By Obi Nwakanma
Barrack Hussein Obama was re-elected the president of the United States last Tuesday in a fiercely contested election. He defeated the Republican candidate Mitt Romney by a plurality of votes and by taking 300 of the Electoral College votes. Americans of the political divide between the two parties, the Democratic Party and the Republican Party, went into the elections nail-biting; it was too close to call and it could go either way according to the polls. The exit polls had the two candidates polling equally in the battleground states.
Nothing more visibly telegraphed the emotional dimension of this election than the picture of the US president Barack Obama, in his last campaign night at Iowa, then seen as a key battle-ground state, shedding tears that powerfully spoke of a stirred and final moment.
It was then up to the voters the next morning. Here in Florida, another key election battleground, I watched the elections in what is now known as the key I-4 corridor in Central Florida, which holds the balance for any national electoral outcome.
That corridor is the future of American politics by the evolving architecture of its electorate and the shifting demographics that seem to place Hispanic vote in the epicenter of American politics. The lines were long in Florida. Voting went on till 10:00pm even after the polls had closed nation-wide because of the vast turn-out of voters who had been driven both by the campaign issues and by the on-the-ground get out the votes operations of the parties in a tightly run campaign.
In the end of course President Obama won. As at Friday, the election result in Florida had not been announced even though the Romney team, after considering the tallies in conceded Florida also to the president.
He did win in Florida by a very razor-thin margin; and it is beginning to seem that nobody ever wins in Florida with extremely wide margins; but Obama’s victory here is in fact significant for two reasons: one it is indicating the increasing changes in the demography of Florida, and two, the increasing importance of the Hispanic Votes, particularly with a large number of the Puerto Rican population in Orlando, and the changes in the Cuban votes in Miami, as the old generation of anti-Castro Cubans who once voted overwhelmingly for the Republicans over the Cuban issue are beginning to phase out into a second generation of Cuban immigrants.Ohio was another key spot where the President’s campaign strategists had created a firewall – a failsafe option were he to lose key places like Colorado, Wisconsin and Iowa; places he also won quite handily on Tuesday.
He may even have won the election without Ohio. Two important questions came out of Obama’s victory and his successful coalition, which has now sent the GOP, the Republican Party into a tailspin and into a post-election soul-searching. Whither the Republicans? Is there a new America?
There is increasing criticism within in that party itself, that the Republican Party is too old, too white, and too rich, and too out of touch with the realities of contemporary America, particularly on the social issues and on the immigration question.
The Democrats were able to sew together a powerful coalition of African-Americans, Hispanics, women and younger voters to create a national plurality of votes that gave President Obama his second mandate. But it is the end of election, and it is the next day, and the day to begin to govern: President Obama is confronted by a slew of domestic and foreign policy issues: a slow economic recovery that economists say might be worsened with what they now call the “fiscal cliff” – a rather strange neologism for permitting aspects of the last budget to slide off, erasing the long years of tax-cuts all round for Americans unless the US parliament – the Congress – arrive at some bi-partisan agreements.
The Republicans and conservative economists argue that permitting the US to slide off that “fiscal cliff” might result in deep recession; there are some economists who actually do not agree, suggesting perhaps that this might be a blessing in disguise that might then strengthen the hands of the re-elected President Obama to fulfill his electoral mandate to increase the tax of the wealthiest Americans as a way of solving the America’s possible debt-overhang.
The new Obama administration is faced with the problem of dealing with the immigration issue, the still terrible level of unemployment, and a slow economic growth marked particularly by the stupor in the Housing market and in manufacturing. On the foreign policy scene: President Obama is faced with the question of Syria and the increasing face-off with Iran, which last week fired at an American drone.
There are many who fear that the rhetoric might escalate into combat in this very tricky zone, particularly as Iran is beginning to hurt by American-led sanctions over the nuclear question, and a defiant Assad in Syria digging in against the clearly foreign-sponsored uprising and civil war in Syria.
Assad’s defiance comes true in his statement on Thursday to a Russian TV, “I’m not a puppet made in the West. I was born in Syria, I will live and die in Syria.” The increasing international dimension of the Syrian and Iranian situation, and developments in the Pacific Realm, and China’s increasing assertion of its sphere of influence will define the tenor of the Obama presidency going forward. It is left to be seen where Africa stands in Obama’s foreign policy.
There is talk that Hillary Clinton will leave the administration, and a key figure rumoured under consideration to replace her in the State Department is Susan Rice, and old Africa hand. A key criticism of Obama by Africans in his first term was the accusation that Africa remained, even under this so-called son of the continent, a mere geographical appendage in the US foreign policy goals.
The US has often treated Africa and modern African nations as extentions of their former colonial ties, or as new colonial satellites of the United States in the post-cold war environment. This is a mistake and Africa clearly holds the key to a new global economic frontier and African nations ought to be given less paternalistic tongue-lashing, treated as equal partners, and as sovereign nations, and afforded the grounds for equal, rapid development made difficult in the last fifty years as a result of Euro-American dependency policies and frankly its attendant racist undertow.
Obama has a chance in this second term to take Africa more seriously, not merely as a distant, fraught, and fragile continent, but as exactly what it is to any eyes that see: a rising continent from the ashes of colonialism and neocolonialism. Obama must refine and redefine America’s relationship with this continent in his new foreign policy thrust on Africa. He must also stop ignoring Nigeria, or that at great cost.