Last Call: Get on Board the Train of Hope, Vote for Barack Obama! – By Emalafe Zeleke

November 3rd, 2008 Print Print Email Email

For people of African decent, recent immigrants as well as those who have lived in the United States for decades, the election presents a unique opportunity to play a role in a truly rare moment in history. (more…)

For people of African decent, recent immigrants as well as those who have lived in the United States for decades, the election presents a unique opportunity to play a role in a truly rare moment in history. Tomorrow we can join the chorus for change and restore a sense of hope for a better world, for a policy of cooperation, mutual respect, diplomacy, civility and progress. Central to the sense of optimism that fueled millions of people in the United States as well as the rest of the world is the break from the past Barack Obama’s candidacy represents. Not only does Senator Obama offers a new vision in domestic and foreign policies, but his election also would also usher in a presidency unlike any other in the history of the United States.

Having said all that one can ask what does Senator Obama’s candidacy mean for Ethiopian Americans? Why vote for Barack? What do an Obama victory and the subsequent policies of indeed entail for citizens? I am sure many of us ask such questions. Here are my reasons for writing this piece at 11:55 before the final verdict is made by the electorate after the most decisive voting hours of Nov 24, 2008: (1) the world is getting increasingly intertwined and requires a transformative leader such as Senator Obama to tackle regional and global issues, (2) A Barak Obama Presidency would promote global cooperation and set progressive global priorities, (3) A Barak Obama Presidency would promote democracy and the protection of human rights in Africa.

In his most recent interview with a national media where he endorsed Barack Obama, General Colin Powel, the former US Secretary of State, aptly used the phrase “a transformative figure” when describing Senator Barack Obama. In this age of globalization, when the “flat world” is becoming even more flatter, the world ever getting crowded, and the global climate getting warmer, by the day, it is not only America that needs a transformative leader, but also the world. Geopolitical and geo strategy scholars and pundits alike–starting with Paul Kennedy’s book on The Rise and Decline of Great Powers — have been talking about the relative decline of the USA as the most powerful country in the world. A decline that has a simultaneous geopolitical dynamic with the emergence of new regional powers vying to be global powers, thus the increasing trends of the geo political chess board towards a polycentric world of multiple power centers. Among the contending countries is included formerly regional powers such as China, who is flexing its economic muscle along with an authoritarian political system that still remain among the few relics of a bygone era still hanging stubbornly.

Although faced with many troubles on several fronts, including the ongoing financial crisis and economic recession that tops it all, the United States of America remains the most powerful country, with the vastest natural resources, with the most vibrant, and innovative entrepreneurial spirit of its citizenry. And it remains to be the most technologically advanced country among the nations of the world. Despite the often times ugly sides of US foreign policy that deserves much by way of negative reaction and even condemnation, the best of America’s promise to the world, yet remain its ideals of liberty, democracy, and justice. Ideals that move, shake, and inspire much of humanity in sharp contradistinction to models offered by the Chinese and other authoritarian and atavistic political systems where human beings lack their inalienable rights to enjoy liberty, that unique value towards which the human spirit, universally, aspires and struggles towards attainment and consummation. These are the American virtues and ideals that need fulfillment not only for Americans, but for all of humanity.

As the old saying has it when America sneezes , it brings tears to the rest of the world is as true and even more relevant today in this increasingly Globalized and interconnected world, as it was decades ago. Asserting that America is in an economic recession would be commenting on the obviously common knowledge. The world is also suffering from yet a some what forgotten recession. What Larry Diamond, a Senior Fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover institute, argues as the specter of “Democratic recession” that has been plaguing countries around the world. The world needs a rescue package not only for the economic recession but also for the regression of democracy and its role back to many strands of Authoritarian regimes around the Globe, as Mr. Diamond argued in the April/March issue of Foreign Affairs.

Barack Obama has made it clear that good governance, democracy, and human rights will be the cornerstones of his foreign policy. During successive US administrations, especially with the Bush administration, the USA has forfeited that unique position global leadership it often enjoyed –not due to its position as global power– due to the loftiest of human ideals America cherishes –the ideals of liberty and democracy all human beings aspire to attain. Few years ago, the current President George W. Bush pledged and made it known that America would be on the side of people under the yoke of tyranny and fighting for freedom while in practice it pursued an expedient foreign policy fraught with double standards and hypocrisy of cuddling and rewarding dictatorial regimes that are deemed friendly and under the single minded fixation and criteria of them being “allies of the war on terror”. The list of these friendly dictatorial regimes includes gross human rights violators and those who muzzle the free press like Meles Zenwai of Ethiopia, Musharaf of Pakistan and others.

