America’s Elections – Peace Lessons for Africa
November 17, 2012
November 17, 2012
During the presidential campaign between Mitt Romney and Barack Obama, I was glued to my TV screen everyday and most nights. I sacrificed hard earned US Dollars to DSTV in subscriptions just for the election, and I am happy to tell you I wasn’t at all disappointed. Yes, there were some complaints about how archaic or obsolete the American electoral system is, compared to others in Europe and South America, but my African experiences told me otherwise and, besides, the excitement, cheer and merry were second to none. To me, that is how election time should feel.
First, the campaign itself went on smoothly, even as the catastrophe of Hurricane Sandy inserted itself into the lives of millions of Americans. The candidates were free to travel anywhere and campaign. There weren’t any No Go Areas, whether those were a particular candidate’s stronghold or the electorate had felt let down by the incumbent and did not want him anymore. Even as he saw Mitt Romney close the gap and threaten to overtake him in polls, Obama did not incarcerate his competitor. He did not manufacture some lie and order Romney’s prosecution. At one point, the two candidates took a break from the campaigns and shared dinner and jokes. Can you imagine that happening here in Africa, even in Ghana or South Africa?
Secondly, there was equal coverage of both candidates on TV and other media. I watched intently as BBC and CNN screened the biographies of the two presidential candidates. There was no ‘Obama TV’ or ‘Romney TV’ even though I am sure the two could afford it. It was a joy to see some whites supporting Obama, and blacks supporting Romney. My eyes nearly filled with tears at that reality. The whites did not go hunting down fellow whites who supported Obama and kill them, nor did the blacks do the same to fellow blacks who supported Romney. No blood was spilled, as we often experience on our continent.
Third, the candidates had the opportunity to articulate main issues in open debates, and often side by side. I liked what one commentator said—that people in some countries are dying and killing just for the chance to argue and debate. Indeed, that is what most of us in Africa want. We realize full well that we cannot all be president or prime minister or even cabinet minister or high ranking government officials. All we want is the chance to take part in determining our day to day lives, and our future, even at the lowest levels.
I am not sure whether Hurricane Sandy had a role in the final result or not. However, what I am sure of is that had a similar natural catastrophe happened here in Africa in the middle of an election, heads would have rolled. The hurricane would have been manipulated to suit different ends by the candidates.
Though I could detect an inclination towards Romney or Obama by some TV hosts and news anchors, I saw nothing like we would have had here. We would have expected the anchor to run away with the TV altogether. By the way, usually there is one TV Station, erroneously called National TV.
Fourth, it was reported that Obama edged Romney with the votes of minorities and women. The minorities included blacks and Hispanics, among others. Here is a clear case of a good policy paying off. Besides contributing immensely to the economic and social life of America, the minorities had the decisive vote. In most African countries, minorities are classified as aliens and have no voting rights. They are mostly employed in menial jobs on farms and in mines. In Zimbabwe, it was this subjugation of generations upon generations of migrant workers (some of whom had come to the country in the 1940s) that led them to vote for the MDC. The ruling party reacted by taking over the farms in a bid to deprive them of their livelihood as punishment. And this led to a national food crisis and everything else that followed.
Another thing to consider is that Obama won in spite of the high unemployment figures and the economy being in bad shape. To be honest, at one point I gave him little chance and thought his country would ditch him. However, in Africa leaders are presiding over worse scenarios. My own country, Zimbabwe, for instance has more than 80 percent unemployment, and we threw away our worthless currency two years ago, adopting the US Dollar and South African Rand instead. American voters realized that while the economy matters, at least it was on the mend. Not many Zimbabweans carry that hope, yet the leaders hang in there and the people trudge on behind them.
The icing on the entire electoral cake for me was not Obama’s speech, but Romney’s. He publicly conceded defeat and congratulated Obama. This happened on the day of results, in a matter of hours. Despite the huge personal and supporter resources expended in money, time and energy, Romney did not feel humiliated and did not incite his supporters to dispute the results, or wait until people had killed each other over those results. He did not form an army to fight Obama and his own people. He was the first to accept Obama as his president, and wished both his family and him luck and goodwill. I really felt for Romney after that speech, and if that kind of gentlemanly attitude runs in the family. I bet my bottom dollar that one day the world will see a Romney become President of the United States. Now, is it any wonder then that president Obama promised to sit down with him and see how they could work together for the American people? This is what we need for Africa.