Southern Africans Embrace Obama Election



Barack Obama's victory in U.S. elections is being widely hailed in Southern Africa.  As VOA's Delia Robertson reports from our southern Africa bureau in Johannesburg, like others across the continent, southern Africans seem uniformly delighted Senator Obama will soon occupy the White House.

From South Africa's elder statesman Nelson Mandela to ordinary workers going about their business, southern Africans have embraced Mr. Obama's election victory.

In a letter to the newly elected American leader, Mr. Mandela urged Mr. Obama to make it his mission to also combat the scourge of poverty and disease throughout the world.  

He wished Mr. Obama strength and fortitude and said he believes the soon-to-be U.S. president will indeed achieve his dream of making the United States a full partner in the community of nations, committed to peace and security for all.

Mr. Mandela's belief was echoed by a South African named Busani, who said she is pinning her hopes on Mr. Obama assisting Africa in getting fairer treatment in global trade agreements. 

"I am so happy, I am so glad," Busani said.  "I wept, I cried, I danced, I laughed - ooh, it is a great moment.  But I am hoping that in trade-related issues, Africa is going to be more prominent, that we get a fair deal economically, we are more recognized by the world, instead of being sidelined."

Gwen, a 67-year-old South African who lived in the United States when John F. Kennedy was president, said Senator Obama's acceptance speech reminded her of Mr. Kennedy and made her weep.

"I was quite overwhelmed by his acceptance address.  This brought to mind the inaugural address of John Kennedy, which to me was very powerful," Gwen said.

Ferayi is a Zimbabwean in Harare who hopes Mr. Obama's election will bring hope to his beleaguered country.

"For Africa and Zimbabwe in particular, we feel space is going to be opened for the Zimbabwean people, and probably the challenges that we are facing today are going to be a thing of the past through his victory," Ferayi said.

Newly elected Zambian President Rupiah Banda also had warm words about the election.

"I was very much interested to listen to his inaugural speech.  It was a very lovely, lovely election," Banda said.

Like others, South African President Kgalema Motlanthe appeared to have also spent the night in front of his television.  His official congratulatory message was issued less than one hour after Mr. Obama made his speech. 

Mr. Motlanthe said he hoped Mr. Obama would encourage change on this continent - change that like Americans,  Africans can believe in.

South African Dawn believes Mr. Obama can do even more.

"I think he is probably going to turn the world on its head, quite frankly," Dawn said.  "Clearly it is going to have an effect on Africa, and let us hope it is going to be a very positive effect on Africa.  And I think we are going to see some very interesting, huge changes."

Tsarayi, a visually impaired Zimbabwean in Harare, thinks the U.S. election holds lessons for Africa.

"This demonstrates political maturity also in the sense that John McCain has actually congratulated Obama and I think many African countries have a leaf to draw from that," Tsarayi said. 

Antony, Tsarayi's Zambian neighbor living across the Zambezi River in Lusaka, agrees.

"As Africans in Zambia we are happy with Obama's win," Antony said.  "It is truly democratic.  It will give us a lot of lessons as African countries delving into democracy."

But even as southern Africans welcomed Mr. Obama's election, many also noted that he has a huge task ahead to meet not only the expectations of those who elected him, but also those on the African continent.  It is a task they say, that will demand particular strength and commitment and that may not always yield success. 

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