Lessons from the US Elections

“If there is anyone out there who still doubts that America is a place where all things are possible, who still wonders if the dream of our founders is alive in our time, who still questions the power of our democracy, tonight is your answer.” – Barack Hussein Obama, 2008

Despite the temptation, I tried with so much restraint not to comment or write about the campaigns and build-up to the 2008 US presidential elections. Not because I was cold-eyed or totally disinterested but my heart and head were poles apart regarding a particular issue and I never wanted to be despondent if I decided to follow with cacoethes. As a matter of fact, I tactfully avoided discussing this anytime it came up. The disquieting issue? I could not imagine the emergence of an African-American president! I hoped against all odds that this election would stay off what it is all about – racism – but alas it did not.

Howbeit, with keen interest I tacitly monitored (most times staying glued to the TV set in the middle of the night) how the pre-election razzle-dazzle played out from the gruelling campaign trails and travels to intriguing debates, blackmailing, name calling and even to a controversial transcontinental fund raising jamboree in Nigeria. I was paranoid to the extent that even when all kinds of polls suggested this election might be historic in producing the first black American president, I would still be (pleasantly) shocked at this realisation. I was pessimistically expecting the GOP and rednecks to come up with an upset.

This article is not to give an executive summary on the pre-election and election activities but after the dust has settled at the trail of electing the first man of colour to take over the wheel of affairs of the most powerful nation on earth, what are the salient lessons to be learnt?

President-elect Barack Hussein Obama would never have performed this feat without the rousing support of white Americans particularly the perceived rednecks and racists. Even if all African, Latin and Asian Americans had voted for Obama his win could have been too close to call. I think the real heroes of this election are the Caucasians – white men and women who are no longer blinded by the deceitful veils of racial prejudice. Particular mention must be made of the Clintons who despite having lost a most exalted seat to a black man still went ahead to campaign for him even till the tail end of the trail.

This election has come to prove the supremacy and efficacy of America’s kind of government – democracy. The people voted and their votes counted in electing a man of their choice. In addition, I never knew there was much gallantry and honour in defeat until I watched Senator John McCain (who I believe had superior arguments over certain Obama’s policies) gave his speech, congratulating President-elect Barack Obama while pledging his support and urging Republicans to lend same.

African leaders, Africa and Nigeria in particular must take a cue from this. The way we run our elections/democracies should lend credence to rather than disenfranchise our citizens from being part of the democratic process. This informs low turn-outs and lack of patriotism during most elections since citizens know the value of their votes does not go beyond the paper it is made of. Our politicians should also learn to take defeat with valour. This serves as an indicator of how matured they and the process are. As I watched the passion with which Americans campaigned, the superiority of arguments they allowed to prevail, the pains they endured on queues to vote for their choice candidates and the colour that graced the declaration of a president-elect, I could not but weep at the chance Nigeria lost to experience the same in the 1993 elections.

During the presidential debates, one could not but marvel at issues which served as the core of the candidates’ deliberations. From healthcare to education, foreign policy, energy, technology and the economy, these debates dwarfed and completely expressed how shallow our politics are on this side of the world. It is unimaginable and shameful that in the 21st century, most of our politicians still employ the tactics of construction of roads, provision of pipe-borne water, etc to crusade.

I felicitate with my fellow Africans – the Kenyans in being part of history. However, while they might have been part of producing the physical Obama sadly, no credit can be given to them in developing the phenomenal Obama, the whole world celebrates now. This is not meant to derogate Kenya and/or Kenyans but if Obama were to be born and brought up in Kenya with the past and prevailing conditions of governance, leadership and development would he have grown to be a Kenya president? This pitiful realisation plays on the stages of most African countries. Do our social, political and economic environments guarantee quality education, healthcare, equal rights and opportunities for our citizens similar to what obtain in the US? Food for thought.

Lastly, the actualisation of the first black US president realised in Barack Hussein Obama is not by accident. It reinforces the fact that change has a history, it is a process and most importantly, it is constant and has a future and destination – change is a journey!

In 1955 Rosa Parks was arrested for disobeying a segregation law in Montgomery, Alabama, that required her to give up her seat on a bus to a white person. Her bold action helped to stimulate protests against inequality. The blacks of the community organized a boycott of the bus system and were led by Martin Luther King, Jr. King and other black leaders organized the 1963 March on Washington, a massive protest in Washington, D.C., for jobs and civil rights. On August 28, 1963, King delivered a stirring address to an audience of more than 200,000 civil rights supporters. His “I Have a Dream” speech expressed the hopes of the civil rights movement in oratory as moving as any in American history: “I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.’ … I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the colour of their skin but by the content of their character.”

Barack Obama is a realisation of that dream! However, he took the bold step to run for a position that was hitherto considered a taboo and impossible for a man of colour to occupy. It must be accentuated that the Obama presidency is not an end to that dream but a pointer to the fact that one can achieve the seemingly unachievable – and even more!

The sitting of Rosa Parks, the march and inspiring speech of Martin L. King Jr. and the audacious run by Barack Obama tell us that change is possible in any circumstances. This goes to Nigerians and non-Nigerians alike who might have lost hope in Nigeria. We must be selfless and courageous enough to stimulate and/or contribute to a revolution we might not even live long enough to enjoy the benefits of.

This is the true spirit of the “Audacity of Hope”.

Written by
Adewale Ajani
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