By Themba Mzingwane*
Even though I live far away inSouth Africa, I am as excited as any American after the President Obama’s re-election. I am relieved that, despite the downtrodden economy and biting attacks from the Romney campaign, Americans still felt the incumbent was the right man to lead them forward. By choosing to re-elect Obama, Americans showed that they recognize the effective work he did in pulling their country out of a serious recession and ending the war inIraq, amongst other accomplishments. Republicans did all they could to downplay these achievements but voters saw beyond partisan politics.
Obama’s victory re-ignites my hopes for many reasons. Principally among them is that I hope he will use his last four years to make a significant mark on the African continent. He remains a strong symbol of inspiration to me, and to so many other ordinary youth on the continent. I am sure that he recognizes he still has a lot of work to do here.
Like many other Africans, I had unrealistic expectations when Obama first became president in 2008. Somehow, we thought that because of his Kenyan background, he would be able to quickly solve our problems. We forgot the many complexities at the core of many of those problems that have hindered efforts of many presidents before Obama to make any significant progress. But I am still hopeful for the future.
In spite of our previous expectations, there is still a feeling in this part of the world that an Obama-ledAmericais well-positioned and equipped to help our countries embrace democracy and encourage Africans to fulfill their potential for greatness. After all,America’s leader is half-African. It is clear that American can, and must, do more to assist people here in finding solutions to the many problems that have ravaged our continent for decades.
Because Africans have generally lost hope in our leaders’ ability to solve the persistent problems of hunger, disease, illiteracy and general lack of development, we often look to theUnited States, as the leader of the free world, to offer a helping hand to challenge our leaders to start working for the prosperity of their people. It is a sad indictment on our leaders that we find ourselves looking for salvation from leaders of distant countries. But there are concrete steps that Obama can take to help the African people.
So what are my realistic expectations after Obama’s re-election?
I hope that theU.S.works to expand and continuously offer full support to the many human rights advocates inAfricafighting against vicious governments in an attempt to advance many freedoms still being denied to their fellow citizens. Like Obama alluded to in his victory speech, many people in Africa are still fighting for the right to voice their opinions on the type of future they want to have- freedom of speech and assembly are still under attack. Obama can play a leadership role in supporting spreading democratic practices inAfrica. This starts with working to ensure a free and fair election in his father’s native home ofKenyathis upcoming March.
I hope that the U.S.does more to continue President Bush’s good work in curbing the HIV/AIDS epidemic. Funding for programs like the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) have actually decreased under President Obama. He should restore them to previous levels — the program has made a huge difference on the continent.
I hope thatU.S.does more to empower people on the continent by helping to fund countless effective educational projects that suffer from lacking of funding. It is a well-known fact that education is the key to stopping the vicious cycle of poverty. While theU.S.often funds larger government programs, it is the small projects, which deal directly with communities, which need support. By re-prioritizing and focusing development efforts, U.S. can encourage and help these “self help” programs in Africa by offering support, be it through providing expertise or otherwise. This is more effective than simply pumping money into African governments.
Finally, as a Zimbabwean driven out of my own country because of internal conditions, I hope that President Obama takes decisive steps to help us rebuild our country. We need him to help further the peace process. This may include softeningAmerica’s stance on the Zimbabwean leaders, including against despotic President Robert Mugabe and his Zanu PF party. Zimbabwean leaders crave recognition, and theU.S.can lead the West by reopening communication lines to the regime. Sanctions have only succeeded in hurting and isolating the already poverty-stricken masses while the top politicians continue to live in luxury. Elections have failed, and will continue to be a farce if they continue to be conducted under a climate of intimidation, fear and violence.
New strategies are needed to help endZimbabwe’s decade long decline. President Obama must demonstrate sympathy to our plight by doing whatever is possible to find a solution to one of the most destructive and silent wars ever experienced inAfrica.
Here’s to hoping that the newly re-elected president makesAfricaone of his top priorities in his second term. His support here is still big and his African background is an inspiration to the youth. It fills them with hope and promise — and reminds all of us on the continent that we can achieve great things, regardless of circumstances.