On November 4, 2008, a remarkable event occurred in the United States of America: a Kenyan-African-American named Barack Hussein Obama, aged 47, Federal Senator from the State of Illinois, was elected to be the 44th President of the USA in its 56th presidential election since George Washington was first elected in 1789.
He is the first African-American so honored, and the second Illinois legislator ever to be elected president, the first being Abraham Lincoln (1861-1865). After prevailing in the Democratic primaries over the previously highly-favored Senator Hillary Clinton, wife of the 42nd POTUS Bill Clinton, Obama again defeated white Senator John McCain from Arizona, war hero with a military family pedigree, in a keenly-fought general election contest.
Needing only 270 Electoral Votes to clinch the position, the result was a big national mandate for Obama: 64,975,682 million popular votes (53% of total) and 364 Electoral Votes for Obama, to McCain's 57,118,380 million (46%) popular votes and 174 Electoral Votes. [See Tables 1-4 & Figures 1 & 2]
The Democratic candidate Obama won the highest votes EVER recorded by ANY president of the United States, winning in states like Virginia, North Carolina, Indiana, Colorado and Nevada that were considered too Republican for a generation now to attempt a win.
He competed well in many other states even where he lost the popular vote - in fact compared with Kerry in 2004, he made marginal gains in ALL states of the union except Arkansas, Arizona (McCain's home state), Louisiana and Tennessee, and was even in Oklahoma and West Virginia - winning or keenly contesting almost every demographic group imaginable.
It is also interesting to note that McCain in his losing effort won LESS votes than Kerry won in 2004 [59,028,439 votes].
To this writer, a Nigerian immigrant with five children all born in the United State, who has lived in the United States continuously since December 1978, who has now witnessed the last eight US presidential contests, who voted in last four of them, who actively participated in some little way in this year's contest, and teaches in a historically black college (Howard University) right in the heart of the nation's capital where one almost sees the Capitol and the White House on a daily basis - but has never been seriously motivated up until now to visit INSIDE the White House - the outcome is of immense socio-cultural and political implications, both to Nigerian/African immigrants as well as to Nigeria/Africa.
Our children can aspire without name amputation or abandonment...
Raised by his white mother and grandparents, and for a time living with an Asian-Indonesian step-father, with an Arabic/Swahili first name, an Arabic middle name and a Luo-Kenyan father, Barack's life trajectory is indeed a remarkable one.
His Black father may not have been with him all his life, but he (Obama Junior) knew where his father was from (Kenya), even his ethnic group (Luo) and visited with his extended family in Kenya. Yet he was American enough to love his country of birth, participate fully as a citizen and now attain its presidency WITHOUT changing his name to fit the majority White-Anglo-Saxon orthodoxy.
Although he went by "Barry" for a while, a cultural epiphany made him to change back to his original "Barack" (for "thunder" in Hebrew but "blessed one" in Arabic/Swahili) - not "That One" as he recently joked in backhand reference to McCain's shockingly dismissive reference to Obama in the second presidential debate of October 7, 2008, with Tom Brokaw anchoring.
Obama joked throughout his campaign that whoever gave him his names obviously never thought that he should aspire to become the president of the United States of America.
But we can all look at him now, and tell our children born in the US that provided you live a clean life, go to the best schools that you possibly can, do the best in school that you possibly can, even possibly become a mere community organizer somewhere before beginning your political career ANYWHERE in the United States - and along the way possibly marry a beautiful or handsome African(-America) spouse and loving partner - you too can become a legislator (state or federal), a governor of a state - or the President of the United States of America, WITHOUT amputating your family-given first and/or last name out of recognition.
That is as powerful as it can get.
Our country nigeria can learn (once again) from the democratic process of free, fair and credible election...
Participatory democracy is a desideratum for any country that wishes to develop socially and politically, and free, fair and periodic elections are a grund-norm for such a democracy. Although the United States unilaterally declared its Independence from Great Britain in July 1776, it did not become an operational (con)federal government with a ratified Constitution until March/April 1789, whereupon it elected its first president in George Washington who took office on April 30, 1789.
There have been periodic four-year terms for the presidents ever since - exactly fifty-six of them including Barak Obama's.
Lessons for Nigeria?
