People like you are needed on this continent to take us to where we should be. Keep it up man!
The election of Barack Obama as the President of the United States has had a profound impact on the world. People of all ages and nationalities are moved and inspired in ways that we have not seen before. In many ways, our collective horizon has been expanded and we feel like we are stepping into a new era of promises and possibilities.
In an effort to fully appreciate the significance of this moment in history and extract the lessons that we can learn from it, we asked the following members of Africa Unbound to share their thoughts with us.
|Ibrahima Cheikh Diong (ICD)
Republic of Senegal
| Samuel Carnegie (SC)Telecommunications Engineer
| Preston Tulay (PT)
University of Maryland University College
Silver Spring, Maryland
|Mussie Hailu (MH)
International Advocate and Activist for Culture of Peace and Reconciliation
Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
| Wanjiku Gachugi (WG)
| Chris Smythe-Macaulay (CSM)
| Candice Francis (CF)
Lecturer and Communications Consultant
RK: What does Obama’s victory mean to you?
ICD: It means a restoration of a sense of justice and pride for the black race as it is remarkable that a black man can lead a country where, less than a century ago, black people were slaves.
SC: As a man of African descent, Barrack Obama's victory means that none of us have excuses for mediocrity any more. He didn't play the blame game - he simply used strategy, coalition and a positive message of universal hope. His legacy is actually the same as that of others who made a difference: the ability to give expression to and to coalesce around an idea whose time has come.
MH: The election of Barack Obama brings hope for the return of diplomacy and alternative ways of creating a more cooperative world than what we have seen in recent years. In order to reach peaceful coexistence, it is important for us to be willing to sit down at the table together - regardless of our beliefs. I believe President-Elect Obama will bring that willingness to engage in peacemaking which is desperately needed across the world. Like it or not, the world looks to the United States for leadership. I truly hope and believe that when the U.S. seeks alternative ways of restoring peace in the world, and actually models a better way, the rest of the world will follow suit.
WG: Obama's victory is an opportunity for me to experience history and learn from it. I am reminded of Lucius Septimus Severus, a Roman Emperor of African descent. As an African, I question the African population’s response to Barack Obama's election. In this country there have been several milestones that provided Black people an opportunity to progress; examples include the emancipation proclamation that 'freed' enslaved Africans, Black reconstruction that allowed the largest number of Black Senators in the history of this country, and even the civil rights movement which allowed for equal facilities. While these, and many others, allowed Africans once enslaved, and those who would later immigrate here, an opportunity at the rights afforded by the constitution, it has not guaranteed the just treatment of Black people. The passage of the Black codes, Jim Crow and today's many forms of institutional racism show that people of African descent have not arrived at total liberation. Barack Obama is not our arrival, he is the president of the United States and, like Lucius Septimus Severus, he will carry forward the policies of the United States, not change the status (including racism) of this country's wrongs.
CSM: Obama’s victory is more than a victory for one man. It is a victory for the United States of America and for the entire human family. This represents a major shift in world consciousness and really has the potential to change the balance of power and lead to a more just and stable world. Never before have I witnessed so many people across the planet support and root for one world leader. This is certainly a major game changer and has opened a whole new realm of possibilities. We as a planet have never been here before and I can only imagine what the effects will be for our generation and the generations to come. It shows that true power really lies in the hands and will of the people. We can change the world. We can make a major difference, but we need to have a clear vision, be inspired and work fervently to bring this vision into fruition. It really is up to us. Obama’s victory is the loudest and most direct call to action for our entire planet.
CF: The election of Barack Hussein Obama as the 44th President of the United States is nothing short of phenomenal. Who among us was really prepared to see this moment in our collective lifetimes and hear these words of incredulity become cliché? Few, if any.
As I witness the Inauguration, I will pay silent tribute to all those who made this moment possible. Not just the big names – Marcus Garvey, Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela, Kwame Nkrumah, Malcolm X, Shirley Chisholm, Fannie Lou Hamer, Sojourner Truth, Harriet Tubman, etc. - but our parents, our grandparents and all the ancestors who withstood so much so that we could, one day, stand tall in all of our beauty and dignity. It saddens me to know that a lot of blood was shed to get us to this point but it enlivens me to know that it was not in vain.
The meaning of this election is multi-layered. It speaks to the power of thought and determination, despite all appearances. It speaks to the inherent goodness in people to reject fear and embrace hope. It speaks to a transformation from limitation to possibility. Most important, it speaks to the vision Obama holds for a better country and a better world.
Obama’s victory means that I, too, can transcend barriers. It means that perhaps my twenty-three year-old African-American son can assume his rightful place as a citizen of the world instead of navigating this nation as if he were an endangered species confined to a protected habitat lest the predators have their way with him.
RK: Which qualities of leadership do you admire in Obama and why?
ICD: The way he kept his cool under pressure and tension during the debates showed his ability to perform and excel under pressure.
SC: I like Obama's quality of “level-headedness". It is so easy to attack your opponents and detractors, but Obama chose the high road of respect for those who are different, coupled with sharing his unique views on issues. This quality alone will keep us out of useless and costly wars while engaging opponents in constructive dialogue. I also like his self confidence which isn't intimidated by difference of opinion. This will guarantee that he will look for new ideas instead of rubber-stamping yes-men.
PT: Of all Obama’s leadership and human qualities, I admire his ability to listen the most. A listening ear commands a calm heart beat, a focused mind, honest eye contact, and a mouth slow to speak.
