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obama raises africa's hope for change

By unknown | Jan 05, 2009 | COMMENTS [ 0 ]

Ido lekota

Ido lekota

In about a fortnight the US will inaugurate its first black president. On January 20, 47-year-old Barack Hussein Obama will become the country's 44th president.

Obama's election sent shock waves throughout the world, including Africa, where his Kenyan father was born.

But with the euphoria of his election now settling down, questions are being raised as to what his becoming the first black president could mean for Africa.

Many commentators have pointed out that as the new US president Obama faces daunting challenges. He comes in at a time when the US's international popularity is at rock bottom because of President George Bush's unpopular foreign policy.

Obama also comes in at a time when the US faces one of its worst economic crises.

On the international front, Obama earned some credence because of his stance against the Iraq war. He has also come out against the "you-are-either-with-us-or-against-us" policy adopted by Bush in his anti-terrorism campaign.

This augurs well for more engagement with the world, including Africa and the rest of the developing countries.

However, as political analyst Steven Friedman points out, the importance of Obama's election could have huge symbolic meaning that could bring about positive outcomes.

For example, his achievement will probably raise the bar when it comes to the quality of leadership that African people will expect of their leaders.

Friedman says, however, that Obama's primary responsibility will be to serve his people in these very trying times.

In his own words, Obama has stated what he sees as the main challenge. "I want to be a really great president. And then I would worry about all other stuff," Obama said back in 2006.

Kenya's prime minister Raila Odinga has also captured what Obama's election win could mean to Africa. "He is first and foremost answerable to US voters, [but] maybe under him Africa will receive more attention in US foreign policy."

And Brendan Vickers, an Institute for Global Dialogue researcher, argues that Obama is committed to rebuilding the US's tarnished global image "and burnishing his new administration's credentials, possibly by concluding the Doha trade deal." A successful Doha decision would be of great importance to Africa

One thing Obama's election has done is to force people to stop thinking about the politics of identity and rather think about the politics of change for the better.


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