of the reason Americans have seen this high interest in Mr. Obama's election from the world at large is not because he is just black, but because his victory is two folds: first, if this is not the ultimate fulfillment of the 'American Dream' that the founding document promised its citizens when it speaks of the ‘inalienable rights’ of all regardless of creed, even as some were still slaves and servants while it's founding fathers blindly bluffed the ink, in complete disregard and irony to the true meaning of what was being written at the time, then tell me what is!?

Second, if Mr. Obama's election is not a true fullfillment of the ideals that define the United States when Rev. King spoke to his countrymen about the "content of character," and not merely skin color, still in allusion to the noble dogma that informs American democracy, then tell me what's more? Additionally, as a minority and black what more could a mature democracy that is tolerant and vibrant offer?

Wasn't it glaring after so long a vetting process that the for the contested seat, that minority was the brightest, the best and the most qualify for the office? And here, in this American elections all countries and men would witness the true meaning of participatory democracy with poignant questions for us all: Will we in our lifetime ever see a British Indian or a color of British origin as Prime Minister of a royal England?

The civil rights giant M.L. King jr.

Will South Africa ever elect a white or color president in a majority black populated nation who represents the aspirations of all South Africans, will the Tutsi and Hutus ever put their political differences aside and build a sustainable democracy across the great lakes region? And will the greater middle eastern region ever see peace in our time? Will the minorities and the weak be protected in all countries that seek democratic ideals the world over?

Far fetched as these propositions might sound, who would have taught when Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat few years ago and when Lyndon Banes Johnson signed the civil rights act did it entered the collective imagination of anyone, just Anyone that we would see this day. No one, except those who dare to dream like M.L. King Jr., hope is always an intractable projection of the human character, it was a campaign slogan he wore as a garment and which King adequately summed up: that " We must accept finite disappointment but not infinite hope!" The journey was long and torny but it's not yet over, it is just the begining.

If Obama is a brilliant orator, he is an even brilliant writer. In his second memoir “The Audacity of Hope,” he summons the treatise and the foundation of the great republican ideals that gave birth to modern America.

Speaking of the Declaration of Independence he says “Not every American may be able to recite them; few if asked could traced the genesis…behind the declaration, that we are born into this world that we are born free, all of us, that each of us arrives with a bundle of rights that can’t be taken away by any person or any state without just cause; that through our own agency we can, and must, make our lives what we will…” still he continues, “It orient us, sets our course each and every day…it is an idea that some portion of the world still rejects...and for which an even larger portion of humanity finds scant evidence in their daily lives.”

Powerful words indeed from a man who would one day be elected the first black president of a great nation! Just as the world watches this epochal moment in history, so must it learn from the great story that has been Obama and America‘s!