The Significance of the US Inauguration on the Historic Day of January 20, 2009 for the World? – Network of Ethiopian Scholars (NES) COMMENTARY. No.29
“The first panacea for a mismanaged nation is inflation of the currency; the second is war. Both bring a temporary prosperity; both bring a permanent ruin. But both are the refuge of political and economic opportunists.” Ernest Hemingway
There is one change that is certain to be acknowledged by the world. An African-American, whom we like to call endearingly, a brother, has made it to the White House. It sends a powerful symbolic message of change by registering the first ever sheer break from the usual pattern of presidential selection in the annals of American history. This change is real irrespective or independent of whether the African-American president succeeds or fails to make the presidency a force for change both inside the USA or the way America relates both to the rest of the world and mother nature.
However, a substantive change comes when the institutional and policy lock-ins that have misdirected American power time and time again specially after the post World War II and Post Cold War periods can be re-orientated to drive world politics and economics to modes of global governance free from hubris, arrogance and the pursuit of solo interest to that of valorising the welfare of both people and nature globally. If the militarist course is not reversed, if the power of example does not supplant the example of power(W.J.Clinton), if the double standard and hypocrisy continues supporting dictatorships considered pro-American or pro-supportive of the sitting American administration whilst opposing others taken as unfriendly, then we are back to square one. The change of election time’s talk becomes just that- a lot of talk. Substantive change comes if America understands and becomes confident also that it can eat out of everyone’s hands, if only it builds its relationships with the rest of the world by promoting equitable and fair systems of global governance with multilateral consultation, deliberation and wisdom abandoning the easy and facile triumphalism from the sort of Fukuyama’ type of End of History pronouncement that followed the demise of the former USSR!. The opportunity exists to make a difference by changing course, less triumphalist, more collaborative and team building and team playing to make the world a safer place for all now and future generations so that who becomes champions is peace and security for all on earth.
The challenge US leadership faces is exciting. The stakes are high. If decisions that make a real change come, the world will be happy with America and may even welcome American leadership without any question voluntarily. America does not need to exert itself to lead. America will be invited. If the decisions to continue the status quo prevail, we are back to the drawing board. World disorder will be exacerbated rather than abetted.
With a great anticipation of the coming inauguration of Brother Barrack Obama, we dare offer some thoughts for his leadership to consider doing to refresh America’s position for the good of the world for both America and the world’s futures and wellbeing.
2. The Historic US Election of 2008
In November, 2008 the whole world was witness to history having been made in America. A major national election after having been fought for two years brought a consequential victory to an African-American providing the election a world-civilisation turn and epochal significance. The debate was electric. The process was tough. The road was tortuous. Lo and be hold, the final result came as a redeeming brightest star illuminating America by sending a message to all with universal spirit of possibility and hope to the rest of the world never seen before in living memory! It may not be an exaggeration if indeed people say it is the second most important historic re-birth for the USA as a vital and invigorated nation equal to perhaps the first birth of the USA as a free and democratic republic in 1776! The election vindicated African-Americans having come from the depths of enslavement to reach the mountain top and the White House. It was a long journey. It was not given to them on a sliver platter. They fought for it and succeeded after so many years! Finally African-Americans have made it and broken through many hurdles to reach this height!
When members hailing from the most oppressed communities reach the pinnacle such as the White House, it is not only a victory for them alone, it is also redemption for their tormentors and oppressors. More importantly, it is so liberating of everyone touched by the episode, it is as if the whole of humanity has attained a civilisation shift of world historic proportion. That is what took place in America, making this great nation even greatest! America can be justifiably proud for reaching this threshold and breaking out of all the limiting restrictions of human possibilities to attain this level of civilisation.
3. Reminiscing SOBU- Student Organisation for Black Unity
Some of us as college students in the USA in the 70s were members of the Student Organisation for Black Unity (SOBU). We used to travel to the South and spoke on the radio and on college campuses that were predominantly black to come to the North Eastern USA universities like Brown, Columbia, Harvard and Princeton Universities. Universities such as Columbia University used to give scholarships to attract black students and a number were able to make use of the opportunity to enhance their education. Other Ivy League universities probably had similar scholarship programmes. The idea was to attract the talented black students to attend America’s top Ivy League research universities that can equip students with the intellectual power and confidence to aim high and reach the best attainable positions in both the private and public worlds in America.