By contrast, from the outset, in speeches, debates, and interviews on foreign policy matters, Senator Barack Obama has indicated that he will part with the longstanding policy of successive US administrations –both Republicans and democrats–. i.e. that of patting the so-called friendly dictators on their shoulders and looking the other way when these brutal regimes, often times also corrupt, commit massive violation of human rights against their citizens. This glimpse of a new trend in Barack Obama’s foreign policy– if pursued with vigor and without succumbing to the narrow-minded and expedient single agenda of “fighting the war on terror” and other justifications in the name of national interest –will surely help in reviving the depressed conditions of democracy and lack of basic liberties around the world. Such a policy would help in bringing back those nations suffering from lack of democracy, human rights and good governance towards the right track. Such a reconfiguration in US foreign policy would help those in “democratic recession” even a depression, counties like Ethiopia back on track towards genuine democracy and constitutional liberalism, i.e., where substantive norms and rules of democracy–as opposed to superficial forms such as holding periodic elections– are the norms, where the rule of law is not replaced overnight by the rule, whim and wish of those holding the levers on state power, where elections are not held under an atmosphere that lack the elementary rules of the game, under conditions that lack the basic criteria for free and fair elections, where there is an absence of a meaningful and truly independent and free press, and where the respect and guarantee for the basic civil and political liberties of each and every citizen and political opposition alike are utterly absent.

Few skeptics have lately expressed a concern with regard to aspects of Obama’s foreign policy when it comes to dealing with such undemocratic regimes. To support their claim they point our to some bad apples that have somehow made it into his foreign policy team, individuals with track record of abetting and aiding dictatorial regimes and patting them on their shoulders. As seen, for instance, during the May 2005 national election in Ethiopia, where the regime security forces who were under the direct command of the prime minister gunned down more than 190 unarmed protesters in its bid to steal the election after committing massive fraud, and at the end getting away with it. In part, with the help and outright justification of those brutal actions by these bad apples. Although such a concern as expressed by these commentators is warranted, one should also be cognizant of the presence of decent and principled foreign policy experts and professionals in that team, who seem to be as committed to democracy, human rights, and good governance in the developing world as Obama has said to uphold. Foreign policy experts, advisors, and professionals who are as eager to restore the broken image USA has suffered around the world as a result of the debacle of the policies of the Bush administration, This should give us comfort that the bad apples would not hold the commanding heights in his foreign policy team to pursue their sinister and un-American agenda of dilly dallying and abetting dictatorial regimes.

There is another indicator as to the persona of Barack Obama. We find the clue as to why one should be optimistic about US foreign policy under an Obama presidency from yet another source. In the The Audacity of Hope, Barack Obama wrote: “…All of which raises the question: what are the core values that we, as Americans, hold in common? One core value, individual freedom, is so deeply ingrained in us that we tend to take it for granted. I remember the first time I took Michelle to Kenya, shortly before we were married. As an African-American, she was bursting with excitement about the idea of visiting the continent of her ancestors, and we had a wonderful time, visiting my grandmother upcountry, wandering through the streets of Nairobi, camping in the Serengeti, fishing off the island of Lamu. But during our travels Michelle also heard – as I had heard during my first trip to Africa – the terrible sense on the part of most Kenyans that their fates were not their own. My cousins told her how difficult it was to find a job or start their own businesses without paying bribes. Activists told us about being jailed for expressing their opposition to government policies. ….” The above quoted paragraph from his autobiography tells much by way of Obama’s’ sympathy and empathy with people who find themselves in miserable conditions and lack the basic and deeply cherished American values—Liberty and the pursuit of happiness. The quoted paragraphs also tell say much about his deeper understanding of the very sad conditions found among many countries and the peoples living in these countries, it says much about the character of Obama, his core values. The deeply held principles of a very decent man.

Let us not forget the very man who was an outstanding law school student at Harvard and President of Harvard Law Review, opted to accept much lower pay as community organizer, turning down six digit salary job offers from the corporate world. This too is indicative of Obama’s core values and character, that of siding with the average person, and his commitment to change the lot of the under dogs of society, as opposed to aligning with the politically powerful and the wealthy. Farid Zakaria, the former editor of Foreign Affairs, and now with Newsweek magazine, in his most recent article, observes that “ …Bill Clinton and Hilary Clinton were always careful not to stay too far from the country’s comfort zone. Obama is pushing to change the parameter of that zone. That’s leadership.” It is this tendency to push to change the parameters of the zone, about which Mr. Zakaria talks about that should make us comfortable about the kind of foreign policy that Senator Obama will pursue. It is the kind of leadership qualities Obama embodies that give hope and optimism about his “Transformative” potential not only to reconfigure the political edifice and policies here in the USA, but also on the Global scale.

