The rise of Barack Obama on the
American political scene is nothing short of amazing. In a
few months, Mr. Obama, who is a Junior Senator from
Illinois, may be the first black president the
will ever have, not to mention that there has never been a
person of color elected to the presidency. It was not until
the 2004 Democratic Convention in Boston that people came to
know who he was, including this author. As a political
junkie, I was watching the convention closely, trying to
learn the process, to witness the melodramatic unfolding of
John Kerry’s bid to an almost destined presidency. But
politics is full of surprises, and at that convention, Mr.
Obama was it. Since then, he has gone on to win most
primaries, and almost assuredly position himself to be the
Democratic nominee in a strongly contested campaign against
Senator Hillary Clinton.
The question that
most people have is, “can Mr. Obama win, and can he lead the
Democratic Party to victory?” In my view the answer is
mixed. Sure he can do both, as he has shown thus far in the
primaries. But, can he be the president he has said he would
be? Only time will tell. For now, he has the backing of his
supporters in the
U.S., and abroad.
In Africa, Mr. Obama has a lot of people
who are backing him in great part because he is the
descendant of an African immigrant running for the
presidency of the United States.
Previous presidential candidates like Jesse Jackson, and to
a lesser degree, Al Sharpton, were in their own right,
popular and admired in Africa.
However, in the case of Mr. Obama, the African people see
that there is a real chance that he might win, and they love
the fact that his father is from Kenya.
This, they hope, will be the harbinger of a true African
renaissance, which Thabo Mbeki and others had previously
spoken of. His presidency, as most Africans hope, will be
one that has all the ingredients to transform Africa, and the way things are done on the continent. If
Mr. Obama pursues and engages African leaders in the
application of genuine democratization backed by actions and
accountability, fair trade, and transparent leadership, then
we may be witnesses to the rebirth of Africa.
As much as Mr. Obama enjoys the support
of Africans, it must be elucidated that the people of
Africa are cognizant of the fact that American
Presidents are beholden to special interests, who greatly
influence American domestic and foreign policy. Africans
view America through a bifocal lens. On
the one hand, they have great admiration for this behemoth,
and on the other hand, they resent
America’s negative meddling
in their affairs. On so many issues facing Africans, there
is a consensus that America
can do more, especially in relations to African wars,
Darfur, among others. I personally would like to
see African leaders handle their own problems. The fact is
that they are more likely to heed America’s advice;
especially given all the different ‘carrots and sticks’
America has at its disposal. No one can discount the many
positive things that America has done on the Continent of
Africa: the fight against infectious diseases, to cite only
one recent example. However, most Africans wish America used its power and influence
for good, in all areas of their lives. They relish the idea
of an Obama presidency; however, they are cautiously
optimistic that things might change with him in the white
There is great honor and distinction in
being first; however there is added scrutiny, coupled with
high expectations, which Mr. Obama will have to contend
Countries in the Western hemisphere,
Latin and South America especially, hope too that an Obama
presidency might bring a thawing in the relationships
between the United States
and their countries. In many of the recent elections in
South America, the left won decisively. These
developments must have augured negatively for the current
White House. Hugo Chavez who is at the head of the leftist
rise is and has been a thorn in the side of the Bush
Administration. His country exports oil to the U.S., yet Mr. Chavez is not fond of
American influence in the region.
To make matters more complicated, American thirst for
oil will not change with Mr. Obama’s presidency, and Mr.
Chavez, as well as the whole world knows it. As long as the
president of Venezuela
is not pliant to
Washington’s whims, he will be
demonized. It must be added that his anti American rhetoric
has not helped improve relationships between the two
governments either. American
policy, and the criticism it inspires, is not dependent on
one individual. If Mr. Obama is at the helm of the United States government, the blame and the
calumny will be placed on him, because American policy
towards Latin America will remain pretty much the same. Cuban
Americans, who have enjoyed their political influence in Florida elections, will not accept a rapid
normalization of relations with Raul Castro, even if he has
loosened the iron fist with which his brother Fidel ruled.
If Mr. Obama appears to be too conciliatory, the democrats
might pay for it in future Florida elections; a dilemma he will face
with most well publicized global crises.
Middle East, especially in the Arab world, Mr.
Obama is viewed as someone who can become an impartial
broker; a true agent of change and peace.
his purported willingness to hold talks with governments
that have heretofore been considered “rogue” or in the “axis
of evil” have caused
consternation in some circles. Mr.
