THEY cheered, they danced in the streets, they screamed their hearts out and even cried in celebration of Barack Obama’s dramatic victory as the first ever black president of the United States which sent him to the White House.
It was a historical moment that seized the attention of the world like the release of Nelson Mandela in 1990. Even Mandela this week joined the Obama revellers.
The Obama victory symbolised a social and psychological revolution in the US. But what does it mean for other people, besides Americans?
First, Obama did not win because of the colour of his skin. Nor did he win in spite of it. This must guide us, especially in Africa, that race or tribe should not be the overriding factor in voting for leaders.
Obama won largely because of himself, shifting social dynamics of his transforming society, conditions on the ground and his fresh messages.
The “Audacity of Hope” carried Obama to a sweeping victory which left his supporters and rivals mesmerised. Trending against insurmountable historical odds, he was voted for, as he said, by “young and old, rich and poor, Democrat and Republican, black, white, Latino, Asian, Native American, gay, straight, disabled and not disabled”.
Obama won on his own terms, strategically and symbolically. It was a multicultural, multigenerational movement that shattered centuries-old racial barriers and ushered in an age of new hope, not just for the US, but the world at large. Â
For the US, the Obama victory is historic and transformational. It marked a dramatic shift from the politics of race and hatred to the politics of ideas and programmes.
The Obama win thus changed the way the world looks at the US and gave hope that the country could still play a constructive role in international relations. The US’s reputation abroad has been damaged as much by institutionalised racism as by George Bush’s militaristic administration.
The world expects Obama to change this. Obviously Obama is aware of a crisis of expectations that he might suffer because everyone wants him to change just about everything wrong in the world.
Obama, as he said, will take over in the midst of “two wars, a planet in peril, the worst financial crisis in a century”. The good thing is he is alive to the fact that the “road ahead will be long and our climb will be steep”.
Obama’s victory proved democracy allowed to roll can change the world.
The system is not perfect, but offers the best opportunity to right present and past wrongs and transform the world. It proved to all and sundry that with hope and hard work, nothing is unchangeable.
Even science has proven nothing is static. Mountains and other natural physical features subjected to particular conditions and processes do shift.
How then can social conditions and human mindsets be unalterable? Â
Coming under the banner of change, Obama’s win gives hope to all those struggling for different forms of change around the world.
Almost certainly it would have given hope particularly to the oppressed people in Africa, Asia and other notorious outposts of tyranny scattered around the globe. Africa, including Zimbabwe, must learn something from Obama’s win. It must learn and accept democracy is the best form of governance there is at the moment. It must also accept modern politics are no longer about race and tribe; they are about issues.
In Africa, racism is no longer the problem in politics but tribalism. Many writers, including George Wittman, have shown how the politics of tribe in Africa have badly damaged the continent’s prospects of development and prosperity.
Tribalism south of the Sahara remains the dominant political force, and with it poverty, starvation, disease, exploitation and genocide, still holds back the region’s development.
Ethnic conflicts or tensions hold sway and strike at the foundations of unity, peace and stability, ingredients of progress and success.
Kwame Nkrumah, Ghana’s first president, denounced the African tribal system, saying it was one of the main factors undermining the continent’s march towards independence and development. It was his view that the colonial rulers had manipulated the continent through tribal rivalries.
All over Africa, from the north to the south to the west and east and in the heart of the continent, tribal structures and prejudices continue to be used mostly by dictators to manipulate politics and control the lives of the citizens.
The pervasive culture of tribalism, which thrives on intolerance, hate and discrimination, defines most Africans’ lives and supersedes anything that other civilisations including Christianity and Islam have introduced.Tribal blocs and practices have now been co-opted into what passes for democratic processes and sometimes nothing wrong is seen in tribalism by those who practise and benefit from it.
Tribalism has become more an impediment to democracy than other practices such as religion or class in Africa. Ethnic or clan identity and bonds are used as a major tool of political mobilisation, more so than ideas and programmes, during elections, mainly by dictators, hence their disastrous leadership and policy failures.
The Trouble with Nigeria by Chinua Achebe explains this in detail. It is high time Africa discards primitive practices and embraces democracy.
The Obama victory teaches us that the time for the politics of race and tribe is gone. Africa must rise to the occasion and embrace democracy based on viable policies and leadership capabilities, not tribal agendas.
By Dumisani MuleyaÂ