People like you are needed on this continent to take us to where we should be. Keep it up man!
There comes a time when a confluence of factors unleashes or propels profound social forces that trigger tremendous changes in society. The international community is at such a juncture. Many view Barack Obama’s election to the presidency of the United States as a fundamental break with the past. His background, name, and even hue, made him a most unlikely victor, and yet he convincingly, if not overwhelming, triumphed over these odds.
Part of the reason for his success was the message that he personified. He represented change at a time when many were sick and tired of the status quo that had abused and lied to them, and which became manifestly unstable.
Obama is the man of the moment and yet the moment was long in the making. Obama’s success is a culmination of years of struggle, hope, and organization, and a belief in the old adage "where there is a will, there is a way".
If ever there is a place that appreciates the need for struggle to realize things unseen and hoped for, it is Africa. Against immense odds, African peoples have survived and lived to hope. Little wonder Obama’s success has resonated highly with them. In a broad sense, Obama’s success has made the impossible suddenly seem attainable.
More importantly, Obama’s message and victory have touched that important yet marginalized segment of African society, the youth. No age group is as excited about possibilities as African youth and none is expected to work harder to realize the hope for change from which they stand to benefit most. Obama’s victory helped release the energy of optimism that put the spring in their step. However, optimism on its own may achieve very little, though without it, nothing can be achieved.
Beyond the justified good feelings due to Obama’s victory, however, real work has to be done to assimilate the lessons learned and to apply them to Africa. Now that African youth are optimistic, they can take it a step further and search for methods of bringing about change through movements that mobilize, speak and act on behalf of ordinary people. If they previously doubted the efficacy of such methods and long-term implications, they have now witnessed successful organization of a large and complex society around simple yet good ideas. From the story of the civil rights struggle in the United States, they can glean the important lesson that a journey of a thousand miles begins with that first step, and every step counts.
True, Africa is different from the United States. Africa has as many countries as there are states in America, if not more. A majority of Africa’s countries did not come about organically, rather they were created for reasons that had nothing to do with their internal cohesion. Nonetheless, a bad beginning does not necessarily lead to a bad outcome; however inauspicious the origins of some modern African states, it has been proven that it is entirely possible to weave them into purpose driven wholes. The late Julius Nyerere proved it with Tanzania, where he created a nation out of a mosaic of groups. Nyerere, by the way, was fairly youthful when he did this.
Social change does not have to begin on a grand scale. Small community-centered initiatives to educate and sensitize people about the bonds that connect them to neighbors who speak a different language and have different cultural practices is a good beginning. It is then possible to draw out more similarities and eventually focus on common problems. From there it is a short step to a shared vision of a better tomorrow. As always, reactionary forces will be opposed to the unsettling of the status quo because they benefit from it even when the majority does not; they will not let go easily. This is the story of many African societies held ransom by reactionary elements.
Africans must continue to struggle, hope, believe and organize themselves better. Struggle against the forces shackling African people to poverty and despair is a necessary condition for liberty. Hope is knowing that, even when the odds are heavily stacked in favor of those who oppose change, they cannot prevail forever. Belief that the winds of change and history are in the sails of youth must be held strongly. And last but not least, organization and mobilization of people and resources must take place to effect desired change. It can and will be done. This is my belief.
Dr. John Mulaa is a policy analyst and development communication practitioner. Currently, he is a consultant at the World Bank and also a columnist for the Nairobi based regional newspaper, the East African Standard.