MH: A good leader is willing to continually seek new information to inform his/her decisions and has a view of leadership that is firm yet flexible. This is a quality many people misunderstand. Decisiveness does not mean never changing your mind. It means being willing to continue to weigh the information necessary to do what is right given the circumstances, and circumstances change. Decisions must also change from time to time. President-Elect Obama understands this.
CSM: Three qualities stood out the most for me: Authenticity, Equanimity and Empathy. Authenticity - the main quality I recognize in Obama that allows him to connect so well with so many people. Equanimity – authenticity coupled with his equanimity allowed him to rise above the fray and get his message across clearly. His ability to respond appropriately after careful thought as opposed to reacting emotionally is a sign of great confidence and strength - necessary requirements for any leader. Empathy, the subtlest of the three and the foundation for all, means to sincerely seek to put yourself in others' shoes and really hear what they are saying, where they are coming from, and being able to respond from that space. This is a quality and talent that leads to better connection and evenness in dialogue, making for an effective and strong negotiator, diplomat, statesman, president and successful world leader.
CF: Barack Obama’s speech at the Democratic Convention in 2004 mesmerized many of us because he broke with tradition and spoke from his heart. He addressed themes that mattered and demonstrated an authenticity rarely seen in politicians. He was confident, bold and inclusive. He left us feeling like he was a compadre, a friend, a comrade, someone we could converse with knowing instinctively that he would understand our aspirations, the impediments to our individual and collective growth, and our need to be led into the light instead of the darkness.
Four years later, the Presidential campaign gave us a more seasoned Barack. During this grueling period we witnessed the maturation of his leadership. He consistently demonstrated his innate goodness, wisdom, uncanny smarts, noble intentions, unflinching determination, unbelievable organizing and managerial skills and a vision for foreign and domestic policy that allows for progress and opportunity rather than skepticism and suspicion.
RK: What are the lessons to be learned for Africans from this experience in U.S. history?
SC: I think there are several lessons that Africans can learn. Mainly, though, is the lesson of inclusiveness and the fact that the talent for change isn't a tribal phenomenon. Moving beyond differences that are calculated to divide us from each other is the most progressive way out of traditional shackles. Politics at best is a tool - not a religion of rightness and wrongness. Difference must be a way of life instead of an excuse for war - otherwise progressive change will never happen. Another lesson is the power of connectedness. A powerful idea doesn't need the tradition of powerful political machines to thrive. The pennies of the people connected by an idea whose time has come are more powerful than a few calculating billionaires bent on world domination. Obama outspent a well oiled machine by simply appealing to the power of penury and organizing for change on the Internet. The pawns decided to play a different role than merely sacrificing for the powerful. It is also their jobs, their families and their world that is at stake.
PT: Africans must use the U.S. as a model for its acceptance of diversity in its national-political structures that are continually unifying in the quest for progress, civility, respect for humanity and the rule of law, and for political justice and equality for all. Each African country is blessed with diversity in its people, languages, cultures and customs. With diversity comes varying ingenuity for progress. African nations, however, have used this diversity as a perpetual curse to disrupt progress and development.
MH: The important lesson for all of us - whether Africans or not - is that anyone can achieve what he or she sets out to do, even in the face of opposition. Mr. Obama was not the most experienced, most senior or known politician in the United States when he set out to become president. However, he put together a strong and effective organization, and remained true to his convictions and vision despite popularity polls. He proved to the people that he was the "real thing" - someone who actually believed and lived his values. People can see through what is not true and will eventually turn against it.
Our lesson is that being the best we can be, being truly committed to principles which can be lived and shared by others, can make a difference in one's ability to mobilize people to do what is important - to change and to grow. Knowing one's values and living them with a commitment for the greater good is the mark of a true leader.
CSM: I think as Africans we can now recognize that, with a clear vision, fervency, pragmatism and deliberate and guided action, anything is possible. I think the U.S. has come a long way in just 40 years. We need to recognize that the strength of America is in its diversity and this is also the case with the African continent. I think we need to realize that now is the time to heed the call to action. I think it’s time we as Africans realize that “Yes WE Can”. It’s a changing world and we have to take full responsibility for our people and our future. America didn’t happen overnight and it certainly didn’t happen without sacrifice and a lot of hard work. President Barack Hussein Obama has shown us that a person of African lineage, a person born of an African father, can hold the most powerful position and seat in the world. This is Africa’s legacy as well as America's. Our lesson is already learned. It is now up to us as Africans to heed this clear call to action.
CF: Perhaps a lesson to be learned, not just in Africa but also throughout the world, is the power of an evolved consciousness. Obama avoided the pitfalls that would weaken his resolve to be a better candidate. His campaign strategy and tactics were always above the fray. He demonstrated how to win by building something up instead of tearing it down. He kept his ego in check by reminding us that his campaign was “our” campaign - his victory, “our” victory. He avoided derision and personal attacks against his opponents. He stuck to facts and spared us from fear mongering, stereotyping and hyperbole. He spoke in simple terms but he trusted that voters could grasp complex concepts.
Soon after Obama announced his bid for President, the media was fascinated with his confidence. “But you’re black!” “Do you really think you can win?” His reply was always an unequivocal “Yes”. This clarity signaled a resolve on his part not to let the vestiges of racism thwart his mission, and it also demonstrated a sense of Obama’s racial pride – his claim to his African heritage.