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Friday, June 6, 2008

In the wake of Barack Obama

By The Jamaica Gleaner
It is hard to overstate the historic significance of the just-concluded Democratic Party primaries in the United States to select the party's standard-bearer in the presidential election, and the ultimate triumph of Senator Barack Obama.

Mr Obama is what Americans call an African American, although he is the progeny of a white American mother and a black father from Kenya. He will be the first black man to lead the presidential ticket of a major American party and the first from a 'minority' with a realistic chance of occupying the White House.

Senator Obama's triumph is all the more significant in the context of race in the United States, with its many unresolved issues. For despite his oft-repeated eschewal of red states and blue states and of white America and black America, it remains true that all US citizens do not see themselves through the same prism that produces the 'united states' , expounded by the candidate. If there is an under class in America, it is black people.

For all of America's flaws, the improbability of Mr Obama's candidacy gives weight to his claim that it is a story which could only have been written in the US. While it is nearly a century-and-half since the end of slavery, it is not yet 50 years since the death of Jim Crow laws in the South, the end of segregation or universal suffrage in America. The civil rights movement was at its height prior to Mr Obama's birth. (Continues below)

Top posts in May 2008:
1. South Africa Violence: Why is Brother Fighting Brother?
2. Africa Day is not Socialism Day!
3. Keen on business, China is yet to flex its formidable military muscle in Africa
4. Top secrets: Gaddafi plotted to bomb Kenya
5. Democracy, reforms can end fear of instability
6. Kenya tea loses its flavor in Pakistan

Are the Xenophobic attacks in South Africa Justified?
(Give you view on the violence in South Africa in the poll at the top of this page)

It is not, however, only Mr Obama who has created history. Hillary Rodham Clinton, wife of the former President, Bill Clinton, might well have been the Democratic Party's nominee in what was an exceedingly close and hard-fought contest. In that event, she would have had a real shot of being America's first female president.

She will remain a powerful figure in the Democratic Party, and in US politics in general, the anti-Clinton sentiment in large segments of the US establishment notwithstanding.

The issue now is what kind of presidency to expect of Mr Obama should he beat John McCain, the Republican Party nominee, this November. Black people in the African diaspora countries, who are heavily emotionally invested in Mr Obama, as well as people elsewhere in the developing world, have great hopes for Mr Obama. Perhaps, after the thumping swagger of the past seven-and-half years of the Bush reign, any change is welcomed.

Senator Obama has said many things that people who perceive themselves underdogs in the face of power like to hear, like a return to multilateralism and the retreat of the 'ugly American' who thumbed his nose at the world on the march to Baghdad.

Yet, it would be wrong for those among us, and elsewhere, who have been captivated by Mr Obama's charisma and eloquence to assume that, should he reach the White House, he will be anything other than president of the US. The signs are already there - the subtle contextualising of previous foreign policy pronouncements and his firm, if not hawkishly pro-Israeli speech this week.

We, in the Caribbean, too, have cause for concern. Not long ago, on the issue of NAFTA, Senators Clinton and Obama were vying for who could be more protectionist. That's not in our best interest.

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