Obama runs the risk of alienating
Israel, America’s strongest ally in the region - an
unthinkable finish, given
peacemaker status. If Israel
shuns Mr. Obama for his rapprochement with the Arab states,
his policy will come to naught.
and her friends in the highest spheres of American politics,
including party donors, will begin to distance themselves
from Mr. Obama, including the Democratic Party. And that
would be unacceptable, even to people who may have voted for
him. It would be anathema. So, how can the presidency of
Barack Obama differ from those of his predecessor? Not by
much. American Policy will remain the same, with some small
variations, mostly in style. Everything else will remain the
same, including the Middle East Policy. The only thing that
can work to Mr. Obama’s advantage is that he receives some
Baraka (blessings in Swahili) from God. If the other global
players are on the same wavelength as he is, including
Israel, then, peace in the
Middle East and the creation of a
can become a reality. Otherwise, the world will be back to
square one, with the same ole American Policy, which has
been to stall the creation of a Palestinian state, or to
avert it altogether.
The price of oil
keeps creeping up; global economic tensions are on the rise,
while there are hunger protests and riots in the world. What
can Mr. Obama do to stave off this simmering global
discontent? How can he keep America safe from terrorists, who do
not discern him from his predecessors? In their eyes, Mr.
Obama is still an American president, no matter what color
he is, or what good intentions he might have. Given the
realities of the Middle East, will Mr. Obama carry out his
campaign promise to pull out the American troops from Iraq? This is a thorny issue, given
America’s interests not only
but in the region as well. In fairness to Mr. Obama, he has
intimated that he would pull out the troops in a gradual
fashion. If he were to carry out his campaign promise, and
in the process, jeopardize the oil interests that America has in Iraq, he would be viewed as
inexperienced, ill-advised, and would be blamed for whatever
possible oil crisis that may ensue. Public opinion might
turn against him, and his popularity might wane; something
that could cost him his reelection prospects. Both George W.
Bush and John McCain have said that it would be in America’s interests to keep the
troops in the region for as long as it is necessary.
disapproval will rain on him if he veers too far away from
official American policy. There is a long list of hot
regions that may potentially prove to be problematic for Mr.
and the People’s Republic of China, India and Kashmir,
Pakistan and Musharraf, Myanmar and its unbending junta,
Somalia and its internal crises, Morocco and Western Sahara,
Zimbabwe and its teetering democracy, post Putin Russia,
terrorism, nuclear proliferation, and so on and forth.
Back in the
U.S., many minority groups
have expectations that one of them is finally about to break
the tallest of all glass ceilings. His victory will be a
sign that they too and their children can dream of becoming
president some day. Latinos are poised to be next in line,
given their rising demographic. Bill Richardson may not have
been able to galvanize the Latino vote, but others may not
be so unlucky. In a few years time, Latinos may actually
have better chances, arithmetically speaking, than Mr. Obama
has had with them, to sway the outcome of future elections.
African Americans alone represent 13% of the Population;
while Latinos are the largest minority group in the nation,
just shy of 15% of the population, and rising. Everybody is
watching how Mr. Obama will fare. If he wins, there will be
many textbooks reedited to include this most amazing
historical breakthrough. His victory will mean that white America predominantly voted for him,
perhaps with limited Latino support. Therefore, it is only a
matter of time, until a Latino or a
can run with the same level of success, either as a
president, or Vice President. Numbers do not lie.
at home, in a distorted way, people may view an Obama
presidency as the end of racism. To the contrary,
may actually experience some resurgence of it. For more than
200 years, the United States
has been led by White Anglo Saxon men. So, to have an
African American in the White House will be unsettling for
some; at least in the initial months or years, or maybe even
for Mr. Obama’s terms in office, should he become president.
On the other hand, it will be a momentous celebratory
milestone for many. In spite of all the challenges that lie
ahead, Mr. Obama has the unique chance to become a change
agent. He has the potential to change the way people think
about themselves, about race, their country, and the U.S. policies on war and poverty; a
tall order that can be accomplished gradually. Mr. Obama’s
openness towards the rest of the world offers Americans an
opportunity to finally improve the image of their country
that has become increasingly unpopular.
No matter what happens between now
and November, Mr. Obama has done more good to American
democracy than he could have imagined. Win or lose, Mr.
Obama has inspired countless of people, from all walks of
life, into thinking that they too can dream big and hope for
a better tomorrow. And that is fine by me.