4. An African-America Family in the White House
We now have an African-American intellectual family that made use of the best Ivy League research universities education to prepare them to lead the USA hopefully into a new orientation and new civilisation. Having come this far, everyone’s hope is that they will do everything in their power to change the militaristic and imperialistic system that has hurt America so much into a civil and socially orientated system that can serve both the USA and the world with vast promise and opportunity. The odds are that the system is more likely to change the occupants of the White House than they are able to change it from a military-industrial & Wall Street, Federal Reserve –Treasury-Corporate Lawyers’ Complex to a social-health-education-nature and safe energy and climate friendly complex!
But militarism is not wealth in the end. It is wealth accumulated through the means of death. Health is wealth and life. Education is wealth and learning. People who train and are healthy work and create wealth. Nature preserved and not treated as infinite sink is the source of wealth and knowledge. Knowledge is productive power that drives a wealthy, healthy, educated and, humane, moral, just and fair society, people and nature. Making wealth through lending and borrowing via banks, and selling and killing through armaments and the military is immoral and unsustainable, and the world should outlive it in the 21st century. Look what the Banks did in 1929! They triggered the first great depression. Look at what the Banks are doing to the USA in 2008 and 2009! They started the on going global recession which may turn to become the Second World Depression. There must be the intellectual courage to change death into life, ignorance into education, ill being into wellness, debt, credit default, and paper that the banks circulate into asset and innovation that people can live with reasonably well.
Changing the military industry into civil defence conversion will not be easy. The transition will be treacherous. We can all try to understand the enormous challenges and try to be supportive and not pre-judge the current elected African–American president, if this goes beyond his term to refashion. All can give him the benefit of doubt and can show patience to understand and allow him to make the mistakes he is likely to make, but we hope that the main thrust of change is to change the foundation of a military economy into a peace-promoting economy. When that is secure a real change will come both to the USA and the rest of the world.
Who has sought it was possible for African-Americans to reach the White House? If such changes are possible, it is also possible to change the structure of the American economy from the military to civil economy. Such a change will also change American global politics for the good of the world. Let us hope America’s example to do good to the world through its ideals and deeds is the power it wields preferentially over other resources and weapons at its disposal. Let us hope it stops projecting globally its militarism as an example of its power over the rest of the world- to paraphrase slightly differently one of the inspiring campaign speeches we heard from former president Clinton.
5. The Changes the USA must make to influence the world with fairness and justice
The USA is confronted with what may turn into a major great depression in 2009 and such a challenge can provide the opportunity to change gear away from militarism to enhancing social, health, education and climate care with sustainable and long term vision and imagination. Instead of waging war in a way that keeps recreating more wars such as what the war on terror seems to have done, it is more important to put efforts to save people and the planet and use soft power to win the hearts and minds of people with all those- the majority of the world- who are against terror and who do not want war. The policy direction that stimulates the creation of more and more weapons menaces the existence of people and planet. This can easily happen by accidental fall out unexpectedly and not by design as people may imagine. But we have one planet earth that we know of now. If not to stand up to preserve this earth, where to find another one like it elsewhere; if not look after it now while it is still alive, why will it be better tomorrow when it would be too late; and if this generation cannot do the preserving and saving, which future generations can do it? It is this kind of conceptual framing of the symbiotic existence of earth and people, with a constructive and inclusive mind-set and policy orientation the USA must approach all problems to find solutions and not create problems. When such change takes place in USA leadership, then real, substantive and positive change to imagine and make one world secure, peaceful and free will be enhanced!.
6. Bring back US anti-colonial History
Another recommendation for policy change for the USA today is this: The history of US freedom is rooted in resistance against colonialism. The USA emerged as an anti-colonial democratic civilisation. Until the Second World War, it did not play overtly an imperial political game perhaps with the exception of Latin America, the Philippines and other places. After the demise of Great Britain as a super power, USA took the leadership role. It is interesting to note that the USA along with HAITI and MEXICO in the western hemisphere supported Ethiopia when Italy invaded Ethiopia in 1935. That stand is appreciated very much by the Ethiopian anti-colonial resistance to this day. The USA today must resurrect its anti-colonial roots and anti-colonial memory and side with nearly 80 % of the world population that shares an anti-colonial struggle of one variety or another.
