Barack Obama’s nomination as the Democratic Party’s nominee for United States President has been met with utter euphoria in Africa. His victory was greeted with street celebarations in neigboubring Kenya where his father originated. In Kampala, the day after it emeged that he had clinched the nomination, Obama was the talk of the town. I have even seen a handful of cars with Obama ’08 stickers on Kampala streets. Indeed it would seem that Obama carries not only America’s hopes but those of Africa as well.
His nomination has been historic being as it is that he is the first African American, ever, to clinch nomination of the Democratic Party. At the start of the primaries few would have given him more than a long shot at winning He was up against Hilary Clinton,a former first lady, New York Senator, husband to Bill Clinton. The duo are a dominant force within the democratic party .There political savy is legendary and has been dubbed the’Clinton machine’. Despite starting the race as an underdog in the polls, the American public gradually warmed up to his message of change. His win in the Iowa primary gave him the momentum and turned him into the front runner with a string of wins in more than eleven states.
Obama has had strong showing among college-educated Americans, the affluent and young people in addition to his appeal to indendents, those neither democrat nor republican. At the start of the primaries, African Americans were reluctant to embrace him given that he has no slave-roots and many questioned whether he was ‘black enough’. At the start, the African Americans stuck with Hilary Clinton who seemingly had a better shot at the white house. With a string of wins, the African Americans graduallly came on board and they are now a core constituecy of his and have backed him with 80-90% in recent poll results.
Winning the nomination is only the start. Obama takes on republican John McCain at a time when their prolonged democraticc primary with Hilary Clinton has left the Democratic Party divided. His candidature has shown gaps. Hilary continued in the race partly because she had more support among blue-collar workers, older Americans as well as strong hispanic support. Obama needs Hilary Clinton as a running mate to unify the party. There are of course questions about how well Hilary can play second best. Her defiant speech after Obama’s victory didnt help matters.
Obama needs to brace himself for the Republican party’s legendary attack machine. His background will be doubly scrutinized. Remember John Kerry and the Swift boat veterans?
The state of the USA economy favours him. There are high oil prices, the housing market is in a down turn and the economy is said to be in a recession. Obama needs to take advantage of this in his campaign.
John McCain has vowed to stay in Iraq for ‘a hundred more years’, a very unpopular stand and Obama needs to step up to the plate on Iraq which he did effectively in the primary.
Unlike other countries where the popular vote is the decider, in USA different states have different electoral weights. Obama has to win battleground states such as Florida and Ohio. Remember Al Gore who won the popular vote but lost Florida?
Obama’s nomination is testimony to how much progress USA has made on race relations since the Jim Crow years. The jury is still out on whether Americans can overlook the colour of Obama’s skin and consider him purely on the merit of his candidature.
For Africans, a propsective Obama presidency would not bring any signficant change in Africa’s fortunes. Unlike African presidents who wield enormous power and influence and can make things happen, In the USA, institutions are greater than individual presidents. Major decisions have to go through the legislature or both houses of congress.As Africans, Obama’s candidature has largely symbolic value, about the possibilities open to those with roots and heritage in Africa. Yes we can!