After spending six months in the United States on a journalism fellowship, Sunday Monitor’s Rodney Muhumuza is convinced he was there long enough to see how progressive America is. However, as he writes here, the universal hope that got Barack Obama elected now threatens to take him prisoner:
Not long before I left the United States, I woke up, like many others in Washington, to the stunning news that US President Barack Obama had won the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize. Then, fighting the temptation to believe that the news was some kind of sensational joke, I proceeded to search the major news outlets for signs of excitement. Nearly every commentator seemed shocked by the committee’s decision to honour Obama, who had been nominated for the world’s most prestigious award just 12 days after entering the White House.
What worried me was that some of the shocked ones quickly moved from being surprised to anger, their bewilderment turned into a feeling close to abhorrence for Obama. One of the less angry ones found his sense of humour when he compared Obama to a teenager who gets a Porsche for his sixteenth birthday. “It’s wonderful but where can you go from there?” William Jelani Cobb, a history professor at Spelman College, wrote in The Politico, a popular online magazine.
The answer seemed obvious. The kid, given the keys to the Porsche, may summon the madness necessary to crash the car in the woods. What’s more, there is the question of what he should get when he makes 17.
Such comments satisfied the demand for instant analysis, but I also saw them for what they really were: a ridiculous attempt to demean Obama’s achievement. Why were some Americans angry that their own leader had been so honoured, that Europe was embracing America, and that they finally had a president who did not inspire hatred for their country? The answer lies in the fact that Obama, for all his motivational skills and political prowess during the 2008 campaign, still presides over a society that is still analysed in red and blue, in terms of liberals versus conservatives. It is easy to forget that Republican John McCain did not terribly lose the popular vote, which is a common mistake. And yes, it is the one fact that most Africans do not consider when they heap expectations on Obama.
If it is not yet Uhuru in Kenya, it is not yet Obama in America. That point was brought home to a sad reckoning when Obama took some fire for wanting to speak to American students. As part of a speech that was meant to inspire school children to work hard, Obama ignited a storm after his critics pointed out that many families were not sure they wanted their children indoctrinated by a liberal president. Wrong-footed, Obama had to fight hard to convince Americans that his intentions were good.