Missing the election of Barack Obama as the 44th President of the United States of America after embracing two years in Washington, D.C. was an unfortunate quirk of timing. Watching it from Ghana was an interesting second choice.
Since we are five hours ahead of the East Coast over here, the first polls didn’t close until after midnight our time and clear election projections didn’t roll in until early in the morning. Frances and I went to dinner, and then went to sit with Baffour at a beach club to while away some time listening to the sounds of the waves rather than the incessant but as yet unknowing chatter of CNN (holograms?!?). By midnight we found a whole nest of Americans and American sympathizers at a club in town that had set up a huge projector screen in their courtyard. I stuck it out there till 3 am, but then needed to go home to manage both the exhaustion and nervous energy building up. By 4 am, I was sitting in my living room, watching the news roll in on CNN and chatting on Skype – with a bunch of you sitting at 1654, Nez in his lab in Vancouver, Ryan out in San Francisco. All of a sudden it was thirty seconds till the California polls close, and Obama with enough votes to carry the election. Virtually, together, we watched the possibility become a reality that our country had elected this man president. As I jumped and whooped and cried alone in my silent apartment complex in Ghana, those of you in D.C. ran into the streets, to U St, to the White House amid unbelieving, celebrating throngs. When I got to work at 8 am, you were coming home in the middle of your night and for all I couldn’t be there, I could feel the historic energy through the lines.
I think the almost surprising intensity of the release brought on by this night – joy, and relief, and the shy enthusiasm to believe in a government working for a collective good again – was something that most of us shared. The news coverage and editorials in the first days afterwards captured that marveling, happily incredulous moment. But two additional things stood out to me watching it from here. First, that I could be in Ghana, talking with you in D.C., and Canada, and California, all of us watching the same news broadcast with up to the second accuracy of vote counts in fifty states across our huge country is an unbelievable fact of the time we live in. All of those cables that connect us really do make our world a smaller place. And for this reason, Barack Obama was actually a global candidate. That he was elected the first black president of the United States is historically significant for us given our long racial politics, and that he was elected a liberal democrat significant given our recent history. But because millions of people who couldn’t vote for him could still follow his progress so closely in the global media, he captured the attention of the whole world. Here many Ghanaians stayed up all night as I did to watch the returns come in. One of the most frequently heard song on the radio in the last few weeks is called, in fact, Barak Obama (see the video and an interview with the artist, Blakk Rasta). And people here seemed to own a portion of the historic achievement too. As this editorial in the local paper narrates, Obama’s victory over racial prejudice is not only significant to people of African descent in the U.S. but in Africa itself, where the enormous wounds to self-esteem imposed by centuries of colonialism are not buried yet too deeply.
I am happy to have seen this side of the election, standing with everyone else on the outside looking in. I am hopeful about the years to come. Yes we can!