The 44th president of the United States is Barack Obama – and he has a lot of promises to live up to. At least, that’s the take here in Addis. While Ethiopia’s neighbors to the south are justifiably celebrating, cajoling and basking in the sweet victory of an American president with a Kenyan father, the mood in Ethiopia is much more business like.
My circle of Ethiopian friends, who cannot be expected to accurately reflect the sentiment of an entire city, much less a country, certainly approve of America’s young leader, but also realize politics is as much talk as it is action. That’s not to say you don’t hear murmurs, excited undertones, on the mini-buses and in the streets of the news of America’s election of Obama for president – you do. Additionally, more Obama t-shirt clad fans can be seen throughout the city. The most enjoyable part, as an American abroad, is that random people shout ‘Obama!’ in your direction, while smiling and giving you what I call an Ethiopian salute – a raise of the eyebrows and simultaneous grin. Assuming, as they do, they know for whom I cast my vote.
For all of this excitement, there’s been nothing outstanding. People mention the election, but the conversation quickly moves to the next topic – how’s your day going? What’s up with this rain during the dry season? When pressed, folks I have talked with mention the fact that Obama has a lot of work ahead of him.
Concern number one, they say, is the bad economy. A bad economy in the developed world in-directly cuts funding for a lot of programs and investment in the developing world, sooner or later. A close second concern: the two wars the US now finds itself in. People here have seen what war does to a nation – both within and without. Prosperity without peace, Habtamu says, is hard to come by. But, he quickly adds, there’s no easy solution; a big test for Obama.
What has most impressed me is the calm, realistic demeanor by which Ethiopians accept the election. They hope the benefits will be many fold for the US, Ethiopia and the world, but simultaneously realize the enormous task that lies ahead of our 44th president. We all may do well to gain a bit of this realistic, but quietly optimistic perspective.
This has been a historic week for the United States of America. The American people, much to the joy of the broader world, have voted for a change of direction in Washington and in politics. Let us now work together – calmly, realistically but always optimistically – to help President Obama put a little of that talk into action.
Addis Ababa, Ethiopia