Wednesday, November 12, 2008

And the word was made flesh

HE stood on the portals of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., an imposing and stately personality. Before him lay a sea of heads, stretching as far as the eyes could see, the largest ever gathering of civil rights activists and sympathisers in the history of the Black American struggle, numbering well over two hundred thousand men and women, old and young. This, in his own words, was 'the greatest demonstration for freedom in the history of our nation.' His eyes glowed and glimmered in their moist sockets, as they roved round the sprawling mass of peaceful protesters and beyond the restive mammoth crowd, even beyond the visible horizon and far away into the spaceless void; far, far, into an impenetrable future which still lay in the realms of pure fantasy or wild imagination.

However, his was no mere daydream. It was a dream, all right, but a great dream which he was anxious to share with the unseeing crowd and the rest of blind mortality; a dream which was steadily transforming into a beatific vision before his inner eyes. 'I have a dream,' he dared to predict, '...a dream deeply rooted in the American dream ... that one day, on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood...I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. I have a dream today!...And when this happens,' he concludes, 'when we allow freedom ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God's children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual: Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last.'

On that historic autumn day, August 28, 1963, his tremulous voice reverberated with profound emotion to a roaring ovation, which ricocheted beyond the surrounding hills and vales, across the entire American landscape, and all around the globe. It was the finest moment for the legendary Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., outstanding Civil Rights Leader, whose policy of non-violence in the unarmed human rights struggle earned him the Nobel Peace Prize the following year (1964). Two legislative victories came in quick succession: the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which conferred electoral and other human rights on the deprived black populace of an unjust American society.

Close to five years afterwards, tragedy struck. On that fateful evening of April 4, 1968, this colossal man of vision was felled by the bullet from the gun of a demented racist assassin and jailbreaker, James Earl Ray - presumably hoping to abort the August 1963 dream. But, oh, it was a trifle too late. The irretrievable word had been spoken; the irrepressible quest for freedom and racial equality had been born and nurtured into a massive social movement that had produced early legislative fruits; the ultimate actualisation of the Kingly dream was now just a matter of time.

That time finally came on Tuesday, November 4, 2008 - a little over forty-five years after the dream had been born - when the spoken word became flesh; flesh in the physical shape and form of an American negro of Kenyan extraction, Barack Hussein Obama. The son of a former slave descendant now gained the electoral power to govern the descendants of the former slave owners, thus outstripping the vision of Martin Luther King. Come January 20, 2009, he will be sworn in as the forty-fourth President of the United States of America. Obama scored a resounding victory over his Republican opponent, the septuagenarian Senator John McCain, with an unprecedented majority in a transparently free and fair election. By this spectacular victory, Obama became the very first African American to be elected into the highest political office of the world's most powerful nation. That momentous victory, thunderously re-echoes Martin Luther King's prophetic proclamation round the whole world: 'Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!' Yes, indeed, we - all blacks, all victims of racial discrimination, of tribal or ethnic prejudice, all oppressed minorities and marginalised groups everywhere - are free at last!

Obama's sensational victory has sparked off wild jubilations right round the world, particularly in Africa, his continental root. In his Kenyan homeland, public holiday was declared to celebrate this spectacular electoral fortune, in the same country where only recently bloody violence had greeted an electoral misfortune. Thank God that Obama, who was raised by his white grandmother far away in Illinois, did not grow up in Kenya. Had he contested in Kenya, he would almost certainly have been rigged out and forced into exile. Let the message go out loud and clear that Obama is poised to be the President of the entire American nation, regardless of race, colour or creed.

The critical votes which ensured Obama's victory were not the block black minority votes but the liberal votes of the majority white Americans who looked beyond the skin to endorse Obama. Furthermore, the vision of Martin Luther King was not to replace black oppression with white discrimination, but to transform America into a racism-free society, where all citizens - black and white alike - would be judged not by the colour of their skins but by the content of their character. In the same vein, America, and not Africa, will remain the centrepiece of Obama's foreign policy.

African nations should, therefore, resist the temptation of going cap in hand to Obama, or looking forward to a massive flow of aids. Rather, African nations should now evolve sound economic policies, founded on best democratic practices, in the full realisation that the days of kleptocracy, corruption and moral bankruptcy are numbered. African nations should maintain a healthy relationship with Obama's America, working in close collaboration with him for the upliftment of the entire human race.

The ongoing political revolution in America offers instructive lessons for Africa and the rest of the world. It confirms America as the world's greatest democracy, while democracy itself, with all its inherent imperfections, triumphs as the finest system of government ever devised by man. No other political system could have so peacefully produced an Obama presidency in such a deeply divided society. Democracy is an absolute concept, which is either totally present or totally absent. There is nothing like 'African democracy' or 'home-grown democracy'. Democracy is all about giving voice and power to the voiceless majority who reserve the right even to make the wrong decision, live with it and learn by it. With a black man in the White House, African politics must now come of age.

Obama's powerful victory speech, describing himself as the unlikeliest candidate for the office, shows that he is fully appreciative of the enormous tasks ahead of him..'For even as we celebrate tonight,' he enthuses, 'we know the challenges that tomorrow will bring are the greatest of our lifetime.' Obama must not fail. He shall not fail. He cannot afford to fail if he does not want to have the odd distinction of not only being the first ever black American president, but the only one for the next two centuries.

The chances of future black aspirants will either be brightened or jeopardised by his record of governance. By their votes, the white Americans have simply said: 'Let's give these bloody niggers just one chance and see what black mess they'll make of it.' Obama must let the cynics down by a scintillating performance in office. He has forty-three past presidents (all white) to beat to become the best American president ever. It is no tall order. He only has to work thrice harder than all his predecessors to realise the dream. He can make it. He must make it.

A last word for the American security forces and intelligence agencies. Obama must be provided the tightest protection ever that America can muster, in and out of the White House. There must be regular preventive and preemptive measures to frustrate the evil designs of dream-killers and agents of darkness. Remember the Kennedys? They were silenced, not because they had black blood running in their veins, but because they had 'black' thoughts running in their minds. Barack Obama is the very incarnation of those thoughts, the word-made-flesh who needs maximum human and divine security. The evil ones did it to Abraham Lincoln; they did it to the Kennedys; they did it even to Martin Luther King; they must not be allowed to do it to Obama. The word has been made flesh. Let him be. Let the flesh live to carry out the sacred mandate of the visionary speaker of the word.