Well folks, I have been travelling around America, trying to get familiar with the country, and to meet more people especially in Washington DC, New York, Atlanta, and California, and I must say that it has been an exceedingly delightful experience.
Last week, I arrived in Atlanta, and for a moment, as I jumped off the train to go and get my luggage at the Hartsfield Jackson international airport in Atlanta, I thought I was in Africa. In case you do not know, Georgia is Black Man’s country, and you can feel it the moment you arrived. This is the State that gave us Martin Luther King, Ray Charles, Andrew Young, Tyler Perry and of course President Jimmy Carter, the thirty-ninth president of the United States of America.
Last Tuesday, I visited the house where Margaret Mitchell wrote the movie “Gone with the Wind.” It was a fabulous visit because if you have seen the movie, you will appreciate the power of the pen and the creative mind. And this is why 65 years after the movie and the novel were both premiered, “Gone with the Wind,” still inspire curiosity about Atlanta and Southern way of life.
I also wanted to visit Ray Charles place of birth, but time was my enemy. Of course you remember Ray Charles, the piano man with the bluesy voice who reshaped America music for a half century; he brought the essence of soul to country, jazz, rock, standards and every other style of music he touched. Indeed, during his life time, he brought his influence to bear as a performer, songwriter, bandleader and producer. As you know, Ray Charles, who was blind since childhood, was a remarkable pianist with a forthright baritone voice steeped in blues, strong and impure and gloriously unpredictable.
Then there is the Martin Luther King legacy which is well preserved and protected at the King Centre in Atlanta. In the summer of 1963, Dr Martin Luther King led the march on Washington, stirring the emotions of millions with the words “I have a dream.” On December 10, 1964, he won the Noble Peace Prize.
Listening to Dr King’s tapes, reading his writings and talking to members of his family, it is without any doubts that at the root of his civil rights convictions was an even more profound faith in the basic goodness of man and the great potential of American democracy. Indeed, these beliefs gave to his speeches a fervour that could not be stilled by criticism even today.
At the time he was assassinated in Memphis, Dr King was involved in one of his greatest plans to create awareness about the plight of the poor and stir the US Congress to help blacks in America.
The arrival of President Obama at the White House two years ago was a big kudos for African-Americans in the United States. In many ways, it confirms to the outside world the advancement of African Americans in United States. But moving around Atlanta, and meeting African Americans who have done well in their chosen profession, be it music, law, entertainment, medicine or commerce, one suddenly realises that African Americans have been doing extremely well for many years and that in fact President Obama is a late comer.
Over the years African Americans and thousands of other ethnic minority professionals and business people have systemically manoeuvred their way into the America dream of being not only successful but also very wealthy. Today some of the most wealthy people in the United States but remained unknown to the outside world are African Americans and other ethnic minority people who are not footballers or musicians.
And a recent encounter with one such person last Tuesday at his studio in downtown Atlanta, suddenly became a wakeup call for me; I have wasted 25 years in England. Like Oprah said, “it’s the numbers and if you get it right…you will never fail.” This woman is so right.
Leaving my new office that Tuesday evening after, meeting several successful business men and women, including a very successful Sierra Leonean fashion designer by the name of Joseph Hinton, I felt a sharp pain at the back of my neck, it was a pain of disappointment; I have always thought England was the place to be….I have been so wrong.
Talking of England and the recently concluded British elections, by all accounts, the people of Great Britain has given their politicians a blood nose after a messy and bitterly fought elections. And on Friday morning the Queen and country woke-up to find a hanging rope at the front gate of the British Parliament, and a warning from Downing Street, that the Queen’s appointment dairy should remain open.
.During a TV debate here in Atlanta last Monday, I was asked about the British election and the possible outcome on Friday. To help the questioner and the viewing public understand, I answered the question in three phases: Britain has a huge fiscal deficit, a bloated state and soaring public debt. It is far poorer than expected three years ago, so whosoever ends up at 10 Downing Street in a few days time will have to make some serious adjustments not just to the country’s economy but the entire fabric of what we all know as the United Kingdom. The elephant in the room is whether the country drives those adjustments or is driven by them. I say this because the British public and the political class, especially the two main parties are refusing to accept that tough choices that has to be made.
So I told my audience that the election was supposed to be about the condition of the British economy and the £170 billion budget deficit. However, politicians conveniently push it aside worrying only about where they would be standing today after the voting last Thursday. Given the scale of the deficit, reductions in social security and public sector pay bills are inevitable. In the absence of such a plan, the country may face a stark choice between higher inflation and renewed recession, or, worse, no chance of avoiding both together.
Today, as the uncertainties continues and the politicians continue with their horse-trading for power, the in-trap waiting the new Prime Minister and his Minister of Finance is loaded with challenges that calls for the economy to be rebalance towards net export and investment: policy that strongly support economic growth, and there must be a credible plan for eliminating the fiscal deficit.
Reading the newspapers and watching the news on TV here in Atlanta, the British elections is hardly mentioned. Yes, you will find something about the debates in the inside pages, or as one of the other news item, but the Americans are not as excited about British politic as the British usually are about American politics. There is so much happening in America every day, that there is very little time or space for most other foreign news items. Indeed, most Americans outside Washington hardly know or are interested in anything that is not American.
Another aspect of this is the present status of the “special relationship” that was so strong during the Reagan/Thatcher era. For those acquainted with the situation, it is clear that Britain cannot boast of a political leadership that can compete effectively with Washington or negotiate with an American government that is no longer as Anglophilic as in the past.
One does not need to be a fan of President Barack Obama to realise that his charisma is of a different order from what is on offer in the UK. For many years after the Second world war, Britain’s political leadership was compared favourably with the America’s. Today, the British have lost that comparative argument.
According to Stephen Graubard ,emeritus professor of history at Brown University and author of The Presidents, the world is changing and nothing the three political leaders said during the election campaign suggested how the new British Prime Minister will accommodate these changes.
“Britain does not enjoy the influence in America, north, or south, Europe, Asia or Africa that it was able to claim just a few years ago, and it is reasonable for the British public to ask why.” Professor Graubard recently stated
The emeritus professor also asked some pertinent questions that the new British Prime Minister must confront if Britain is to become relevant again on the international stage; “Are the Americans less preoccupied with British opinion than they were? How does the Obama administration view Britain’s relations with Germany, France and Italy, and does it believe these to be important for the US.”
On the Middle East peace plan, Professor Graubard was very candid about the role of the British in bringing Israel and the Palestine to the table. He described the British as minor players in the region, no longer with the influence it once enjoyed.” By Winston Ojukutu-Macaulay Jnr