It is quite quiet here in Phoenix, Arizona today. On the morning after the night before, this Republican stronghold is lifeless. I have just returned from the campaign headquarters of Senator John McCain on 16th Street. In the office in the ground floor of the manse is deserted. Even the lights are out. In this desert state, the morning is very cold today. The coldest since I arrived here almost a week ago.
This morning, one of the Senator’s supporters putting up in the same hotel as I am slapped a copy of the USA Today this morning that had as its lead story “Obama wins”. But that is all. The city is quiet like the rest of America. People are back to and in business. No-one feels cheated. None feeling haunted. No riots, no looting, no vandalism. No police running amok with irate youth. No tear gas canisters to redden the eyes of people. Public officials have remained private in their brooding or celebration. Civility, decency and democracy have prevailed!
As well as receiving congratulatory messages, President-elect Barack Obama must have started chewing the top of his pen and may be even his fingernails, thinking that it is all achieved now on his part but how about the welfare issues he so brilliantly articulated.
These elections have been a turning point in the history of mankind. Just four decades ago, a Blackman would even not vote here. Black people were born in segregated hospitals, attended segregated schools and when they died they were buried in segregated graveyards. They could not marry to a spouse of their choice if they were white.
Forty three years on, the 47-year-old man born to a Kenyan father has not only voted, but has been voted for. And America now has its first black president… or may first true black president. Bill Clinton was deemed as the first even though he’s white. And these elections even white Americans think this is a vindication of the American dream. Arnold Schwarzenegger, an immigrant who is the Republican Governor of what would be the fifth largest economy if California was an independent country, articulated it so brilliantly. He came to America when he could not even speak English.
In a real show of hypocrisy of some African leaders, they are happy today at the feat achieved by Barack Obama. Like parents who hate their wealthy son marrying from a poor home but want their poor daughter to get marry to a wealthy man, some of these leaders will always stand in the way of a first generation citizen running for presidency in their country. Worse still, if their challengers were white. And these goes to even ordinary Africans who are celebrating Barack’s victory today.
Have you forgotten Ivory Coast and Zambia where Alhassan Ouattara and Kenneth Kaunda were disqualified form contesting for the presidency on allegations by the incumbents that their parents were not born in their respective countries?
Also in these elections, I have seen many people vote who, had they been in Africa, would have been denied the right to do so simply because they are newly naturalised citizens or have only lived here for a relatively short period of time. Sierra Leoneans, Nigerians, Guineans, Sudanese, Mexicans, Europeans etc have all told me about their voting. And this is where America’s strength lies.
In the two weeks that I have been covering these elections, it has been an inspiration for me. I have learned the role the media can play in goading an electoral process. Obviously some sections of the media here did take sides in the campaigns but did not seek to derail the process or betray their professional values. No incitements did I hear and even when there were some deliberate attempts at slanting a story or something, it was not planted or rooted in falsehood.
Like back home in Sierra Leone, this was victory of the youthful Obama over the ageing McCain. But it was defeat for red…but not by green. Smile. Talking about which, I was amazed to know that some of the workers in the hotel where I am staying…and just about checking out of, were supporting a candidate other than their boss’s. And they did so by frankly talking about it. Yet life has not changed and will not change for that.
Europe should also learn from these elections. Not by thrusting a black man or woman into office simply because of their skin colour. But by providing them with the tools they need to develop and not scorn them. France, Germany, Britain etc. Talking about which brings me to another point.
On this trip, like in a previous one, I have noticed that most of the odd jobs in those places that I have visited are done by coloured – blacks and Hispanics. And I think a deliberate effort should be made by the very sophisticated system in this country to address this apparent imbalance.
The massive drift by the Hispanics – never mind the blacks – to vote overwhelmingly for a Blackman is something the establishment must wake up to. And projections are that in the next fifteen years, Hispanics will account for 40% of the country’s population. Add that to the teeming African American population which currently stands at 13% or so. Then the neo-conservatives here must wake up to the present day reality and change tact and policy.
But whatever happens, America has been the winner in this victory by Obama. And while the white must be less so in their thinking, the blacks – many of whom are being self-destructive and blaming it on the system – must be a lot more serious and be proud of this country that is so deserving of being proud of… at least from within.
I am off to catch my flight and start my return journey back home to my Sierra Leone, which I am so proud of. By Umaru Fofana