A new era
In March 1963,
renowned Black American activist Martin Luther King Jr uttered
those timeless words: “I have a dream”. Today, that dream has
come true with the ascension of Barack Obama to the American
Presidency. When Obama takes oaths today in Washington, he will
enter history books as the first African American President in
the country’s 233-year history.
It is fitting that he is being sworn in as Americans
celebrate Martin Luther’s 80th birth anniversary and President
Abraham Lincoln’s 200th birth anniversary. Lincoln called for a
Government of the people, by the people, for the people. Today,
ordinary Americans - white, black, coloured, Hispanic and
immigrants from all over the world - have made that a reality.
In a sense, Obama’s election as the 44th President of the
United States marks the pinnacle of emancipation of an oppressed
minority and the true realisation of equality in the Land of the
Free. Obama’s story exemplifies the fact that America is a land
of opportunity where anyone can aspire to reach the Highest
Office. It also drives home the multifaceted nature of America’s
demographic composition, with Obama tracing links to countries
as diverse as Kenya and Indonesia.
Obama’s four or eight years (if re-elected in 2012) in office
is not going to be easy. Once the euphoria surrounding the
swearing in of the first African American President fades,
Americans will be eager for action. They will want him to
deliver. The world, too, will watch as to how Obama copes with
being the most powerful man on Earth.
The American people - and the world - had an uneasy
relationship with the outgoing President George W Bush who
called himself a much ‘misunderestimated’ leader. His
administration was littered not only with such gaffes, but also
with misplaced priorities and downright wrong decisions.
His ‘War on Terror’ response to the 9/11 attack in New York
has spelled disaster for the peoples of Iraq and Afghanistan.
Even some of the closest allies have distanced themselves from
the US on many occasions thanks to Bush’s policies. The economy
is in the doldrums.
Inheriting such a legacy will test the mettle of even the
most hardened political survivors, but in terms of political
experience, Obama is still a novice. Obama will need all his
skills - the combined vision and experience of his Cabinet,
advisors and other officials - to extricate the country out of
the present quagmire. Obama has picked the right team, starting
with Senator Hillary Clinton - to help and guide him. But when
it comes to the toughest decisions, the onus will solely be on
The challenges he faces are Herculean. In his own words “Only
a handful of times in our history has a generation been
confronted with challenges so vast”.
On a global scale, he faces the onerous task of restoring
America’s battered image in the eyes of the world. The US
remains deeply unpopular around the world, mostly due to the
actions of President Bush.
We already have indications that this would be a priority for
Obama. According to reports, he has vowed to close down the
infamous Guantanamo Bay prison facility in Cuba which has
sullied the country’s human rights record. He should also mend
fences with the Central/South American nations and work towards
lifting the economic sanctions on Cuba.
Even America’s closest allies such as the UK have staunchly
opposed these sanctions for years and voted against the US at
Obama should also forge closer ties with China and India, the
emerging Asian giants and adopt a more pragmatic approach
towards Iran. On the environmental front, he should consider
joining the rest of the world on matters such as the Kyoto
Protocol on reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
He will also have to play an active role in ensuring peace in
the Middle East - an immediate challenge will be forging an
effective ceasefire in Gaza. Yes, the US should play a pivotal
role in combating terrorism worldwide, but it should be a
focused effort undertaken in unison with the rest of the world,
not a personal ‘with us or against us’ crusade centred on vague
Domestically, Obama’s immediate task will be salvaging the
The US economy has hit rock bottom and threatens to drag the
world economy along with it. Bailouts alone are unlikely to
solve the problem.
Obama must forge long term plans to address this issue, even
as he tackles it in the short term. There are many other issues
that will require his attention from health to education.
Obama seeks to be the quintessential People’s President. In
fact, he rolled into Washington by train, eschewing America’s
obsession with the motor car.
He chose the correct place to start his journey
- Philadelphia, where the founding fathers launched the
independence struggle. The aim, as enshrined in the US
Constitution they drafted, still remains the same - ensuring
Justice, Tranquillity, Defence, Welfare and Liberty.
The people of the United States have given President Obama a
mandate to uphold these noble values and steer their country in
a new direction towards a new world order. Only time will tell
whether he would live up to these expectations.