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Obama Inauguration Resonates for Many South Africans


Millions of South Africans stayed up late Tuesday night to watch live broadcasts of the inauguration of Barack Obama. In cafes, restaurants and private homes, they discussed the message and significance of the event.

The inauguration of Barack Obama as the United States' first African-American president reminded many South Africans of their own lengthy struggle for democracy and equal rights.

Constitutional Court Justice Albie Sachs told the national broadcaster that the event recalled the inauguration of former President Nelson Mandela.

"It's a sort of upsurge that humanity felt when Nelson Mandela became president of what had formerly been apartheid South Africa. That's irreversible," said Sachs. "It doesn't solve any problems but it does solve problems of the mind, of outlook, attitude, of what's possible today."

Mr. Mandela issued a statement calling the inauguration something truly historic not only in the annals of the United States but of the world.

Parts of the Mr. Obama's speech were seen as especially meaningful for the continent.

"To those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent, know that you are on the wrong side of history, but that we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist," Mandela said.

A professor at Johannesburg's Witwatersrand University, Koffi Kouakou, said the new president brings an enthusiasm that he hopes will unleash new forces.

"It's so powerful for Africa because the continent has been stuck so long with leaders that are corrupt, creating famine, changing the constitution to stay for life," said Kouakou. "We want new types of governments and that kind of new administration in the United States brings a fresh wave of meaning and saying, can we get the same thing in Africa."

A professor at the University of Johannesburg, Chris Landsberg, said Mr. Obama's pledge to seek new relations with the Muslim world based on mutual respect is an example of the change in U.S. foreign policy.

"We're going to see a change in style. The Bush administration will forever be remembered as the one that took the world through an ugly phase of unilateralism, of disregarding partners whenever it felt like doing it," said Landsberg. "I think America is going to come back to multilateral institutions."

He says with Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State the Obama administration will engage foreign governments to a greater degree and will temper power with diplomacy.

Kouakou hopes the Obama administration will treat Africa as an equal partner as is being done by emerging powers like China and India.

"There's something here [in Africa] that has been dismissed, hasn't been given its greater value," he said. "And I really hope that the United States will look at Africa and be able to deal with it as a continent of relevance."

Nevertheless, analysts note that Mr. Obama remains an American first. As a result they expect his foreign policy, especially on economic issues, to seek to advance U.S. interests foremost.

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