Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Is Barack Obama the New Global Leader?

Intercontinental Man

by Sonya T.K Samuel

It’s 7:00am on a warm Caribbean morning.A family sits transfixed by their television, looking up between commercials only to murmur sidebar commentary. The youngest of the family, a bright eyed boy of only eight, knows that the events that have transpired have great meaning. It is November 5th and Barack Obama has been crowned President-elect. This bird’s eye view, however, is not an isolated one; it’s similarity of course lies in the unbridled satisfaction felt by so many. People all over the world, no matter their values, are acutely aware that for the first time in American history a black man will be president. From Kenya to Nigeria, Jamaica to Zimbabwe, France to the UK, the name Barack Obama has seeped into the very consciousness of diverse nation states. A South African colleague of mine, when asked to sum up the general feeling for Obama’s presidency in her country, said poignantly:

“…. all of us in South Africa are very happy, and we feel that it's about time. Normally, black people are never taken seriously. We are also seen as these irresponsible people who can never lead a country. But now times have changed and Barack Obama is taking charge. Americans are ready for change and that change is Barack Obama. He represents hope and change for everyone. He shows great character and has a good heart.”

Many within the African diaspora are attached to Obama because he is not only African American, but an American with direct African roots by way of his Kenyan father. Nevertheless, Obama’s adulation has been felt all over. There were celebrations in France – confectionaries made with his likeness in a place that has long had a seething tug of war with America and its successive governments. This win has not simply been for or by blacks; a large part of his success was a direct result of a largely white voting pool. How can one explain his cross-cultural, worldwide support? Something about this Obama phenomenon rings of fairness, rings of Barack’s integrity as a man. Trinidad and Tobago's Prime Minister Patrick Manning stated in the Trinidad Express that:

"It is a most historic development which demonstrates how the United States is changing and has changed...His 'message of change' represents a breath of fresh air...”

People are dancing on dirt roads and metropolitan streets all over the world. This is the first time in history that there will be a leader of African descent in any of the eight major industrialized democracies. The recent instability in the American stock market and corresponding ripple effect in almost all foreign markets has certainly brought to the forefront the interconnectivity of global economics and politics. The interesting thing, however, is that this event not only has a common thread for world politics, but also a very human sentiment. Barack Obama has managed to make the very citizens in these diverse countries feel optimistic and completely invested in his success. He has awaked the common man, succeeded in creating a dynamic collective. It is not a stretch to say that people of African descent are literally in shock. It was not so long ago that Barack Obama entered the presidential race under a shadow of complete disregard. It was almost unfathomable that this America, founded on the very backs of African slaves, would elect a black president. That this America, where racism is as vibrant a culture as apple pie, would watch people that reflect a rainbow of ethnicities chant the name “Obama”. It would be remiss to disregard the feeling of vindication felt by people of African descent all over the world. Dominic Muntanga, former special assistant to the Manhattan borough president and Zimbabwean national has said:

“His historic victory embodies the aspirations of generations, to have an American leader who not only understands the black world, but can relate to the struggles of men from the slums of Kibera to the dust roads of Harare.”

It is both interesting and ironic that this election has unmasked the peculiar political correctness of American culture. Every American who has sought to actively ignore the markers of everyday racism has had to confront its very existence. Much ado about nothing was made when Michelle Obama mentioned during her husband’s run for the White House that this was the first time in her adult life that she felt proud to be an American. Yet, with the burgeoning worldwide disgust of American policies, she was not the only global citizen who felt that way. This evolution is one that America needed desperately. In the sunny isle of Jamaica, “Obamamania” continues despite the relatively recent palpable feelings of antipathy arising from America’s threats to Europe over their preference for bananas produced in former European colonies in the Caribbean. Many an ode has been penned summing up the general feeling of the populous. International Jamaican reggae star Coco Tea sings one of the most notable songs:

“…Cause this is not about class…, nor color, race , nor creed …, but it’s about the changes …what the Americans need, Obama!.

America in many ways has always been a sounding board, its actions reverberating throughout the entire world. So, in this new world where Barack Obama is now a central figure, is American politics simply global politics? What does the first African American president mean for us all? Barack Obama as president certainly represents change for people all over the world. His rise to the presidency reinforces a sense of pride. In the end however, Barack Obama may be unable to cure the woes of Americans, much less people all over the world. It is almost inevitable that many will be disappointed at the end of his term. Barack Obama has entered this new position under a world of lofty expectations. With a failing American economy, poverty levels in Black communities at an all time high, and unrest throughout the world, it would be foolish to see Barack as a far-reaching solution. Nelson Mandela said it best when he called this event a symbol of hope. This might be the most optimistic and telling of all interpretations. If nothing else, Barack Obama has allowed the world to dream again; we should all take solace in that, no matter our outlook.

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