Americans seal history today. The dreams, the marches, the protests, the activism and the ensuing decisions of leaders like Abraham Lincoln and are bearing the ripest fruits in the next few hours. And the timing, exactly 80 years ago yesterday since the most popular black civil rights activist Martin Luther King Jr was born, could not have been more appropriate.
47-year-old Barrack Obama’s inauguration later today as the 44th president of a country where some 40 years ago blacks could not vote, would have been denied even by the most optimistic of persons just a couple of years ago. While America glows and basks in its epoch-making watershed of change, the rest of the world must be watching in shame that civil liberties are drastically curtailed especially in Asia and democracy is made mockery of particularly in Africa, and love of country is a farce not least in Sierra Leone.
The transition from President George W Bush to President-elect Barack Obama has been as smooth as it should be an eye-opener to us as a nation. The outgoing president’s candidate, Senator John McCain, lost. But spare a thought for the beauty of the transfer of power. Outgoing government officials have worked for their country with dedication and commitment even if they have been unhappy with the outcome of last November’s election result. There has been time to cool off and moments of hard preparation.
In Sierra Leone, our constitution says a winner must be sworn in within 24 hours of their being declared the winner. This leaves chaos and breeds hatred when the other side wins and his supporters are riotous as it seems inevitable. This discourages outgoing ministers from continuing working. They are targeted. Simple! And they seek to protect themselves. Natural! All because we hate anyone who disagrees with us, and we pay nothing but lip service to our country.
In June last year a Kenyan writer, Wambui Mwangi wrote an interesting article in the East African on Obamamania. While sharing the sentiment of most of the rest of the world, he wrote for many Africans when he said that the best thing to happen to young Barack was not growing up in Kenya. “I have been imagining alternative trajectories for him if he had come to know the world through the eyes of a Kenyan citizen, if his mother and grandparents had not rescued him from our chaos and contradictions and brought him up somewhere his intellect and talent could grow.”
Wambui’s theory can well be advanced for Sierra Leone. He wrote that his compatriots prefer “to drown in the pettiness of our parochial quarrels when at home, and if one of us threatens to be too hopeful, too ambitious, too intelligent, too creative or too inspirational to fit into our trivial little categories of hatred and suspicion, we kill them, or exile them from our societies, or we just cause them to run away inside, hiding from us and from themselves the grandeur of their souls, the splendid landscapes of their imagined tomorrows.”
Probably we don’t kill brilliant people in Sierra Leone. At least not literally. But we smother their growth simply because we don’t belong to the same tribal, regional or political hegemony. On Sunday night I was watching the special inaugural concert for president-elect Obama. My belief and pride in the American dream and democracy and civility was emboldened. I could not hold back my tears.
I shed tears not because of the obvious beauty the occasion presented – nice stage, beautiful garden and all the solemnity the Lincoln Memorial physically epitomises. Rather, because of the beauty of democracy and patriotism Americans exuded. The speeches which touched on one main arpeggio – the value that America represents and the love for the motherland which was neatly tied into how far the country has come to elect a Blackman as president – were hair-raising. From Jamie Fox, to Tiger Woods, from Obama himself to Denzel Washington.
I was touched when speaker after speaker praised past leaders regardless of their party affinity. Imagine Democrats would praise Ronald Reagan, a man who almost became synonymous with the Republican Party. Invariably, in an exclusive interview with CNN on Friday, president-elect Obama genuinely praised outgoing president Bush even if he pointed out those areas he did not agree with him in.
I am yet to hear an APC government official saying anything good about Sir Milton Margai, Albert Margai or Tejan Kabbah. Or an SLPP official saying anything praise-worthy about Siaka Stevens or even the current administration. This is nothing but backward politics. And African leaders and politicians should learn from US politics not just from the blackness of Obama’s skin, but because of the values his presidency represents about the American dream and democracy.
By Umaru Fofana