Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Postkarte aus Deutschland: The Inauguration of the ‘World President’

I must say that the news and TV images coming out of America over the past few days have been completely overwhelming. As I sit here today 5,000 miles away from the shores of my country and the people that I love so deeply, I cannot help but fill up with emotion as I watch scenes of tens of thousands of people streaming into a blistery cold Washington DC since early morning light for the inauguration of the 44th American president, Barack Hussein Obama.

Make no doubt about it America you are not alone in your excitement and yearning for positive change in domestic and world affairs. Millions of people all over Europe, Africa and the world are standing shoulder to shoulder with you today. I can bear witness to this claim as people here in Germany have been sharing their thoughts, ideas and feelings of goodwill toward America ever since Barack Obama won the November 2008 US presidential election. It is not only this young, dynamic African American politician that has inspired them, it is also the spirit of the American people that have helped to restore some confidence and hope in their hearts and minds.

Today, Inauguration Day, I can see genuine joy everywhere in my community as people are cognizant that this day is very, very special. We were greeted this morning with rays of warm sunshine washing over the old Hanseatic city of Bremen after weeks of bitter winter cold. People here know that this is a pivotal event not just in American history but in the history of the world. It is estimated that tens of millions of people in Germany will be watching the inauguration live tonight (1800 CET) and they will be joined by more than a billion people watching the historical event on televisions around the globe. I am so full of joy that it is more than this old heart can bear. Like Obama’s grandmother in Kenya, Sarah Anyango Obama, was quoted after his November election victory, “I don’t know if I will die of happiness!”

‘Let freedom ring. Hallelujah America! Let an unforgettable example of the triumph of a long struggle for freedom and democracy spread its warm rays over the world for all to see.’

Other views about the 2009 US Presidential Inauguration from Germany

Excerpt from an interview with German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, Spiegel Online International (Der Spiegel magazine) – January 12, 2009

An Open Letter to President-elect Barack Obama from Germany
Germany Offers Obama Deeper Partnership: 'The US and Europe Standing Shoulder to Shoulder' by Frank-Walter Steinmeier

Dear Barack Obama:

Last July, hundreds of thousands gathered before the Victory Column in Berlin to hear your vision of a better America and a more peaceful world. Your words moved millions of TV viewers. You rekindled the American dream for which countless people the world over have admired your country for more than 200 years, the dream of a society that has the power to change, that is open to new ideas, and that gives those with courage room to take their destiny into their own hands.

In a few days time you will take office as the 44th President of the United States of America. I am now 53 years of age, and never before to my recollection has there been such a feeling of hope and confidence about the inauguration of a US president -- not only here in Germany, but worldwide.

The expectations placed in you are almost beyond the human dimension, and the challenges you will face from day one are huge: a still-fragile financial system, an economy heading for recession, and an uncertain, changing world.

An impossible task? In any case one requiring courage, circumspection and stamina, and to be sure also new thinking that challenges old ideas and seeks new routes.
Your campaign was thrilling. You gave people, in the US and beyond, enthusiasm for a new start towards a shared future. You want to act in a spirit of partnership and to embark on a new course. This is why we see your incoming Administration above all as an opportunity, at this particular juncture, also for us here in Germany.

The tasks we are facing are enormous: to create a transparent and reliable global financial architecture; to combat the economic crisis; to revamp the global institutions; to create new trust between East and West; to build bridges between different cultures and religions that know little about one another; to bring peace and new prospects to places where today crisis holds sway; to take effective steps against climate change; to achieve global disarmament instead of the proliferation of ever more dangerous weapons.

All these aims can only be realized together. No country in the world, even the most powerful, can solve even one of these problems alone.

Together -- that means the US and Europe standing shoulder to shoulder. During the Cold War the West Germans benefited from America's commitment to freedom and democracy. Americans and Germans enthusiastically celebrated the fall of the Berlin Wall together. After that, however, our relations all too often became daily routine. At times in recent years I was concerned that our links might become looser. But we must not become indifferent to each other, especially at this crucial time, as in an increasingly uncertain world we need to enter a whole new dimension of cooperation. Together we can continue to shape the 21st century world -- if we make a courageous new start, place the central issues of humanity at the center of our attention, and seek joint answers to the questions posed by the future. Let us together set out a "New Trans-Atlantic Agenda" and bring it to life.

