Nearly two million immigrants have
come to the United States in the last 30 years. Hundreds of thousands are
registered voters who are expected to go to the polls next week to choose a new
US president, as well as state legislators and local officials. William Eagle asked some African
voters around Washington, DC, about the issues of concern to them this election
The concerns of many
first-generation African voters in the US are not much different from those of
others polled. Their overwhelming concern is the economy, followed by worries
about health care and the war in Iraq.
Leykun Brouk is a financial adviser in Alexandria, Virginia. Brouk, who is originally
from Ethiopia, says many of his African clients are worried about job security
and the future.
"[The economy] is on everyone’s
mind…the news is unprecedented," says Brouk. "The market is global, and there are no bright
signs anywhere. Consumers are tightening their belts to see how far [the market
turmoil] will go. On an individual level, people are postponing purchases they
had planned, and they are concerned about money they have saved, like bank
A Shortage of Loans
Consumers and businesses alike are
experiencing a credit crunch, with many banks reluctant or unable to grant
That affects new home buyers and
those who want to renegotiate loans with high interest rates.
originally from Eritrea, is a mortgage broker in Silver Spring, Maryland.
"We generate our business from
people who want to purchase properties [or] refinance their existing mortgage," explains Ghebre. "Our [problem] is we have clients with pending contracts trying to purchase bank
properties [such as homes] but for some reason those contracts are[being ratified] in a timely fashion. As long as long as our clients are on hold,
our business is on hold."
And, he says customers are not
able to renegotiate [refinance] their existing mortgages because falling home
prices mean they no longer have enough equity in their property for a new loan.
Food Prices Rising
The global hike in food prices
over the past two years has also affected voters. Part of the reason for
the rise is the higher cost of fuel to transport food and to the diversion of
grains to make biofuels like ethanol, rather than for human consumption or as
Yared Mamo, who is originally from
Ethiopia, is the co-owner of Habesha Market and Carry Out in
downtown Washington, DC.
"Each time food prices go up," he says, "we
don’t want to raise the price but it’s becoming hard to survive in this kind of
The US secretary of the Department
of Agriculture, Ed Schafer, told the press that food costs are likely to rise
over 40 percent this year.
Mamo says he’s been in the United
States for nearly 20 years and has never seen such inflation.
"The corn [maize] oil we used last
year it was 19 dollars for five gallons, now it’s 42 dollars. The price went up
over 100 percent and meat, flour, you name it, ....everything has gone up."
Mamo says he’s also
concerned with the spiraling cost of health insurance, for himself and his
workers. He says he and other small business owners cannot afford to buy health
insurance for employees. He’d also like an end to the war in Iraq. He says he’s
familiar with the financial and human costs of conflict, since in recent years
his own country of origin, Ethiopia, has endured a civil war and one with
What Kind of Change ?
For some of the Africans interviewed,
a desire for change mixes with ethnic pride, leading them to support Democratic
Party candidate Barack Obama.
But not all. Businessman James
Enos-Edu of Burke, Virginia, favors the Republican Party, which he says is
better for business, national defense, and moral values. Enos-Edu, who is
originally from Ghana and Liberia, is the CEO of an information technology security firm,
and the former owner of a restaurant and catering firm.
"Being a business owner working 60
hours in a restaurant [in the 1980s]," he says, "you go to purchase things and you see someone
[buying] food items and at the end, paying with food stamps [government
subsidized coupons]. And when they walk out, you see them driving a brand new
car and wearing "bling-bling", gold. If this person is paying with welfare and
I’m working 24 hours and barely making it, is it a good system ?" He notes that President Bill Clinton and a Republican-led Congress reformed the welfare system over 10 years ago.
On the other hand, mortgage broker
Habte Ghebre says an Obama win would remind his young daughter that if you work
hard, you can do anything in the US, regardless of gender, race or religion.
Restaurant owner Yared Mamo says
it’s the candidates’ policies, not race, that’s important.
He says if it were only about
electing a black president, he says he could have stayed in Ethiopia.