Ever since, there have been no military coups in the US, nothing. This is unlike Nigeria where we have had more than dozen successful and failed coup attempts since Independence in 1960. One sincerely hopes that one has seen the last of such military coups in Nigeria - the last successful one against an elected government was against President Shehu Shagari by Mohammed Buhari in December 1983, and the last successful one against a military regime was against Buhari himself by Ibrahim Babangida in August 1985.
[Abacha's coup of sorts of November 1993 was against a transition civilian government of Shonekan following the annulment of the June 12, 1993 election.]
In Obama's election, there was no election-related violence, nothing. In eighteen months of a tough primary contest within each of the two main parties (Democrats and Republicans), and about four months of the general contest between Obama and McCain, to the best of the knowledge of this author, no one was knifed or gunned to death specifically over the campaign.
Even the hint of an assassination attempt against Obama by a deranged pair of youthful Neo-Nazis was quickly squelched.
In Obama's election, there was no rigging, nothing. For the first time, as many as thirty-four states out of the fifty and the District of Columbia in the US permitted early voting (distinct from absentee voting) in this year's presidential election, with 31.7 million people out of the total of 124 million people that voted.
There were fifteen candidates by the way, not just Obama and McCain. The various states had various closing times since America has different time zones, with each state's Secretary of State being in charge of their elections. America has no central INEC, no Maurice Iwu-like person thumping his chest, feigning impartiality while doing the biddings of his paymasters and rigging the elections even before they began.
By 10 pm EST, on November 4 election day proper, the US election had been called by the TV networks; within an hour, Senator John McCain had conceded and sent his congratulatory message; soon after Senator Barack Obama had given his victory speech; and to cap it off, President Bush also sent his congratulatory message and pledge to ensure a smooth transition between now and Inauguration Day January 20, 2009. .
Indeed, no drama, in consonance with Obama's supplemented theme for his campaign of Change and Hope.
One can only best quote Robin Renee Sanders, (black) Ambassador of the US to Nigeria, when in a November 4 press release concerning the elections in her country going on on that day, she wrote in Abuja inter alia that:
Democracy works for the people. A democratic system ensures our governments serve us. Democracy educates our children, cares for our sick, and ensures the common wealth and security of our nations. Democracy works because it gives ordinary citizens control over their government through the power of their vote. As a citizen, casting your vote serves as your voice on issues and policies important to you.
American's democracy reflects our own unique history and traditions, as it does in other democracies around the world. In Nigeria too, democracy should respect the traditions of the Nigerian people, while honoring and reflecting the will of the Nigerian people through free, fair, transparent and orderly elections which allow for the peaceful transition from one elected government to the next.
All democracies, however, should rest on key fundamental principles which most notably are freedom of religion, freedom of speech, freedom of the press, and freedom of assembly.
Well functioning democracies share common characteristics: free and fair elections, respect for the rule of law, open and transparent institutions of government, and effective measures to combat public and private corruption and illicit enrichment by any member of government. Those in the past who have done so should face the rule of law.
Strong democracies meet the needs of their people. They invest in their people through education and health care; they ensure economic opportunity for all; and they create an environment of peace and security in which each individual can thrive.
Very true, so very true. Until we institute in Nigeria true federalism based on viable states and/or regions; ensure free, fair, periodic and credible elections; and ensure that our law enforcement and judicial system is without fear or favor, our growth as a country will be stunted. We also have to work intentionally towards a core of shared values, so that our country can move towards nationhood.
With a population of about 140 million people, the world, not only America, would normally beat a path to our doors to sell their wares, including setting up production plants within the country itself. But nations will continue to look suspiciously at Nigeria until we get certain fundamentals right - and only we can do that ourselves.
At the moment, poor electricity, water and transportation infrastructure; high personal security risks, poor law enforcement and judicial system, and excessively high credit rates (cost of money) militate against long-term domestic and foreign investment in Nigeria.
The result is a restricted domestic cash-and-carry entrepreneurship, and foreign participation in a narrow set of investments (crude oil, telecommunications) with high reward potential, leaving other critical needs unattended to, and preventing the enlargement of employment opportunities.
All of these we must still address.
