|Students see hope for Africa in Obama presidency|
University students and staff watch the Jan. 20 inauguration of Barack
Obama as president of the United States. A UMNS photo by Andra Stevens.
By Andra Stevens*
Jan. 22, 2009 | MUTARE, Zimbabwe (UMNS)
The excitement was palpable on the campus of United
Methodist-related Africa University, as students and staff gathered in
clusters to discuss the implications of Barack Obama’s presidency for
their continent and the world.
Obama’s inauguration as the 44th president of the United States —
and the first African American to hold the office — was an eagerly
awaited event for many in the university’s pan-African community.
“I never thought in my lifetime that a black man would rule the most
powerful nation on this earth,” said Celeste Sauls, a young South
African woman who is studying health services management. “His election
is an encouragement and inspiration to many young people the world
University officials set up special viewing facilities to allow
students to follow the events of Inauguration Day. Plans are also in
the works for a special celebration on the campus in coming weeks.
“This is an important occasion for Africa University and for us as
Africans,” said Fanuel Tagwira, the university’s vice chancellor.
Some students draw parallels between their own stories and that of
the new president, whose father was from Kenya. As they watched Obama
take the oath of office, they felt inspired — filled with hope and a
sense of the unique nature of the moment.
“For a long time, we have had a tradition of a ceiling of
achievement,” said Gareth Kaungwa, a 21-year-old business student from
Zimbabwe. “But for a black man to hold the highest office (in the
United States), it reminds you that you can be anything you want to be.”
“On a macro scale, every black man on earth will consciously or
unconsciously experience an attitude change just because of this one
man’s achievement,” said Komborerai Murimba, a humanities student and
fellow Zimbabwean. “I believe that the way the black man looks at
himself, and the way the rest of the world looks at him, is about to
A model for Africa
For Konte N’ouemou, a graduate student working on his master’s
degree in peace, leadership and governance, Africa’s keen interest in
Obama’s presidency goes much deeper than simple joy in the success of a
person of African descent or symbolism and inspiration.
“Of course, Africa is expecting that this new American president
will do more for the continent, such as lift up its concerns and help
to strengthen peace-building and development efforts in Africa,”
A native of Benin in West Africa, N’ouemou is intrigued by Obama’s
message and leadership ethos. Obama’s themes of hard choices, personal
involvement and integrity and collective effort, as highlighted in his
inaugural address, resonate with N’ouemou. He believes they are also
crucial to Africa’s development.
“He is a great example for African leaders,” N’ouemou said.
“Especially with the message that only they can develop Africa … rather
than expecting that others will come and do it for them.”
Sorau Sorrota, a business student from Mozambique, agrees that
current and aspiring African politicians could draw valuable lessons
about democracy and leadership from Obama’s fledgling presidency.
“We need more people like Barack Obama in Africa … people who think
as he does,” Sorrota said. “Our approach to democracy is not the same,
but we need to move away from this mindset that I fought for this
country, therefore I should govern it. What we need is to continually
bring forward people with ideas, people with the right skills and
experience to manage our economies and develop our countries.”
Both N’ouemou and Sorrota highlight Obama’s strength in bringing
together Americans with different backgrounds, views and agendas around
a common purpose.
“Africa needs leadership that focuses on the positive and the
possible, on harnessing what we have and working together for the
common good … leadership that is not divisive, negative, fearful and
set on barricading itself against the world,” Sorrota said.
Some on campus, however, cautioned that Obama’s presidency would not impact Africa’s problems immediately.
“He is a true example and mentor for young aspiring politicians,”
said Alfred Zigbou, 38, a Liberian and final-year student in the
Institute of Peace, Leadership and Governance. “A lot will improve, but
what I don’t want to say is things will change for Africa soon. It will
require a lot of time. Things like foreign policy won’t change
overnight. Policymaking requires investigation and analysis of the
issues at hand. We will have to be patient and see how we as Africans
can conform to the global emerging order.”
Faith Nyambura, 23, a Kenyan who is a third-year student in health
services management, said the Obamas would be role models for family
values and love for young people. But, “as a Kenyan, I don’t expect
much because he is a United States citizen.”
“I don’t think a lot will change for Kenyans, especially young
people in Kenya who are flocking to the US for better opportunities,”
Nyambura said. However, she said she hopes he will “ assist the western
province of Kenya where he comes from, because it is very
Nursing their various hopes and expectations, many on the Africa
University campus will continue to watch and learn from Obama’s
journey. They also see a different world view with Obama as America’s
Hernani Almeida, 24, of Mozambique, who is studying education,
believes Obama’s position will lead to lower fuel prices and a
reduction in terrorism. “Most importantly, he is a true man of peace
and democracy,” Almeida said.
“I expect him to unite the world, because he is a multicultural
person and an advocate of peace,” said Hugo Ngwira, 21, a Malawian and
second-year student in management and administration. “I hope he will
ease the war in Iraq and Afghanistan and crack the world economic
*Stevens is director of information and public affairs at Africa University.
News media contact: Linda Green, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or email@example.com
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