The last few months have been historic following the election of Barack Obama as the first African American president. The question that I have heard many people ask is ‘where were you when Obama was sworn in as president?’ I will not be dwelling on answering this question today and In fact Obama is already facing an up-hill battle in the first weeks of his presidency. However, the question I will ask each one of you is—what lessons do we learn from the election of Barrack Obama as Africans?
As a Ugandan, I have grown up under the presidency of a black man, therefore President Barack Obama’s election as a black man was not something that I had never witnessed. We have in fact had eleven black presidents in Uganda some of whom we have the luxury of wishing they had never become presidents. However, I can not underscore the significance of an African American president in the United States considering the historical and social climate. It was a historic achievement and highlights the notion that America offers opportunities to all who take the initiative and have the will to seize the moment. There some key themes that I take from the election of Barack Obama, which I also believe could be a lesson to our leaders.
First, President Obama has brought a new approach towards governance focused on reaching across the isle to people who have different views, opinions, and beliefs to find a middle ground. He has opened the gates to a presidency with a vision of unity, respect and refrained from the confrontationist school of thought. As Africans, we could learn from this approach to solve some of the divisive issues that are tearing our continent apart. Land ownership, tribalism, religious conflict, political affiliations and power-greed are some of the conundrums holding our citizens hostage and I believe that finding a common ground would save a lot of blood shed.
Secondly, witnessing the power of democracy– where the people vote for a leader they desire without violence or the familiar vote rigging controversies was refreshing. I still dream of a day when our countries would hold presidential elections and the losing candidate comes out to congratulate the president-elect. Our brothers in Ghana recently had a mostly peaceful election. John Atta Mills’ victory and the conduct of the people of Ghana provides a rare example of democracy at work in Africa and it is my hope that such successful power transitions can have a trickle down effect on the rest of the continent.
Thirdly, many have stated that President Barack Obama brings a breath of fresh air to a country in need of CHANGE. Looking back at my country Uganda and many other African countries, we could use a breath of fresh air. The sight of President Bush boarding a plane to Texas as a private citizen and the sight of President Obama walking into the white house was such a powerful image that many of us are thirsting for in our countries. Having a change in the power structure every four years is a tool which brings new ideas to the table, allows the country to look back and reflect on the achievements of the previous four years and set goals for the next administration. It is such a ray of hope and change in direction that a country like Uganda, Zimbabwe and many others on the continent could use.
Finally, the election of President Barack Obama has been branded by many as a signal that every American irrespective of race, social class and gender has a chance to become president. The notion that some of our presidents in Africa have spent as many as 30 years in power is an indication that we still have a long way to go. All we can do is HOPE that as future leaders we can build a strong democratic foundation to make sure that our children can live to say that they too can become president rather than be born and die under the same president.
© Kawuma Daniel Busuulwa