by Femi Akomolafe
"If I'm dreaming don't wake me up. If it's a lie don't tell me the truth
'Cause what the truth will do, it's gonna hurt my heart
Being in the darkness for so long now
Mr. President, did I hear you well last night on TV
You said: The group areas act is going Apartheid is going (x2)
Ina me eye me sight the future so bright
I mean I my eyes I see the future so bright..."
—The late Reggae star, Lucky Dube, in his song, "Groups Area Act.""I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: 'We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.' ... I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character."
—Rev. Martin Luther King.
(Swans - December 15, 2008) Some events are so ineradicably epochal that nothing can erase them from the memory. For my maternal granny, the first sight of a vehicle (a truck) in her village was such an event. Until granny died, she could describe what she saw on that fateful day in her village with such vividness that one would imagine that she kept a photograph of it in her memory. Man's first landing on the moon was an event that those who witnessed it would never forget until they drew their last breath.
I have witnessed two events that are firmly implanted in my memory. The first one was the death of Thomas Sankara in October 1987. It was during my undergrad years in the Netherlands. I was on a return train journey from my school in Leiden when I heard it on my portable transistor that the young, charismatic revolutionary leader had been fiendishly murdered. I was so shocked and nauseated that I flung the expensive set out of the window and started crying. Fellow travelers must have thought that another Nigger had gone gaga. The second event did not happened until twenty-one years later when on November 4, 2008, Americans shed their centuries-old racial bigotry and elected an African-American as their 44th President. No African, continental or Diasporan, old enough to remember will forget the date in a hurry!
For Ghanaians two events in 2008 will not be easily forgotten. For those not in the know, Ghanaians are passionate, very passionate about three things: religion, politics, and football (not necessarily in any order). Note that I didn't say sport, but football (known as soccer to my American friends). There was no epoch-making spiritual manifestation in year 2008, so we are left with football and politics. The year opens with Ghana hosting Africa's premier football fiesta: The African Cup of Nations. Dubbed "CAN 2008," it was a carnival extraordinaire. Ghana beating arch-rival, Nigeria, in the quarter final, was enough to send Ghanaians into frenzied celebrations that it really didn't matter much that Egypt emerged the eventual victor.
The election of Barack Obama was the second event that shook Ghana to the core. It was Obamamania all the way. A local Reggae artiste, Blakk Rasta, set the ball rolling when he released a blockbuster of a CD named "Naked Wire." The CD contains a song for the then Democratic Party presidential candidate. "Barack Obama" easily climbs into Ghana's Top-Ten chart -- a first for a reggae song. It later emerged that the song also broke records in many East African countries. It was a joyous day when unbelieving Ghanaians watched Senator McCain conceding victory.
Whichever way we consider it, for Ghanaians, and Africans generally, the election of Kenyan-fathered Barack Obama is a truly monumental and historic event of unimaginable historical proportions. It is definitely the stuff that miracles are made of. So unimaginable was it that many Ghanaians fully empathized with seasoned politicians and public figures like the Reverend Jesse Jackson and Oprah Winfrey shedding tears of joy! Many Africans are still pinching themselves to assure themselves that they are not in some dream world: it still remains, to them, unbelievable that a BLACK person will, come January 2009, march to the White House not as a gardener, cleaner, Secretary of Whatever but as the (gasp!) Executive President of the United States of America! Many Hallelujahs to that, Amen, amen!
That Barack Obama failed, in his acceptance speech, to acknowledge his African heritage did nothing to daunt the immense adulation he enjoys among his African brethren and sisthren. That he failed to mention the pioneering efforts of Civil Rights leaders did not stop millions of Africans rooting for him. Were it not illegal, many Africans would have gladly dipped into their meager savings to donate to his campaign fund.
