Wednesday, January 21, 2009



By Jerry Okungu
Dar es Salaam, Tanzania
January 20, 2009

It was 12 noon on the dot. Barack Hussein Obama became the 44th President of the United States without being sworn. Yes, that is what the American Constitution dictates. The swearing in could come later, five minutes away because a violin was still playing in his honor!

Watching the spectacle live in the comfort of my beach resort room, I saw an aerial view of a sea of humanity, the largest audience in American history. America had not seen any number of people gathered in one place like they saw on the day Obama became President.

As if that was not enough, television audiences reached an all time high of 240 million across globe; the largest audience in television history; surpassing any known World Cup audiences or even Prince Diana’s funeral service.

Finally, Barack Hussein Obama’s long personal journey had ended at the White House, America’s seat of power and the most powerful office on earth. And what was telling in all this human drama was that all of Obama’s former political rivals; those who competed against him for that office were at his side to savor the limelight and celebrate his victory.

From the date Obama was elected American President, it 77 days to put plans together for a smooth and peaceful transition of power. There was no rush to assume office; never mind that this regime change involved two competing political parties. Then I remembered the rush with which Kenya and Zimbabwe swore in their presidents within hours of their disputed elections and wondered aloud if our African political parties would learn anything from this maturity. In our part of the world, the victor locks former rivals from such occasions except is the vanquished is the outgoing president because he must hand over the instruments of power.

As the ceremony progressed, protocol was observed to the letter and nothing was left to chance.

Former presidents walked in accompanies by their spouses and in order of their number on presidential historical list. There were no unnecessary long boring speeches. In fact the only speeches made were those of Obama and the Presidential Inauguration master of ceremonies.

The choice of Aretha Franklin dubbed First Lady of Soul did not disappoint either. Her hit song: My Country “Tis of Thee “captured the mood of millions of Americans at the mall that stretched two miles long.

In introducing Barack Obama to the Washington crowd, the master of ceremonies talked of American people’s freedom to choose their leaders being the root of their liberty. She confessed that Obama’s moment was the moment Abraham Lincoln’s dream had reached the White House.

As a pointer to how important the occasion was even for Hollywood stars, a number of them like Spike Lee were content to stand in the crowd with commoners as long as they could be there!

Now that it is all over, the hard work must begin. As the hard part begins, what should Africa, Asia and Europe expect in terms of economic stimulus? What should Israel, Palestinians and other warring parties like the Tamil Tigers, Joseph Kony of Northern Uganda and renegade Nkunda of the DRC expect? What about the Sudanese President already indicted by the International Tribunal in The Hague over the Darfur massacre? How about Kenyan warlords waiting to be tried at home failing which the secret list is handed over to The Hague? Will he read the riot act for all these hot spots across the globe? Will he reign in on the Hamas while taming trigger happy Israelis?

For those who cared to listen to Obama’s inaugural speech, his message was clear to a number of targeted audiences. To corrupt leaders from the Third World like Africa, time was up. They must shape up and start being accountable to their people. For hostile nations and terrorist organizations; he offered to them an olive branch but swore to exterminate them should they choose their destructive ways.

To all nations of the world; he pledged American friendship and material support. He urged Americans to consume less of earthly resources and offer their surpluses to the rest of the world that was deprived.

What was interesting was that of the 240,000 invited guests; only 200 were invited to the official luncheon organized by Congress. Bush and his wife were not even there to wait for lunch. They headed straight for their helicopter on their journey to Texas.