Wise choices

2008-12-04 00:00

One clear sign of Nelson’s Mandela’s statesmanship when he became president of this country in 1994 was his willingness to include political opponents in his cabinet. This is a formula which is conspicuously absent in African National Congress thinking where partisanship has become the norm.

President-elect of the United States, Barack Obama, is showing a Mandela-like sense of inclusiveness and a desire to draw on the best possible talent for his new administration. He has, for example, persuaded Robert Gates, the current Defence Secretary and a Republican, to stay on in that capacity with a special brief to bring U.S. military involvement in Iraq to an end within 16 months.

Equally noteworthy is Obama’s invitation to Hillary Clinton, his intense rival for the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination, to succeed Condoleeza Rice in the prestigious position of Secretary of State. It is an indication of his personal stature that he is not threatened by a Clinton return, albeit it in a new form, to the White House environment. On the contrary, he wants to draw on the experience of someone who “knows many of the world’s leaders” and “will command respect in every capital”.

Some of Obama’s supporters are raising questions about his promise of change conveyed in his electioneering slogan of “Yes We Can”. Why is he making use of the services of members of the older brigade, both Democratic and Republican? Alongside his firmness about the need for change, which he is bound to fulfil, Obama is aware of the importance of wide experience in his team in meeting the economic crisis at home and in presenting a well-informed face abroad. He is also giving notice that a fresh spirit of national unity must undergird the new approach.

To his credit Obama has been decisive and quick in building his team so that it will be ready for action after his inauguration in January. This is a fine start to what promises to be a momentous new era for the U.S. and for the wider world.

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