The USA cannot sleep in bed with some dictators whilst opposing other dictators. It must not sleep in bed with any dictator having dreams of democracy whilst the dictators have their dreams of autocracy. It must be consistent and oppose all dictatorships. The USA should continue to support those that are oppressed and show its democracy is inconsistent with supporting dictatorships or oppressors regardless of the material and economic cost that brings to it. That would be indeed a USA reinvented from a super power to a super example that spreads its influence with its ideals and commitment to justice and support to those who suffer under all sorts of dictatorships and oppressors.
The third recommendation is this: The US must dare to rethink its policies in the Middle East, Horn of Africa and other difficult conflict endemic regions. In the current unnecessary and tragic wars that go on now in the Middle East that aggravate tension overall, the new administration should rethink and should start thinking out of the box that the USA has been locked in for a long time and should call categorically and lend the full US moral and political power and authority to bring an immediate stoppage to the siege and the carnage that is going on right now. Israel has the right to self-defence, but it does not have to unleash such monumental carnage at a time when a new year is dawning by massacring the trapped people of Gaza. The New administration does not have to endorse the current invasion by Israeli army. It can legitimately hold Israel has a right to self-defence, but that does not mean a license to attack the population in Gaza and elsewhere in Palestine. During the presidential election the position on the Georgian and Russian conflict was measured. It did not use ideology to defame Russia and exalt Georgia. It went straight into the reality and the call for restraint was prudent and subsequent events demonstrated it was correct.
The USA also should treat Israel with fairness and not partiality. There should be a message grounded on morality and humanity and the passion to see good prevail over evil by standing up against injustice and speaking out against aggression committed whether by friend or foe or whoever commits it. This perspective must come first and guide policy. This is part and parcel of the USA showing its power of example, morality and humanity over the example of interest and military power! The new administration can oppose the war by condemning the politics that has exposed people to danger through military exchange and self-legitimised in the case of Israel by the Zionist narrative of Israeli self-defence, and in the case of Palestine, the self-determination and of Palestine by waging armed struggle to achieve anti- colonial self-determination.
These two narratives are irreconcilable, until forces emerge from both sides to go beyond these certainties and narratives and find new arrangements that work based on some edition of the South African type rain bow nation or some other workable formula to bring people together not through military victory but through appeals to the common humanity of the Jew and the Arab as brothers in Palestine.
We hope a message graced by this elevated new tone graces Barack Obama’s inaugural address on the historic day of January 20,2009, sending a powerful signal that America will not support aggression by both friend and foe and will go full steam for a peaceful, and safe world with confidence and humility.!
This means the new administration must have the intellectual, moral and political strength and willingness and ability to face the music by standing up against all types of injustice committed by both friends and foes. The day we see this happening is the day we say America is prepared to extend its power of example to the rest of the world whether this makes her lose some non- all weather friends in the process. The power of example means America mustering the courage to tell friends, when they are wrong, they are wrong. If these friends turn against the USA when the USA stands firmly against injustice, then they are wrong and they better learn that American support is not cheap that anyone can claim by declaring friendship to USA but not to US values. It is even more important that the USA talks honesty to friends than foes! With foes the terms of engagement are different, but with friends it is harder to get the right model of engagement.
Using American’s power of example to friends and foes alike will incentivise foes to become US friends. For example Iran is likely to hear the USA if it knows the USA plays fairly and evenly in the Middle East between Palestine and Israel.
The time for the USA to change politics from realism to idealism and universalism is now. In fact the opportunity existed after the end of the cold war, instead of a new world order, the world could have gone into a global governance system that can bring peace, security and development to both people and nature globally.
If global governance with US’s power of example is consolidated, that will be real change. Supporting Israel or any friend that commits unjust acts at any time no matter what scale of harm it inflicts on the defenceless people like in Gaza by pouring preponderant force is not change. We hope Barack Obama can stand up and stand tall and with him America’s image and example will be restored instantly in the world, though certain sections will brood over such bold and just actions. At least the USA should not abstain under Obama’s administration on the current war in Gaza; it must join the others in the US Security Council calling for an immediate ceasefire.
