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DateLine Tuesday, 20 January 2009

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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 him.

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 the UN.

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 objectives.

Domestically, Obama’s immediate task will be salvaging the sinking economy.

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.

‘Dawn of a new spring of freedom’

We live in challenging times. While some of these challenges are global in nature, others are local. But every nation, big or small requires to deal with these challenges with the aim of providing its people, safety, security, and social and economic well-being.

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Do we live to work or work to live?

With the snowballing global recession, employees across organisations the world over are under pressure to work hard and are forced to become workaholics. There is already work pressure at the corporate world due to fierce competition.

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New episode in Obama phenomenon

Barack Hussein Obama will be sworn in as the 44th President of the United States today in a solemn colourful ceremony which is expected to eclipse all previous swearing ins of US Presidents both on account of its glamour and political significance.

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