The election of Barack Obama as the 44th president of the United States of America is a clear sign that many things are indeed changing in that country and have changed already. Unthinkable some 40 years ago when the civil rights movement made their stand in the 60’s and demanded, and grudgingly and slowly got the recognition it sought for US citizens of color, the election of Obama was as much a result of the African American communities standing together as it was reaching into the voter pool of other minorities – but most important getting a substantial white vote. This is proof that the race barrier has at last been bridged and a person can be elected because of his or her qualities, personality, and capabilities and no longer being subject to the question of race, gender, or religion.
Had he remained in Kenya with his African father, instead of growing up with his white mother in Hawaii, would he have had the same opportunities and chances? Not likely. First, being of mixed race would have been a serious obstacle for getting into politics, although several non-African MPs were elected and some even appointed to cabinet positions in both the Kenyatta and the Moi eras. But his biggest obstacle would have been the tribe of his father.
With the Luo tribe largely shut out of national politics since the Kenyatta presidency, but also under the Moi government, especially after the August 1, 1982 coup attempt, he would have had a near-impossible task entering politics, unless as a regime sycophant, something almost impossible to imagine for a man of his caliber. This, too, has changed somewhat in Kenya after the December 2007 elections, but as memory serves, right at a high cost to the country considering the post-election violence from which a power-sharing deal emerged only after months of wrangles.
Yet, in America, the long in the tooth song of equal opportunities and equal rights has at last come true, and in what a way considering that Hillary Clinton was the forerunner for the Democratic Party nomination way into 2007 and Obama literally unheard of on the national scene until his convention speech in 2004, and even less known on the international scene.
Who or what prompted him to seek the highest office in America will be for him to reveal in his memoirs, but that day’s decision rocked America’s establishment, relegated Hillary to an albeit close runner up in the nomination process and pitched a ‘novelty’ against the Republicans, who had worn out the goodwill of the American electorate. A deepening economic and financial crisis and the blatant deception before going to war with Iraq had, after nearly eight years of the Bush presidency, disillusioned the voters in America and long-term allies of America around the world had been alienated in those years. Obama will be a welcome breath of fresh air and hopefully bring change to American politics, although I am under no illusion that he will be first and foremost having America’s interests at heart, but hopefully leaving enough sentiment to give Africa some more attention.
He has come a long way since the Rev. Jesse Jackson tried his luck so many years ago, and he now inherits some of the greatest challenges America had to face since the great depression and after WWII or the Cuban missile crisis. Then a young Kennedy faced down the Soviets, and his youthful enthusiasm set America on the way to the moon, while sending the Peace Corps across the developing world to make friends for America. Maybe President-elect Obama can rekindle that “Camelot” spirit, which then carried right through America and across the world.
Time will tell, but for now he has our attention and our best wishes to do the right things, for America, for Africa, and for the rest of the world.