The new administration must honour its promise by ending the war in Iraq that the previous administration entered into by violating Platonic wisdom in governing America. The war in Afghanistan will not be easy to solve until governance in Pakistan is stable. It should be much easier to boldly solve the unreasonable blockade of Cuba and use the good will of the world from the US election to change US unilateralism to genuine multilateralism to deal with all the problems in the world from the random terrorism that target any civilian of any age and gender anywhere today affecting us all to periodic disasters and preventing new foreseen and unforeseen diseases.
7. What kind of US Support to Africa
When it comes to Africa, president Barrack Obama should support African unity above all else, and do all that is possible to assist Africans to solve their own problems and be responsible for doing so. It is no donor aid that Africa needs; it is Africa’s empowerment to be able to use its resources for the education and welfare of African people. The help to help Africa help itself by putting African unity first is the more enduring support America can provide to Africa under President Barrack Obama.
8. What Kind of US Support to the Horn of Africa
When it comes to the Horn of Africa the USA should facilitate getting all those who are armed and opposing, and those protesting against misrule and election debacles, and those ruling to come to a process of reconciliation. The USA should encourage a convening of a global conference where both those external backers and internal fighters come to find a workable modality to address how predictable circulation of elites without violence can be developed. The USA can use its influence constructively without allying with this or that group to get a system of fair transition and rotation where even traditional systems can be included with respect to find lasting and enduring solutions. Such a conference must be patiently fostered to avoid wars in the region and curtail foreign partial support to internal warring factions. The conference can establish new guidelines and procedures to make sure the region emerges from violence and destruction by moving into an overall orientation and dynamics of peace and construction.
The USA should not prefer any of the existing power groups in the region but try to bring them together and establish mechanisms for peaceful transition of power and cooperation amongst the states of the region.
It should put sanctions against those who criminalise dissent by arresting opposition leaders like judge Birtukan and be open and listen to the protest that will take place globally tomorrow January 14, 2009 to get the immediate and unconditional release of all politically motivated prisoners of conscience.
NES will be prepared to cooperate and help in any way possible to get this overall conference to be achieved. We hope the new US administration will succeed in using its uniting power that it is using to unite Americans now in America by also trying its best to bringing all the forces and elite motivators of fractious fighting in our region in the Horn of Africa without making US moral and political and intellectual power partial to anyone in the region. If the USA does this, it will send a powerful signal to assist in solving problems or at least preventing itself to be part of the problem.
9. Concluding Remark
If the US power is well behaved, it is not just gain for America; it is even more a positive gain to the rest of the world. So it is in the human and global interest for all humanity to wish the USA to function in the best way to achieve good and spread well in the world,
Yes we can, is not just thus a slogan coined to reach the White House. It must be also extended to reach the world with ideals that build life rather than destroy life by stopping the misuse and abuse of making profit from the means of death as an economic activity and power with the military…
Yes America can relate with the rest of the world by projecting globally its power of examples, its ideals, its social, scientific and technological achievements, and the example and symbolic value of its current powerful achievement by the election of an African American. It can spread health, education and energy services, and protection of the earth today. It can discard spreading the example of its military power by making others to follow suit.
Yes we can is to oppose all dictatorships with consistency and principle anywhere. Having said these, we should be realistic, even if Barrack Obama does not do any of these changes by making America anti- colonial, progressive, anti- militarist and a new force in the world, we should support him and congratulate him as a brother whose ability to reach there is a power of example to our children! We should congratulate him for reaching this far and advancing the African liberation story with symbolic value and significance so that we can say to our children now confidently… there is not anything you cannot do unless you do not want to work for it. That itself is a historic achievement and feeds the African emancipatory imagination with infinite possibility and hope. That is history. That is the moment.
On behalf of NES: Mammo Muchie, Chairperson of NES currently NRF/DST research professor, IERI, TUT, Pretoria, South Africa and part-time professor and coordinator of DIIPER, Aalborg University, Denmark: www.nesglobal.org