The ethinic and other cultural dimenstion
There are essentially four ethnic groups in America's social fabric - White, Black (African-American), Hispanic/Latino and All Others (which include Asian and Native American populations). According to the Census Bureau, in 2000 (the last census), Whites constitute 69.1%, Blacks 12.1%, Hispanic/Latino 12.5% and All Others 6.3%..
The percentage of the White Majority, particularly of the voting electorate, has been decreasing over the years. Obama's winning coalition therefore had to cut across all ethnic groups, and particularly the young White folks many of who were voting for the first time, and do not have the ethnic inhibitions of their older generation.
In an exit poll of 17,836 Respondents comprised of 74% Whites, 13% African-Americans, 9% Latinos, 2% Asians and 3% Others, 47% Male and 53% Female, Obama received 96% of the Black vote (to McCain's 4%), 67% of the Latino vote (M: 31%), 62% of the Asian vote (M: 35%), 66% of the Others vote (M: 31%) and 43% of the White vote (McCain: 55%), besting the last Democratic candidate, white John Kerry of 2004 in every category..
Obama took 49% of the Male vote to McCain's 48%, and 56% of the Female Vote to McCain's 43%. Only those 65 and older favored the 72-year-old McCain over Obama - by 53% to 45%.
At the other end of 18-29 year-olds, they favored Obama by 66% to 32%.
With respect to Religion, with both McCain and Obama being Protestant Christians, Protestants favored McCain over Obama by 54% to 45%, but Jews favored Obama over McCain by 78% to 21%, Catholics by 54% to 45%, those with Other Religions by 73% to 21%, and those with No Religion by by 75% to 23%. Obama's Catholic vote was higher than John Kerry's of 2004, despite the fact that Kerry is Catholic!
What is the situation in Nigeria?
While at one level, there are as many as 378 ethno-linguistic groupings in Nigeria, there are also four ethnic groupings - Hausa-Fulani (29%) , Yoruba (21%), Igbo (18%), and Ethnic Minorities (32%, comprised of Ijaw, Kanuri, Ibibio, Tiv, etc ).
The absence of an outrightly dominating ethnic group, the sheer size of the so-called ethnic minorities, and the geographical, cultural and religious identifications of the various groups, the lack of political-party ideologies - as well as historical and colonial legacies - clearly complicate Nigeria's political life more than that of the USA.
Nevertheless, the emergence of an ethnic minority such as Obama in a truly federal system such as the United States is a good harbinger for Nigeria and many countries in Africa - such as his own native Kenya. It is ironical that in Kenya a winning Luo was recently denied the presidency through a stolen election, while one has now won in far-away USA.
One hopes that the proper lessons can be learnt.
But why and how did Obama actually win?
The Obama-Biden team was so vastly superior to the McCain-Palin team that the United States would have earned global opprobrium if Obama had lost, for that loss would have been assigned to simple racism even if Obama had run a poorer campaign.
It would have lengthened the time for realization of Dr. Martin Luther King's dream of judgement "'not by the color of their skin' but "by the content of their character". As one Tennessee newspaper ad put it, with an America facing historic debt, three wars (in Afghanistan, Iraq and war on terror), mortgage crises, bank foreclosures, all-time high prison population, who would you hire - a team of
- *Obama with a BA Political Science from Columbia University, with specialization in International Relations; and a Juris Doctor (JD) Magna Cum Laude from Harvard University, first African-American editor of the Harvard Law Review and
- *Biden, with a BA in History and BA in Political Science from University of Delaware, and a JD from Syracuse University College of Law
Or the team of
*McCain, with a United States Naval Academy (class rank 894 out of 899), with five crashed
planes on his way to a five-year imprisonment in Vietnam; and
*Palin, with a BA in Journalism from the University of Idaho, after six years, comprised of
1 semester at Hawaii Pacific University, 2 semesters of general study at North Idaho College,
2 semesters of journalism at the University of Idaho, 1 semester at Matanuska-Susitna College before completion in 3 semesters at the University of Idaho?
On those educational scores alone, there was no comparison. But Obama's presidency was not handed to him on a platter of gold. He won it as a result of the confluence of six factors:
(i) an unlucky and incompetent George W. Bush presidency. Elected first in November 2000, he assumed the presidency in January 2001, and on September 11, he was confronted with 9/11 terrorism, the reaction to which was so knee-jerk that he has not been able to live down the wars and economic debacles that it triggered.
