Letters from TZ

Congratulations. Mr President

So maybe it’s cliché to be a Kenyan congratulating the American president. Stereotypical, even. But wishful thinking is what it really is. With a general election coming up in Kenya that promises to be as hotly contested as the Romney/Obama race, I have the audacity to hope that the loser will concede defeat, gracefully or otherwise, and the winner will then focus on moving the country FORWARD.

That said, it’s not often that history is made twice in a row, albeit with a 4-year gap in between. It can’t have been easy for Mr Obama to be a black man in the White House. If there’s one thing that the months of campaigning exposed, it is the slimy underbelly of racism in the US. That an outfit like the Tea Party can exist in 21st Century America boggles the mind. And yet, that’s what so-called democracy is all about. It’s that live and let live attitude that we haven’t quite grasped in our little corner of the world.

Speaking as television networks in the US were predicting an Obama win, the American ambassador to Tanzania, Alfonso E. Lenhardt, was philosophical. “The mystery and beauty of democracy is crystallised in moments such as these. The one lesson we can all reflect on is that there can be no real democracy in the United States, Tanzania, or any other nation without the peaceful acceptance of victory or defeat, the resolution to compete again, and to respect one another as citizens despite any political differences. Citizens must honour elections achieved through fair, transparent, and democratic means. That principle is exemplified in today’s elections,” he said.

You can say what you like about America and its system of governance. Obviously, Washington D.C. is not some kind of political paradise that is watched over by the angels of democracy. It is as dark and twisted as any other seat of government, anywhere else in the world, perhaps even more so. But as the good ambassador says, one thing that the Americans have managed to do – and quite enviably so – is to capture the “mystery and beauty of democracy”, perhaps in it’s purest form.

The contest between President Obama and Governor Romney was as bitter as bitter gets. It was clear for all to see that there was no love lost between the contenders. The race to the finish lasted many, many months and there was no shortage of trash talking along the way. After all that, you would expect one very sore loser. And Romney was probably as sore as a weight lifter’s bicep, but he rallied and did the graceful thing. Even though there might have been a potato the size of Ireland in his throat, he sucked it up and wished the President well.

Watching the Governor concede defeat, it was easy to think back to 2007/2008, when Kenya’s reputation as a haven of peace was trashed, thanks to a loser who refused to concede, gracefully or otherwise. Thousands died because one man and his posse refused to relinquish their stranglehold on the wealth of a nation. Kenyans had the prime opportunity to taste and see that democracy is good, but they chose to regurgitate the bitter pill of tribalism, and then swallow it again. Hopefully, the country will make healthier choices the next time around.

So. America went to the polls and the world looked on. Few countries can stand up to that kind of electoral scrutiny without some kind of wrongdoing being uncovered. And while votes are still being counted in Florida, the process seems to have gone off without a hitch. On social networking sites, Africans on the continent and in the Diaspora weighed in on the possibility of an Obama win, many hopeful that he would. But they were some who were neither hopeful nor happy that their fellow Africans were ‘participating’ in an election that had no bearing on their daily lives. The general message was that we should have been focusing on the affairs of our own countries, rather than tuning in to watch the kind of election we probably would never have. That Obama getting re-elected or not was nothing to do with us. That we were a disillusioned bunch who knew more about Romney’s ‘non-plan’ for the American economy than we knew about the electoral promises of our own politicians. If there were not so many Africans who are avid followers of foreign sporting events, these might have been valid criticisms.