With just 64 days to go before Barack Obama is sworn in as the 44th US president, unprecedented numbers of Africans living in the United States are making plans to attend the inauguration in Washington, DC. Excitement is building in the southern US community of Raleigh, North Carolina, where several groups of African immigrants are preparing to head to Washington for the historic occasion on January 20. Gambian-born journalist Pa Nderry M’bai edits the online newsletter The Freedom Newspaper. He says that celebrations are already underway in the North Carolina African community.
“The African community, most importantly the Senegalese and the Gambians, Kenyans could be seen driving their cars with banners (saying) ‘Change We Need,’ ‘Obama is the Man’. There is sort of optimism. People thought Obama would make a lot of changes in foreign policy and immigration, and they want the government to ensure that the immigrants in the United States are getting amnesty,” M’bai pointed out.
Many African citizens had high hopes during the 2008 campaign that once the most pressing issues of the economy and the war in Iraq were dealt with, an Obama administration would try to resolve a stalled national debate over US immigration policy to help their relatives solidify their living and working status in America. M’bai cautions that such expectations need also to be tempered by the realization that the presidency is just one branch of the US government and immigration legislation also is subject to approval of the legislature.
“Many voted for Mr. Obama with the expectation that they are giving papers to stay in this country for those who are here. But we have to be very cautious here. Mr. Obama alone cannot initiate this kind of decision. He must have the support of the Congress,” says M’bai.
He reports that African immigrants, much like the more numerous arrivals in the Latin American community, believe that those who have worked hard to establish roots in the US, support a national immigration policy that acknowledges their conscientious efforts.
“They said they’ve been here for 15 or 20 years. They have a clean bill of criminal history. They thought that it is crucially imperative for the government to give them papers to work and stay in the United States,” he notes.
As the debate intensified during the last session of Congress, opponents were able to prevent so-called immigration reform legislation that was backed by President Bush and others, including both Senator Obama and his Republican opponent John McCain, from being passed by Congress. Pa Nderry M’bai notes that the standoff is not just a US problem.
“The problem of illegal immigration is a global concern. But I think it is in the interests of the United States to ensure that those who are here illegally are documented so that we will know who is who in this country. This is very imperative in terms of national security. Giving them papers, then they shall be able to work and pay taxes,” he said.
The journalist says that Africans in
his North Carolina community are also optimistic that a President Obama will
bring a different temperament from previous administrations and greater
involvement in foreign policy issues important to Africans. Zimbabwe for example, he contends, presents
an opportunity for the new president to open a line of communications with the
government of President Robert Mugabe to help air issues that are preventing
the ruling party and the opposition from reaching agreement on a new
government. M’bai says the Africans he
has talked with are hoping that an Obama administration will be able to utilize
its negotiating skills to open up a dialogue that will encourage resolution of
this particularly intransigent crisis.