Read the complete letter at Spiegel Online International.

Hmmmm? This sudden outpouring of warmth and support from the German political elite for the new U.S. president is quite ironic. It was only seven months ago that leading German politicians were fighting one another tooth-and-nail over whether Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama could speak at the famous Brandenburg Gate or not. (The New York Times – July 10, 2008) I must admit though that Frankie (FM Frank-Walter Steinmeier) was in favor of the idea.

News and opinion about the 2009 US Presidental Inauguration from Germany

Spiegel Online International (English website of Germany’s Der Spiegel magazine)
SPIEGEL ONLINE US Elections 2008 Special Feature: America has made its choice

The World from Berlin: 'America's Renewal Is No Modest Undertaking'
An Open Letter to President-elect Barack Obama from Germany
Germany Offers Obama Deeper Partnership: 'The US and Europe Standing Shoulder to Shoulder' by German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier
SPIEGEL ONLINE Interview with Author Jonathan Alter: 'All Presidents Are Blind Dates'
SPIEGEL Interview with Strobe Talbott: 'The Obama Administration Will Be Very Cautious'
The World President: Great Expectations for Project Obama
Battered and Bruised: America Looks Beyond the Bush Warriors

Deutsche Welle Online (DW-World English language website)
Special coverage of the US Presidential Inauguration
America Readies for Change World News 20.01.2009
Germany's Obamania Soon to Face Reality Test Germany 18.01.2009
Experts: EU Lacks Unity in Responding to Obama's Demands Europe 14.01.2009

2DF – Germany’s 2nd National Television Network (German language only)
2DF Heute.de Nachrichten (2DF Today - News channel main website)
Machtwechsel im Weißen Haus (Transition of power in the White House)
Note: above links direct you to all live coverage and 2DF news reports on the US Presidential Inauguration and related stories. 2DF Mediathek is the online archive of all “DF video reports about the inauguration.

Atlantic Community – an open German think tank (English language)
Atlantic Memo: "Time to Start Transatlantic Relations Afresh" by Jessee Schwarz

Atlantic Review – a press digest for transatlantic affairs (English language)
Lessons for Europe's Social Democrats from the Obama Campaign by David Vickrey of Dialog International

Dialog International
Leon de Winter's Racist Attack on Barack Obama in Die Welt, 01/01/09
Note: Die Welt is a leading German daily newspaper

Earlier posts at Jewels in the Jungle re: Barack Obama and Germany
The Obama Election Victory as Viewed from Germany: 'Mr. President, Wir Sind Überglucklich!', 11/10/09
Barack Obama in Berlin: How we in Germany experienced the visit, 07/28/08

US and International news and opinion about the US Presidential Inauguration

CNN International
For Obama, Lincoln was model president - CNN.com
Special Report: The 44th President – The Inauguration

The New York Times
Op-Ed Contributors - A Pragmatic Precedent - NYTimes.com
Henry Louis Gates Jr. and John Stauffer
A Civil Rights Victory Party on the Mall - NYTimes.com
Obama's People - The New York Times Magazine
Voices From the Lincoln Memorial - The New York Times - Video Library
Inaugurations in Times of Peril - The New York Times - Video Library
The Inauguration of the 44th President – Special Feature - The New York Times
Inaugural Words - 1789 to the Present - Interactive Graphic - NYTimes.com

Voices of Obama's America: Who We Are Now Newsweek Politics: The Obama Presidency Newsweek.com
Many Obama Advisers Have Lived Abroad Newsweek Politics: The Obama Presidency Newsweek.com

The International Herald Tribune
Obama's aura, and our anticipation - International Herald Tribune
Crowds converge on Lincoln Memorial as inauguration ceremonies start - International Herald Tribune