He carried too far his simplistic "Axis of Evil" terminology, coined in his State of the Union Address on January 29, 2002 in order to describe governments that he accused of helping terrorism and seeking weapons of mass destruction, naming Iran, Iraq, and North Korea in the speech.
His justification for the War on Terror carried him too far from Afghanistan - the main site of Al-Qaeda terrorism - into Iraq (to depose Saddam Hussein) where he has been bogged down. It led to domestic bouts of official spying on US citizens and detaining foreign terrorism suspects (or so-called "unlawful combatants") allegedly without due process on Guantanamo Bay Naval Base...
(ii) A tired and erratic Senator John McCain of Arizona. At 72 years old, he would have been the oldest US president at first election. He was obviously way past his prime, and it showed on the hustings with bouts of crankiness..
His message was fuzzy and ever-changing, and seemed directed more at diminishing Obama (through hints of racism, terroristic affiliations and "socialist" tendencies, a code word for communism) than elevating himself.
His statements about the economy's fundamental strength in face of a disastrous turn-down; his choice of an unvetted and unprepared Sarah Palin as vice-presidential candidate; his brief suspension of his campaign and attempt to postpone the first debate only to scrap the suspension and participate in said debate; his debate performances, his weak attempt to appropriate Obama's "Change" theme, and the late attempt to use "Joe" the "Plumber" (starting at the final debate on October 15) to rescue the traditional Republican message against taxes simply did not work.
Being tied to Bush throughout was his albatross - that hackneyed picture of him hugging Bush's tommy was devastating.
(iii) A thoroughly unprepared Sarah Palin, 44-year-old governor of Alaska (population < 1 million) and erstwhile mayor of Wassilla (population: 5,000+). No decision was more cynical, none more demonstrative of McCain's erratic decision-making that the choice of Sarah Palin.
The thought that through her the Republican ticket would take advantage of the disgruntled 18 million glass shards created by Hillary Clinton's failed primary against Obama blew up in their face. Her claims of maverick reform did not stand the test of scrutiny, and she was dogged with an ethics probe back in Alaska throughout her campaign.
The early TV interviews of Sarah Palin by Charlie Gibson and Katie Couric showed her as an incurious and shallow personality, evoking devastating SNL sketches by her doppelganger Tina Fey. Palin could never - and may never be able to - recover from all the late-night and water-cooler-side jokes.. Her very choice undermined McCain's initial attempts to paint Obama as dangerously inexperienced.
Towards the end of her brief candidature, she was reduced to becoming a battering ram against Obama to appeal to the racist and conservative arm of the Republican Right. Finally, her banal hockey-mum, Jane-Six-Pack image was undermined by revelations that she had gone on multi-hundred-thousand-dollar coast-to-coast shopping sprees in clothes and accessories for herself and members of her family at upscale shops like Neiman Marcus and Saks Fifth Avenue, Bloomingdales and Macy's - up to possibly $200,000 total, all paid for by the Republican Party campaign machinery, apparently without the knowledge of John McCain.
(iv) An experienced and folksy Senator Joe Biden of Delaware, 66 soon turning 67. With loud demands for Obama's primary combatant Hillary Clinton to be made his Vice-Presidential candidate, the availability of senior senator Joe Biden of Delaware rescued that dilemma that Obama must have had. Despite earned - and overblown - reputation for gaffes, Biden proved to be a formidable campaigner on behalf of Obama, and showed that he could step into his shoes as President if necessary.
(v) A steady, focused and unflappable Senator Barack Obama, 47 years old. His positive message about himself was simple: he was offering Hope and Change, and he used it both in the primaries and in the general campaign. His simple "Yes We Can!" chant and "Change We Can Believe In" posters were uplifting. His negative campaign against Hillary Clinton was also simple: his judgment was better than her experience, particularly with respect to the war in Iraq.
With respect to McCain, his negative campaign was simply that McCain was George Bush, a sidekick, a mimic and not a maverick as McCain claimed, and that McCain's election would be an undesirable third-term of the outgoing unpopular president.
The Reagan question of whether your life was better today than four years ago that Obama continued to ask throughout the campaign would-be supporters of McCain and the Republican agenda remained profound. His use of modern information technology to energize his supporters, particular the young ones reared under social networking platforms, was impeccable.
