Barack Obama, an African-American, steps into the vortex of power as America’s 44th president, with high hopes of bringing change not just to his country but the whole world.
It was a momentous event presaged by black civil rights leader, the late Martin Luther King Jnr, 46 years ago. And the outpouring of emotions, the joy, the celebrations all over the world, from Kenya, his father’s birth place to Japan, Indonesia, from the streets of New York, to London, Berlin and Paris—all underscored its historic significance. As Barack Obama, 47, stepped forward to be sworn in as America’s first black president on 20 January, hope in a new global chapter under his leadership was unmistakable. More than two million people crammed into Capitol Hill and other streets of Washington to watch Obama’s inauguration and listen to his speech. On television worldwide, about 1.5 billion watched the event. Such is the awesome response to Obama the world over.
Even in the Arab world where America is intensely disliked because of the foreign policy errors of past administrations, there is hope, as is the case in other parts of the world, that with Obama as the leader of the free world, change will come. And his middle name, Hussein, also makes him difficult to hate in the Muslim world. Salah al-Mohaisen, a Saudi man who runs a jewelry store in Riyadh said he was overjoyed at Obama’s election. “I feel that he could understand Arab suffering” he said, in apparent reference to the suffering of Palestinians, under Israel occupation.
In Iran, many of the citizens hope Obama will bring about a significant change in US policy and perhaps restore diplomatic relations between both countries. Muna Abdul Razak, a 37-year-old primary school teacher in the Northern Iraqi city of Mosal expressed the hope that “Obama will be more responsible than Bush who destroyed Iraq. “Everybody likes him. I am hopeful that he is really going to change things for the better, by transforming US policy towards the Middle East’’.
That the emergence of Barack Obama is not just a welcome departure from the brutish politics and war mongering that his predecessor, George W. Bush represented, the ascent of an African-American as president shows the country has buried many decades of racism and is poised to turn a new chapter of racial harmony.But the success story of the 47-year-old junior senator from Illinois began with the keynote address he read at the Democratic Convention in Boston in the summer of 2004. Before then, he was largely unknown outside his state of Illinois, where as a youth he cut his teeth as a community mobiliser. But that changed moments after he mounted the podium and delivered a moving speech about the American spirit and the artificial divisions working against the realisation of its full destiny.
“I stand here knowing that my story is part of the larger American story, that I owe a debt to all of those who came before me, and that in no other country on earth is my story even possible,” the young senator said.
Many who listened to his speech truly thought that he had a great future in politics, but not many would immediately tip him for the presidency. But Obama on 10 February 2008 announced his candidacy for the US top job. He had not even spent a full term as senator. He alluded to his inexperience when he said, “I know I haven’t spent a lot of time learning the ways of Washington. But I’ve been here long enough to know that the ways of Washington must change.” He faced Hillary Clinton, a former first lady, in the contest for the Democratic Party’s nomination. All political pundits and pollsters pointed to a Hillary Clinton victory against a man still seen as a political upstart.
But against all odds Obama prevailed. He trounced Clinton in the opening caucuses at Iowa, built up momentum and eventually beat her to the party’s ticket. His giant killing did not end there. For the presidential election proper he was up against Republican opponent, Senator John McCain of Arizona, who had spent close to 25 years in Congress. Though so much capital was made of Obama’s inexperience, he ran an aggressive, effective and technology-driven campaign, reaching out to Americans from all races and age, preaching the gospel of change. In mobilising Americans for the change he envisions, Obama also raised an unprecedented campaign funds of close to a billion dollars, from the people. He drove the point home that four more years of a Republican administration would be suicidal for the American people, as the ruling party had failed spectacularly to manage the economy, resulting in massive job and home losses. He made a good job of convincing Americans that McCain is not different from Bush
The rest is history. Four more years of an administration akin to that of Bush was inconceivable for Americans and so on 4 November, they gave Obama a landslide victory. His ascendance also redefined America’s electoral geography, as he won in states hitherto dominated by the Republicans.