Viewed from the broad challenges facing humanity, our planet is in great peril, and continues heading towards a catastrophe of epochal proportion. Global warming , climate change, and an ever depleting of natural resources – the depletion of the world’s rangelands, forests, fishers, biodiversity etc—in unprecedented scale and beyond their natural capacity to regenerate themselves as a result of voracious quest of nations of the world for economic progress in an unsustainable and ecologically disastrous path. We have come to a point of no return. Thus, greatly threatening the very survival of human civilization and the continuity of future generations. In much of the developing world such as Ethiopia and much of the countries of Africa, we still face monumental challenges of hunger, abject poverty, the specter of AIDs, and corrupt and tyrannical regimes that exacerbate and compound the misery of hundreds of millions who under abject poverty and ever pushed on the farthest edges of society to engage in actions that degrade the environment on massive scale for sheer survival. These challenges desperately need Leaders with fresh ideas, bold visions, principles and the will for decisive action.

The leading scientists of many countries including the USA, the most prominent climatologists around the Globe, and Inter governmental agencies studying climate change and many other internationally recognized authoritative bodies and personalities such as Jeff Sachs of The Earth Institute at Colombia University and Lester Brown of the Earth Policy Institute have come to a similar consensus with regard to this central problem of our era. They have ringed the alarm bell about the state of our planet. The single and most pervasive conclusion that has emerged from these massive findings from varied sources is that the human impact on the natural environment has reached a complexity and magnitude unprecedented in history, which may well endanger the survival of human civilizations and human life on this planet.

Barack Obama’s’ energy policy and his avowedly strong commitment to gear the backbone of the most powerful industrial civilization, the American energy system towards alternative, clean and green energy sources promises to put a brake to the current trend towards what has been termed as “ecocide” of Global proportion, stemming from dependency, in large part, on the dirty fuels such as oil and coal. With a majority democratic congress, many hope that America would be able to tackle more seriously and even lead international conventions and the agenda for action to meet the challenges of Global climate change and the Global environmental crises. Obama’s energy policy would create millions of green jobs, minimize USA’s dependence on Middle Eastern oil, and in the process would bring the US towards an energy system that depends on clean and environmentally non-polluting economy, a model economy of the 21st century.

This in turn would surely help in diffusing innovation in solar, wind and other renewable technologies to the rest of the world. Thus , eventually leading towards the phasing out of the reliance on “Petro dictators”, as argued with massive data and persuasive new vision by Thomas Freidman , the New York Times Foreign Affairs correspondent and bestselling author of several books including his most recent: Hot, Flat , Crowded: Why We need a Green Revolution and How it can Renew America . Mr. Freidman proposes a similar action when he asks Americans “what kind of America would you like to see—an America where there is not big national goal, or a green America, where inventing sources so abundant, clean, reliable, and cheap electrons, which could enable the whole planet to grow in a way that does not destroy its remaining natural habitat, becomes the goal of this generation…” Barak Obama’s energy policy promises to usher a new era for America, America that is not fettered by “petro dictators” due to addictions to oil.

In so far as America remains a leader of the world, if America rises to be the best of her potential, she can change the course of history, not only for America’s sake, but also for the sake of the rest of the world, the survival of humanity at large. There are many reasons that indicate that Barack Obama is such a leader, bringing USA to rise to the best of herself. Indeed to these monumental and epochal challenges with the support of the tens of millions of his supporters, including tens of millions of white Americans who have transcended racial divide and outdated thinking of a bygone era. In deed seeing in him and as Martin Luther King Jr. dreamed some forty years ago–, judging him by the content of his character , not based on the color of his skin. A man has come on the world stage; a unique leader has emerged to lead the most powerful country on the planet.

If elected as a President, not only America but the world would need the qualities and visions of Barack Obama. He may not be the alpha and omega, but he certainly can put America on the right track and with America’s leading by example, the rest of the world would follow. Let us rise up to the occasion. Let us seize the moment. Let us vote for hope, vote for change; vote a better and stronger America. Vote for a cleaner and greener America, and consequently a cleaner and greener world. Let us vote not only for ourselves but also for the continuity and survival of humanity on planet earth. Vote for Democratic Presidential candidate Barack Obama.

Emalaf Zeleke is an Ethiopian American residing in Virginia.

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