The Inaugural Poet The Root
Pragmatism and the Presidency The Root
'Welcome to Washington' The Root
An Open Letter to Barack Obama The Root
In Our Lifetime The Root

Slate magazine
Stars and stripes forevers - Part 1 by Curtis Sittenfeld - Slate Magazine
A novella written especially for the presidential inauguration

Technorati tags:

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Ghana Elections 2008: A democratic transition of power in Africa holds out hope for a troubled world

Update January 15, 2009

I had planned my first blog post for the New Year 2009 to be about the December 2008 presidential runoff-election in Ghana. This election is a milestone event for people yearning for democracy throughout Africa because they were carried out in a relatively peaceful and transparent manner, receiving high praise from governments and election observers the world over. My own personal thoughts and commentary about these important elections in West Africa will have to follow a bit later because the latest outbreak of hostilities and war in Gaza is weighing heavily upon my conscience as it must be for many people around the world.

Expressing my own thoughts and sharing the knowledge and wisdom of people who are well informed about the long-running conflicts between Israel & Hamas is what I am working on at present. My Gaza post will be ready before the U.S. Presidential Inauguration Day next week. Hopefully by then the war in Gaza will have stopped.

For my regular readers interested in news about Africa here are links to the latest coverage on the Ghana presidential election from (gasp) Western news media:

International Herald Tribune
A giant of Ghana politics watches from the sidelines
Lydia Polgreen of the The New York Times interviews Ghana’s former president Jerry Rawlings, a military coup leader and ‘political big man’ in Africa during the 1980’s and 1990’s.

CNN.com International
Commentary: A victory for democracy in Africa by John Stremlau. John Stremlau is the vice-president for Peace Programs at the Carter Center and was an international election observer for the Ghana presidential polls.

Africa Confidential (excerpt from the new 'Blue Lines' feature)
January 15, 2008

Ghana's cliff-hanger elections and another successful transition start Africa's year on a positive note. It left those who had been predicting mayhem puzzling why Ghana failed to follow Kenya's descent last year into chaos after a similarly close-run and disputed election.

The answers, Ghanaians say, are in their political traditions, the credibility of the electoral commission and the local media's vigilance. Yet some senior figures in the main parties still favoured fighting out the election on the streets.

Politicians across Africa are studying Ghana's vote closely ahead of more than 20 elections due in 2009. Doubtless, the defeat of a previously popular governing party reflects the effects of last year's rocketing food and fuel prices and concern about jobs.

These will matter hugely in Southern Africa's six elections this year, particularly in South Africa, where the governing ANC faces a challenge from a party of ANC dissidents. And for the first time, the economic and political chaos in Zimbabwe will be a major issue for voters in the region. That might bolster moves by the ruling ZANU-PF hierarchy finally to edge out President Mugabe.

Further north in Algeria, Congo-Brazzaville, Tunisia, Equatorial Guinea, Niger and Sudan, elections this year are unlikely to be harbingers of change: for those incumbent regimes, the vote will be a masquerade behind which the real politics continues.


My original draft post composed on January 3, 2009

The people of Ghana deserve a hearty congratulation from the world community today. In what has widely been viewed by international observers as free-and-fair democratic elections and a peaceful transition of power to boot,
Ghanaians have chosen opposition party candidate Professor John Atta Mills (NCD) as their next president, succeeding the two-term Ghanaian president John Kufuor.

One of my closest friends Sam who hails from the Ghanaian capital Accra will be especially delighted. Just last week we were discussing the runoff election and he told me that an opposition win for the office of President would be good for the country, providing a balance of power to the ruling party controlled parliament. The new president-elect
John Atta Mills (profile) comes into office with some impressive credentials having served as Vice-President of Ghana in the administration of two-term Ghanaian President Jerry Rawlings.

