The world’s top darling, Barack Obama, enters the White House today, as America’s most unpopular president in as many decades, George W. Bush, leaves a problematic Oval Office to the first African-American president.
Today’s inaugural ceremony of Obama’s four-year presidency has expectedly assumed an international dimension. Thus, it comes as no surprise that even our own Rwanda Television – which has on several occasions failed to broadcast many crucial events – is not about to miss out this time round, alerting viewers as early as Sunday that it will transmit live Barack Obama’s swearing-in ceremony.
Obama, son of a Kenyan father, has excited politicians, musicians, students, the old and the young alike, throughout the last two years of his political carrier, emerging as a beacon of hope for this increasingly troubled world.
Understandably, it was a dream come true for billions across the globe when ordinary American voters gave the world’s favourite, a presidential mandate on November 4, 2008.
Having watched Africans as ecstatic as never before over a foreign presidency election outcome, several questions have come to my mind: What will happen after all this excitement has dwindled and Obama busy confronting most pressing challenges for which Americans gave him their votes?
Will Africans sit back and wait for the former Illinois senator to come and solve their perpetual problems? And will the young generation stop at only buying attires with Obama look-alikes instead of seeking to walk in Barrack’s footsteps?
If there has ever been any incoming president with more reason to worry than to celebrate, it’s Obama. While Obama’s success is the envy of many, very few can enthusiastically want to take on the kind of challenges he is inheriting from Bush—a sinking economy, two tricky wars, the ever bleeding Middle East and the global warming time-bomb. But even in the face of the political and economic uncertainty that lies ahead of him, Obama has been as resilient as ever, repeatedly telling Americans that no problem – however intimidating it would seem—was insurmountable.
Speaking at a pre-inauguration celebration on Sunday, the 44th American president stated resolutely: “Anything is possible in America…..
Despite the enormity of the task that lies ahead, I stand here today as hopeful as ever that the United States of America will endure — that it will prevail, that the dream of our founders will live on in our time.”
In light of the challenges never seen in decades that the world is currently facing, Obama’s statement demonstrates never-say-die character; one that African leaders and Africans in general need if they are to turn around their beleaguered continent.
Obama comes from the minorities. His father may not be a descendant of African slaves in the US, but his wife is, as are most African Americans. But against that bitter backdrop, Obama has chosen to promote the ‘we are one’ ideology, which has the potential to break the walls that exist between the various American racial groups.
Forget about John McCain’s ‘Country First’ campaign slogan: Barrack Obama’s transition decisions have been a true reflection of his long-held belief that America and the world cannot genuinely thrive on polarisation.
He has demonstrated that by including Republicans in his Cabinet, which remarkably, has whites, blacks, Asian Americans and Hispanics in it.
In Africa we have had a handful of leaders whose political actions are bipartisan in nature. Rwanda is one of those countries currently enjoying the fruits of all-inclusive politics introduced in a nation that had suffered the brunt of bad leadership for decades.
While only two Republicans occupy Obama’s Democrat Cabinet, Rwandans put in place legal provisions that prevent the ruling party from occupying more than half of Cabinet posts. The rational is simple: despite your political affiliations, national interests must always prevail over individuals’ or party interests.
Not only does the 2003 Constitution bar the ruling party from taking over 50 percent cabinet seats, it also stipulates that the Speaker shall not come from the same political organisation as the Head of State.
This is the all-inclusive politics that President Paul Kagame’s government has been promoting over the years. And that is, by and large, a shift from the pre-genocide politics which excluded a section of the society not only in Government positions, but also in schools and other many societal aspects.
Nonetheless, Obama’s cabinet picks suggest the incoming US president is determined to move away from the ‘winner-takes-it-all’ philosophy that hitherto characterises many governments – former US administrations inclusive.
Secondly, Obama’s decision to think out of the box by refusing to go most of his predecessors’ way demonstrates that in politics or otherwise, there is no such a thing as ‘one-size-fits-all’. This is the same philosophy that is behind all Rwanda’s recent home-grown initiatives.
Initiatives such as Gacaca courts, Mutuelle de Sante, Performance Contracts and Itorero have all been tailor-made to the unique circumstances of Rwanda.
Most of these programmes have turned into success stories, and as Rwandans, we should all be proud of that and walk with our heads high.
But there is need to remain even focused as we pass on this new thinking to the next generation.
And to Africa in general, our continent need not only to celebrate US’ Obama’s success, but also to start seeing our own Obamas rising.
The author is Rwanda Workforce Development Authority (WDA) Marketing & Communication Specialist