Articles - The Voice of Garanganze:  The Writings of Patrick Kalenga Munongo

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The biggest surprise of the USA Campaign 2008
  June 4, 2008

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 United States 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 house.

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 with.

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.

In the 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.  However, 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 America’s ostensible peacemaker status. If Israel shuns Mr. Obama for his rapprochement with the Arab states, including Iran, his policy will come to naught. Israel 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 Palestinian State 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 in Iraq, 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.

 

Criticism and 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. Obama:  Taiwan 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 Latina can run with the same level of success, either as a president, or Vice President. Numbers do not lie.

 

Still at home, in a distorted way, people may view an Obama presidency as the end of racism. To the contrary, America 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.



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