Historic result

2008-11-06 00:00

Barack Obama has won the presidential election in the United States by a handsome margin. He was the only African-American in the Senate; now he is the country’s president. A major paradigm shift has taken place in U.S. politics and the world at large is embracing it with optimism and hope. Yet it is also clear that Obama won the election not primarily as a black American but as an inspired American with outstanding leadership qualities.

Electing a new president in the U.S. is an arduous business lasting many months and involving the entire electorate very directly. This is participatory democracy at its best, although the colossal amount of money spent on the process raises major concerns. Obama and his rival John McCain have both conducted a vigorous campaign. This ended with a significant sign of their personal stature and the system’s maturity when each spoke graciously and generously about the other. Africa would be wise to take note.

The election’s outcome should paradoxically create a softer yet stronger U.S. Its new president has known what it is like to be on the periphery of society, and has an instinctive empathy for others in a similar plight. African-Americans, in particular, will be greatly affirmed by Obama’s achievement. Moreover, young people who may have been disenchanted or apathetic have voted in their thousands for their young president. These are healthy signs for democracy in the U.S. Many have become disillusioned by a politics that is tired and out of touch with the real issues and, even more so, by policies that are arrogant and unjust. While making allowance for the critical impact of September 11, 2001 and its implications, the George W. Bush administration has shown each of these negative features and most Americans have clearly had enough.

The challenges for Obama and his new administration are vast. He is alive to these, having highlighted three of them in his acceptance speech: two wars (in Iraq and Afghani-stan), a planet in peril environmentally, financial meltdown and economic recession in his own country. The solutions to these will not be quick. Realistically, the needs of Africa, despite Obama’s family links with Kenya, are unlikely to be high on his agenda. Yet he is clearly a man for the times who will bring the U.S. back with a warmer and more human face into the world’s affairs.

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