I was really fortunate to have been right there at the Tiengarten when Barrack Obama made his historic visit to Berlin, Germany. It was under the auspices of a fellowship organized by the International Institute for Journalism, of InWent, for African and Asian journalists for an intensive 2-month environment reporting training. On that occasion of Obama’s visit, two things made a lasting impression on me. One, it was not the teeming crowds of people from places like Minsk, Norway, Madrid, Copenhagen, Prague Paris, Moscow, Belgium, no it was not, even though it felt good to be among them, jostling for space to see the one touted as THE ONE. What interested me was that among the crowd, those of us from Africa or who wore the same kind of skin with the man these people were rushing to see were very few in number. You could pick us out easily, and it was from there that I began to wonder: what was it about this semi-black dude that the whole of Europe literally shut down, to see? Why would a Europe, naturally considered as racially indisposed to black people pour out their hearts on the streets for Obama to trample on, in this show of camaraderie with someone they hardly knew? Was it because of the historical ties that bound Berliners to the US or was it an expectation that the mercurial Illinois senator would deliver a memorable speech akin to JFK, Reagan and Clinton’s at the Brandenburg Gate? If this were the case, what then were the Russians, Poles, and Italians doing there?
I got my answers soon enough from studying the faces, and talking with whole families from the UK, Spain and Amsterdam who were part of that heavy crowd. Europe had had enough. Americans had had enough. Everyone had had enough. Enough of the strong centrifugal forces that were dragging everyone back to the post-dawn morning of 1945 when the allies defeated Germany and Italy in World War II. Like the Americans, Europe needed a balm to douse the irritation that the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and the international tension that 9/11 generated.
The one other thing that made that day special for me was that I met somebody right from my village in Nigeria among that teeming crowd. The guy lives in Amsterdam with his wife and children. They had flown in the previous night, lodged in a hotel not far away from the Brandenburg Gate, but were unable to make it to the front row because of his one-year old daughter’s pram. My ‘brother’ told me that it was impossible for him to have missed that historic visit, even though anybody offered him all the starch and banga soup in Isokoland. ‘Obama represents something of what Europe does not know about the black man, and I want to be right here to experience it when the perception of Europe towards black people begins to CHANGE!’ he told me.
But it was a different kind of mantra I began to hear when I got back to naija my beloved country. Important people at the Stock Exchange were raking in large sums of money for the Obama campaign. Our legislators were thinking of sending him a congratulatory message. Obama stickers were springing up everywhere. It was getting to the point where you risked your head being smashed with a beer bottle if you dared argue in favour of the Republican candidate or saw any merit in the choice of Hillary Clinton as a good enough choice for vice-president. What was ‘wrong’ with our people? What had gotten into them? Were they also expressing the same kind of hunger for change that the Americans and Europe expressed by such overwhelming show of solidarity at the Tiengarten? What was wrong with collecting monies to support Obama even when those same monies are badly needed back home for one or two reasons?
Everything. Everything about our support for Obama was warped and sick, and that was because our support was mostly based on the premise that he was, is a black man. Nigerians had already started to think that with Obama in the White House, visa problems don end, aid will come pouring in, and green cards will flood our streets. Each time I asked a Nigerian Obamamaniac if he would have supported for the 72-year old McCain as black man and as the Democratic candidate, I got malevolent glares. When I presented the option that we will suffer politically and aid-wise for our support for Obama if McCain wins, I was told categorically, ‘It can’t happen!’
Well, Nigerians who expect Barrack Obama, present–elect of the United States, US, to somehow reward them for their support during the election campaign with green cards and visas are in for the shock of their lives. Those visas and green cards will not come. Aid also will only probably come in a manner not any different from what George Bush doled out to Africa, and Obama will not commandeer the Kenyan economy into the United State’s. Rather, what the world, Nigerians in particular should expect is an Obama who will vigorously pursue the American interest, while being much more willing to dialogue with those conceived to be enemies of the US. The day or minute he abdicates his responsibility to America and Americans by unnecessarily favouring his Luo kinsmen in Kenya or doling aid to Africa, they may not waste any time before they impeach him.
Dele Olojede, Pulitzer Award Winner made these unexpected statements at the Civic Centre, Ozumba Mbadiwe Road, Lagos, where journalists and Nigerians monitored the US elections all through the night of November 4. Olojede also said that with Obama’s election as president, ‘the whole idea of what is exceptional about the US immediately comes to the fore. ‘America is great country because it can re-invent itself when it makes mistakes’, he said. Olojede confirmed his belief in Obama’s willingness to be bipartisan in selecting his secretary of state as a signal of the direction his administration will take. According to the Pulitzer winner, Obama would be more likely ‘to cool the fever of international tension in the world today’.
Another seemingly ‘surprising’ thing Olojede said to the audience was that he expected Obama to make mistakes. However, he qualified this by saying that this was something normal among American presidents taking office for the first time. He said that US withdrawal from Iraq may not be immediate as everyone expects, but that it may take place within two years. ‘The war in Iraq was understandably a reaction from the 9/11 bombings, and the US responded the way it did probably from shock. What may happen in the next few years is a gradual withdrawal so as not to return to the status quo’, he said.
On Thursday, October 30, Clyde Wilcox, a professor of Georgetown University, and also an expert in electoral behavior said via a digital video conferencing, DVC, at the public affairs section of the United States Consulate General, that Obama was favoured to win because he was better at grassroots organization than either Hillary Clinton or John McCain. ‘When Clinton organized large fundraising dinners for about $2,000.00 per head, Obama used the internet to appeal to young people and the average American to donate five, six or seven dollars to his campaign’, Wilcox said.
The assertion from Olojede may not sound like good news to us but it is the blunt truth. I remember some years ago when the ‘friend’ of black people, Bill Clinton, was due to visit Nigeria, people also thought of his visit more in terms of green cards and a relaxation of the strict rules for issuing visas at that embassy of theirs. They were eventually disappointed when the consulate came out with a statement to the contrary, and actually came down hard on quite a number of visa seekers, probably to send the message home.
What all this seems to portend is that Nigeria and Nigerians, we all, are still very simple. We have not understand the rudiments of the Martin Luther King ‘I Have A Dream’ Speech neither have we fully grasped the import of Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, where the ‘government of the people, by the people, and from the people’ slogan was lifted. People in Europe and America seem to understand these things better than we do, and it was that level of comprehension of the import of what Obama stands for, rather than the colour of his skin or sound of his name, that was missing in our total support for him. And, my fellow country men, until we learn to suppress those kinds of thinkings and thoughts that make us look too simple, we may never grow.