His fundraising capability was hair-raising - he raised $600 million and counting from small and large donors, and one pundit referred to that as an IPO rather than a campaign fundraising. McCain and Palin once derided his community organizing background - and he showed them how wrong they were in how he put together an army of volunteer as well as paid campaign boots on the ground in every state of the union.
In personally canvassing in nearby Virginia State, and making calls to Nevada, two battle-ground states, I personally witnessed the campaign organization put together by his Campaign Manager David Plouffe and Chief Campaign Strategist David Axelrod, and was impressed. Attempts throughout the campaign to turn Obama into an "angry Black Man" - particularly against white woman Hillary - failed miserably, and he gave high-wattage smiles throughout.
His lovely, supremely confident and achieving wife and first-lady-to-be Michelle and two young children Sasha and Malia lifted Obama in the eyes of people, and busted the stereotype of the dysfunctional African-American family.
(vi) Finally, the country was hungry for Change - and that was exactly what Obama's theme was about. On Election Day, the country voted its desire, period. When from mid-September to date, the scope of the continuing financial crisis hit the US and the world, the clamor for change became even more intense, and Obama's presidency was virtually signed, sealed and delivered.
For example, on Tuesday, October 9, 2007, the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJIA), a major United States stock market index, attained its highest value ever at 14,164.53. Today, November 7, 2008, it closed at 8943.81, a 37% decline from just over a year ago now.
The lesson for Nigeria here is that you cannot divorce the prior achievements of either the candidates or their parties from their acceptability at the polls, nor can you presume that without them having a vision or being able to articulate it, with the help of a formidable campaign team to project it, they can simply go on to win simply because yours is the incumbent government with a lot of money that can rig itself into power with all the force of government machinery.
That has been the bane of Nigerian leadership and party politics.
What Obama's election is not to Nigeria and Africa
Finally, Obama as president of the United States of America beginning January 20, 2008, will become arguably the most POWERFUL Black Man ever in the history of the world, as Prof. Ali Mazrui succinctly put it in a recent interview, atop the most powerful country economically and defense-wise.
However, he will still just be president of the US, not of Nigeria, not of Africa, and not of the world. His primary constituency will still be those who voted for him, his guiding document will be the United States Constitution, his constraining force the Congress of the United States.
Nevertheless, while there are members of the Nigerian and African Diaspora who are tax-paying citizens of the US and daily contribute to its ecumene, it will remain incumbent upon us to ensure that American foreign policy towards Africa in trade, aid, immigration and other matters becomes more enlightened and mutually beneficial, and that Obama use his good offices to be a bully pulpit to the political leaders of the continent of his father to stop their rapacious attitudes and tend more to the developmental needs of their people.
So it is not yet Uhuru for Nigeria and for Africa, but we may be closer with the election of Obama.
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Commander Samyoung Onwuzulike Washington, DC, USA November 11, 2008
Beloved Nigerians, We thank Mother Christ-Chukwu Ndigbo Grace and Mother of all nations.
President Elect Barack Obama's victory is like the knowledge of Jesus Christ which is a stair case steps. Some see him as a Son of God, Some see him as Messiah, Some see him as a Prophet, Some see him as God, Father and Holy Ghost, Some see him as a mystery who changed to be a Mother of all nations.
I see Barack Obama's victory as a harvest of Grace and builder of faith for black world.
In the year 2003 I and my wife Narleen Bolden an Afro-American came from Rochester New York to see her father William Bolden and her family members.
Her late junior sister who was then working with Senate Chambers in the Capital Hill took us for a visit to Capital Hill in the center of the Complex we wanted to pray some security guys refused but with the power of Christ we overcame them.
We prayed for the power of Grace and equal rights for all creations.
When we returned home I spoke to my father inlaw Mr Bolden that we are here to ushered in a Black President for Americans but he rebuked me, I told him you will live to see it happened. William Bolden is 83 years old still driving his cab in Washington, DC we all cried when we heard the election result.
Immediately I received Obama's thank you Email in about 12:39 am that victory night I called my father Inlaw to Thank Mother Christ for Her Grace and love.
This victory has strengthened me for a greater work for Nigeria and Africa. The freedom and peace of our nations are in our hands.
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