Wednesday, 5 November 2008

Obama's Triumph: Lessons for Africa and Beyond

Barack Obama's election as the next president of the United States of America is historic in many ways and for many reasons. The celebrations that erupted across America and across the world tell a story of a lifetime. I have been blessed in my lifetime to have seen one other moment like this. Another momentous occassion marked by an equally elegant and inspiring speech. This was on the 10th of May 1994 when Nelson Mandela was inaugrated as the first black president of South Africa. Then, as today, there were global celebrations; the world was filled with hope and the human spirit had triumped again. On that historic day, Mandela uttered many immortal words but one of the most powerful statements for me was the following: "Never, never again will this beautiful land experience the oppression of one by another." While Mandela did, and continues to do what he can to make that statement come true, South Africa still faces many challenges. What is the relevance of this to Obama's election, one might ask? The relevance is that as we celebrate another first for African, it must not be lost to us that a historic moment is a moment for education and reeducation. There are many critical lessons from Obama's life history and his electoral triumph. Some refelections on lessons for me for Africa and beyond.

Warped priorities

Africans, whatever their origin, should be proud and should celebrate this moment in history. Many continue to endure racial hatred not just in the US but in Europe, in Asia and elsewhere. Many remain scarred by the legacy of colonialism, slavery and apartheid. But in celebrating, we should not miss an important lesson from Obama's journey. Obama is gifted in many ways. His intellect, calmness, oratorical skills and other gifts have been well analysed in the last two years . But even for someone so gifted, he had to work so hard to achieve what he achieved. And even after this momentous victory, tomorrow morning he will be taking his children to school and starting work straightaway. He did not declare a holiday for himself or his family. He knows that there is alot of work ahead and celebration should not make him lose sight of this. Compare that to the reaction in Kenya. President Kibaki, on the utterly flimsy grounds, declared a national holiday. In a country which had two public holidays in October (Moi and Kenyatta days) and a litany of other holidays in the year; for a country which lost the first quarter of the year in bloodshed and economic suffering; for a country that has 42 ministers to pay how on earth do you celebrate the life of Obama by going on holiday?. The lesson for Kibaki should have been why hard work is important why Kenyans should have gone to work and rededicated themselves to nation building. There is nothing that demonstrates better why African countries like Kenya might have difficulties uplifting their people! Priorities can not be so warped.

Shaking off the shackles of history through self-belief

There are some who says Obama's ancestors were not slaves so he is not truly African American. To that I say complete nonsense. Obama's ancestors were colonised, an equally brutal form of oppression. What is most important, however, is what we can learn from Obama's attitude towards history. While he has no illusions about racism and the scars of slavery, he believed in himself, celebrated the opportunities he was afforded and took charge of his destiny. For Africa, especially African leaders, it is time to change their attitude towards the colonial history. Always focusing on colonial masters et al obscures the opportunities we have and the differnce we can make.

Trumpeting "Experience" to cover up for quackery

The McCain campaign, and before that Hillary Clinton's campaign, tried and failed to bring down Obama by claiming he had no experience. Even Sarah Pallin dared claim she would lead better. Obama triumphed because he was willing to learn, he chose his staff from the young and the old, based on their knowledge and expertise, to be in his team. What we can learn from Obama is that honest experience is an asset but age alone does not bestow wisdom or indeed useful experience. McCain in his concession speech admitted as much. Africa's leadership in government and beyond continues to be peopled by individuals who use age as equal to experience. This denies many millions the oportunity to make a difference in government, business and elsewhere. But the phenonmenon is more widespread. Developing country organisations such as South Centre have been turned into retirement homes. Experience is trumpeted to cover up for quackery.

As Obama said in his acceptance speech there is new energy to harness. It is in the young and dynamic. Countries such as Rwanda which have understood this are starting to reap handomely.

In praise of women

There were many people in Barack Obama's life that supported him and inspired him. But five women seem to stand tall among them. These are his mother and his grandmother (may God bless their souls), Michelle Obama and his two daughters. You cant help but see in this victory women allover.....The great thing about Obama is he never forgot this. For Africa and many other places in the world the lesson is to cherish and celebrate women in our communities. The story of Hadijatou ( which has been in the new recently reminds us that there are far too many women still suffering through the lack of opportunity, oppression and discrimination.

When you dare to hope you must be prepared to act

Obama dared to hope and deliberately acted on his hopes. It is this that has made a difference. This teaches us that hope alone will not change our fortunes. While it is true that Obama has inspired hope for millions, if not billions, the lesson we should learn from his story is that he hoped and acted. The problem for Africa and many others might be that we just to hope for a better world without acting to create a better world.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Apt! You have timely reminded me of David Cook's coronation song, " Time of My Life". Ann Nixon Cooper couldn't have asked for more either. What Martin Luther King foresaw 40 years ago, came true. We must therefore not be afraid of dreaming. We must dare to dream. We must realize that we must follow our dreams with actions, and believe in ourselves and our principles. And who said leadrship is a preserve only for the old?