Nothing could be more symbolic of Africa’s support for US President-elect Barack Obama than Kenya’s declaration of Nov. 5 as a national holiday in recognition of Obama’s ascendancy to power. But, if Africans expect Obama to dish out handouts, as some commentators in the continent have intimated, then they are clearly mistaken.
From the far flung villages of Kenya (the homeland of Obama’s father) to the cash strapped streets of Zimbabwe, Obama’s electoral victory wafted through the continent like a breath of fresh air, ushering in a new dialogue about identity, democracy and politics.
Because Obama is African by ancestry, it was always predictable that Africans would greatly celebrate his electoral win. However, it is nothing short of foolhardiness for African people to expect Obama to work miracles that will resolve the continent’s ills.
If anything, for Africa, Obama’s win must be strictly seen for what is: it’s merely symbolic. And in politics symbols do matter.
Obama has a country in a mess on his hands. He was elected by Americans to solve, first and foremost, American problems. That is the blunt truth. The US today is faced with a maelstrom of problems and the President-elect has a constituency that he has to satisfy. Put simply, if Obama fails the American people, then there is very little that he can do for the African people.
Thus, Africans must first pray and hope that Obama is equal to the challenges that currently face the US.
Having said that, if Africans do not work to improve their own lot by overcoming old and current challenges, they should not expect the next US President to do it for them.
A statement of congratulation made by Nelson Mandela, Africa’s iconic figure, indeed mirrors the symbolic nature of Obama’s win, not only to Africa but to the rest of the world.
“Your victory has demonstrated that no person anywhere in the world should not dare to dream of wanting to change the world for a better place,” said Mandela.
In a word, Africans must take from the Obama win that neither colour, history nor geography should be regarded as a hindrance to how much they can accomplish.
Individual Africans must hold onto a faith that truly believes that it is possible to change.
An editorial comment in South Africa’s Mail and Guardian neatly summed up what Obama’s win must mean for Africa.
“To know Obama’s story is not to see him as a messiah who must do things for Africa. If that is the prism through which we view, disappointment will surely follow. The only lesson we can learn from him is to reimagine the art of the possible,” read the newspaper’s editorial.
That ability to reimagine the art of the possible is one that must inspire Africans and millions other people across the world. There is no doubt that Obama’s win will inspire and open a new dialogue in Africa, and where that dialogue will go, only history will tell.