Its hard to appreciate or underestimate the effect Barack Obama’s presidency has on Africans. That a black man, son of a Muslim Kenyan, is now President of the United States. Add in that he comes after the Bush years, which were seen as very arrogant, and his election was a watershed moment in American-African relations.
Now don’t even try to imagine the overwhelming pride of Ghana, a small West African, in being the first African country to host Obama after the election. Even walking among Ghanaians after his visit, talking with everyone from taxi drivers to leading businessmen, I still can only glimpse at their happiness.
But I can see the manifestation of their joy everywhere I look. The signs of celebration are omniscient. Major roads are bedecked in posters of the US and Ghanian presidents and their respective flags. Random intersections have huge billboards honoring the whole Obama family.
On a personal level, taxis have Obama’s picture on their dashboards, kids wear Obama t-shirts, businesses use Obama in ads, and everyone is happy to talk about America – a huge change from my previous visits. Now I no longer need to worry about being American. I am celebrated, not scorned, for my nationality.
Here’s a little non-Ghana story to give you an example. Back in 2004, I crossed the border between Kenya and Uganda several times at Busia, Kenya. Each was an experience in pushing and shoving with annoyed crowds to get stamps and visas from annoyed officials. In November 2008, I crossed that very same border, and while the dust and crowds were the same, the experience was not.
This time, once I pulled out my blue American passport, a cry when up, “OBAMA!” I looked around, wondering what was happening, just as the shout became a chorus of, “Obama! Obama! Obama!” and they were signing and shouting while pointing at me. I look nothing like Obama. But I am American, and at that moment, I felt my own moment of unimaginable pride.
We, a nation of immigrants, millions of first and second generation of strivers and hopefuls elected one of our own. A first generation American. Proof that anyone can have a president as a son. I cry now, typing this. I cried then, in that dusty visa line at the Kenyan border. And I cried too when running through a beachside slum in Accra, I heard “Obama!” and raised my hand.
Thank you America. Thank you Barack Obama Sr. And that you Dad for crossing the Rio Grande.