Barack Obama clearly showed that he was on top of his math; all the black votes alone could not get him into office. He was smart enough to realize that traditional black protest politics would achieve nothing for him. He understood what many of us failed to grasp: a wise person will use what is available to get what he desires. Forty-four percent of white Americans voted for Obama; more than for any white candidate in recent history. I do not intend to take anything from great men like Malcolm X or Martin Luther King, Jr., but neither Malcolm X's fiery rhetoric nor Martin Luther's impassioned oratories would have secured a White House key for either man!
The reason for Obama's colossal popularity in Africa should not be difficult to understand. While we could not fathom the Western press dubbing him a black man as though his white mother does not count, we welcome him as a true brother. In many of our traditions, if he looks remotely like one of us, then he's indeed one of us. Since a child does not choose to be born, you do not throw it away on account of the fidelity of his paternity or maternity.
Africans also recognize that every people needs a hero. Heroes are the ideal that propels a people to strive for something higher than themselves. No, heroes are not expected to solve all the people's problems. The hero or heroine only shows the infinite possibilities of an unfettered human mind and spirit. And the gods and the ancestors know that Africans could use a few heroes or heroines in this age of the BUSHmen, their cronies, and the fawning corporate media ever-prepared to spread their gospel of lies, hatred, racism, bigotry, and violence.
And in Africa where it appears that only reprobate thieves, mental Lilliputians, and intellectual cripples run for public office, the sight of an intelligent, eloquent, urbane, sophisticated black man bestriding the world stage with confidence is enough to make one giddy with excitement. We Africans hunger for leaders like Obama who can inspire us. We need intelligent leaders with vision who will inspire the super-human efforts in us to reach for higher goals. We love Obama because we are totally fed up with all the mental cripples (including, 1) Compraore who murdered Sankara; 2) Yar'dua who is slumbering through his stolen presidency in Nigeria; 3) Kabila Junior in Zaire who appears not to have the foggiest idea on how to run a country!) running the affairs of our nations. We in Ghana clamour for an Obama because all those gunning for our presidency are so insipid and so uninspiring!
Barack Obama's victory represents for Africans a victory over that last hurdle: White Supremacists' argument that the color of one's skin somehow confers some intrinsic intelligence. In more than one way, his achievement is a huge psychological boost for a people who have been told the lie that the black skin is accursed to be inferior.
With Barack Obama conducting the affairs of state (sorry, the world) from the White House it will be impossible for any white racist to argue that black people were destined to be hewers of wood. His mere presence in the White House as commander in chief conveys to the black people all over the world a powerful image that only the sky is the limit for them. For black people who have been told all over the centuries that they were destined to be servants, the election of Barack Obama answered that it was simply a lie.
Those killjoys who opined that our euphoria is misplaced as Obama is going to sorely disappoint us are missing the point. The point being that no one realistically expects Mr. Obama to solve Africa's problems. No! We know that Mr. Obama's first allegiance is to the people who voted him into office: the American people. We know that he inherited a country with enough problems of its own. We do not envy him the onerous responsibilities entrusted to his young shoulders. We know that he's inheriting a virtually bankrupt economy staggering under gigantic debt and fighting two wars. We know all these things and yet we are joyous. We are full of happiness because his election is such an important morale booster to every black person everywhere on earth. To see one of us occupying the post of the Most Powerful Man on Earth is uplifting enough. It is enough for us just to see one of us in such an exalted position -- no amount of raw cash can compete with that.
It might be difficult for white folks to understand what our euphoria is all about. It is the same way that it is difficult to explain to the Ghanaian or the African who never experienced racism first-hand what racism is about. Intellectually, they might grasp it, but it is not something they can feel on an emotional level.
While it says so much about our African humanity that we wholeheartedly embrace a brother who is only a half brother, does it not speak volumes of Europeans when they, without any compunction whatever, rejected the product of one of theirs? A child is the result of a union between a man and a woman. In the case of Obama, his father is black while the mother is white, yet white media continuously refer to him as a black man, as though his white mother did not matter at all. It has nothing to do with sexism since they would have done the same were the father white. If you can figure that type of mentality out, kindly share it with me.
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