It is not a first for sub-Saharan Africa but it is remarkable when one reflects upon the horrible post-election violence in Kenya just one year ago or looks at the despicable behavior and violence carried out by Robert Mugabe’s goons against the people of
Zimbabwe following the sham elections of March 27th and the presidential runoff on June 27th, 2008. And it looks as if the recent coup by the military in Guinea after the sudden death of longtime dictator Lansana Conté may not get much traction. The regional intergovernmental body ECOWAS and the African Union along with key Western countries are exerting increasing pressure on the coup leaders for a rapid return to civilian rule. “Coups in West Africa will no longer be tolerated” or so they say, let’s wait and see. The Mauritania coup leaders are still in power despite similar claims from the same folks.

Democracy has taken a firm hold in Ghana and other countries in West Africa over the past few years, but it remains under-reported in much of the world press and news media (not just the Western news media as is often charged by some). I came across an interesting article about Ghana and Democracy in West Africa published last March at the Washington Post. Here is an excerpt from that piece that shows that Ghana President-elect John Atta-Mills “returned from the dead” to defeat the NPP candidate Nana Akufo-Addo

Democracy Ascendant In States of West Africa
by Craig Timberg - March 13, 2008 - Washingtonpost.com

Reborn as well, over the past decade, has been democracy itself here in
Ghana and among its neighbors along West Africa's Atlantic coast. From Sierra Leone east to Nigeria, stability and at least a tentative version of multiparty politics have begun taking hold after many years of coups, military dictatorships and civil war.

Kenya has become the latest East African nation to descend into conflict, these West African countries have moved toward politics that are vigorous but rarely violent. Maysiema said she could not imagine Ghana's partisan enthusiasms ever turning bloody, no matter what the outcome of the presidential vote scheduled for December.

"Ghanaians are a naturally peace-loving people," said Maysiema, a divorced mother of seven struggling to support her family selling bread on Winneba's streets. "They will make the noise, but there's no way they will draw blood."

The progress in the region is far from uniform. Ghana and Benin have held several free elections with peaceful transfers of power; Togo, on the other hand, is still run by the son of a longtime strongman but in October had its first vote in which all major parties participated.

Civil wars in
Liberia, Sierra Leone and Ivory Coast have ended, and although Ivory Coast has yet to hold its first postwar vote, Liberia and Sierra Leone have elected leaders with popular mandates. Regional giant Nigeria, where military rule ended in 1999, has had a series of deeply flawed votes, but the disputes are being settled in an increasingly independent court system.

These countries are all freer, more stable and more democratic than they were a decade ago, regional analysts say. Peace, however fragile, is the norm rather than war. And citizens of these nations increasingly are demanding responsive governance from their leaders.
(End excerpt)

Related articles and resources on Ghana Elections 2008

Voice of America Online
VOA News - Opposition Candidate Wins Ghanaian Presidency
VOA News - ECOWAS Demands Civilian-Led Transition or Sanctions on Guinea's Military Rulers
AU Commission to Meet Over Mauritania Coup D'etat

BBC News, BBC Radio World Service
BBC NEWS Africa Opposition leader wins Ghana poll
BBC World Service - Ghana Elections 2008
BBC World Service - News - Democracy in West Africa

Global Voices Online
Ghana: Waiting for a President, 12/29/08
Guinea: History Repeating? 01/01/09
Twittering the Ghana Elections, 12/08/08

My Heart’s in Accra (Ethan Zuckerman’s personal blog)
Voting again… and again… in Ghana, 01/01/09

African Elections Project –
Ghana Elections 2008

Ghana Elections 2008 – a group blog covering election news and analysis

Coalition of Domestic Election Observers: Ghana

Ghana: Atta Mills Wins Presidency in Change of Power
Ghana: Elections 2008 - The End is Here
Ghana: The Making of a President by Dele Momodu (This Day, Nigeria)

The Washington Post
Democracy Ascendant In States of West Africa by Craig Timberg, 03/13/08

West Africa Review, Issue 6 (2004)
Constitutionalism, Governance and Democracy in Africa by Kelechi A. Kalu

U.S. Department of State
Remarks to the Conference on Elections and Democratization in West Africa, 12/08/06

Technorati tags: