Friday, November 07, 2008

Democracy Trouble

The effect of Obama's election on world politics is yet to be determined. If you view it through the lens of the past eight years, a century of American hegemony, or the long-historical view of global colonialism, the consensus seems to be restoration of the U.S. image in the world and better opportunities for international collaboration -- generally, a move towards greater stability.

See Nick Kristof:

The outpouring [of global excitement for Obama] suggests that the United States will enjoy an Obama dividend of global good will in the coming months, a chance to hammer out progress on common threats. “Barack” means blessing in Swahili, and this election feels like America’s great chance to rejoin the world after eight years of self-exile.
Or Roger Cohen:
What I am sure of is this: an ever more interconnected world, where financial chain reactions spread with the virulence of plagues, thirsts for American renewal and a form of American leadership sensitive to humanity’s tied fate.
But if you look closer, at individual nations, with their own histories and troubles with democracy, ethnic conflict, and demographic change, then the example of Obama has a much more complex effect.

Rachel Leow:
What is Malaysia’s original sin? Or in other words, what is the singular injustice which we have wrought unto ourselves, and upon which we, too, should begin to build our own perfection?

Like America, our problems are also born out of racial discontent. We might rail against our colonial heritage, and say that it is solely because of people like Furnivall, Winstedt, Clementi and all our largely well-intentioned but racist British officers, that our society divided racially in the way that it did. Those who do will be led to the erroneous conclusion that we have already built our perfection with the flagstones of Merdeka; that Malaysia, freed from the British grip, is by definition already perfect. But I do not think it’s possible to abjure responsibility for the past fifty years, in which we have had our Merdeka, in which we been our own people, but during which we chose, and still choose to remain racially divided. In a way, I think, we too have been guilty of a kind of slavery, though not of the physical kind. We have enslaved ourselves to a false idea: that we can’t help casting each another as eternally divided (lesser) beings, because the ‘facts’ of linguistic, cultural and religious difference will not allow reconciliation; because the ‘reality’ of money politics condemns all hope of unity as naive; because this, because that, and fifty years of ‘just because’.
G. Pascal Zachary:
Obamania in Kenya has gone on for years now, but the hype isn’t just about the president-elect’s roots. Rather, Kenya’s Obama fixation seems to represent a kind of escapist fantasy for an African country beset by political dysfunctionality. Still raw with the memory of the electoral violence that left hundreds dead last spring, Kenya is thirsty for exactly the sort of change Obama represents. Indeed, the Illinois senator seems to possess everything that Kenya’s political leaders lack: youthfulness, a conciliatory image, and the hope of transcending narrow ethnic identities in favor of a common national interest.

To grasp why the Obama fascination in Kenya came to be, return to January of this year, when the country suffered through the worst post-election violence in its 45-year history. A political bargain ended the crisis but failed to address the enmity between rival factions and ethnic groups here. Current Prime Minister Raila Odinga garnered much of his support from the Luo ethnic group, which remains deeply suspicious of the country’s dominant Kikyu, led by President Mwai Kibaki. And the skepticism runs both ways.

In a country where most political elites are over 60 but half the population is under 20 years old, Obama’s youth and his message of unity has a strong appeal. As one writer to the East African newspaper observed Monday, the ‘old boys’ of Kenyan politics should be swept aside, replaced by a new generation. “Younger Kenyans,” wrote B. Amaya of Nairobi, “should emulate Obama in order to change the tribal nature of our politics.”
Shake 'em up.

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