Go Global, America!

To help President Obama improve America's image in the world, Americans must learn more about the world outside their nation's borders.

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Even as the number of foreign-based, American reporters has fallen from 188 to 141 between 2002 and 2007, and major papers such as the Chicago Tribune are now closing many of their foreign posts, Americans can still remain in touch with the world.

While working in Africa, we have been impressed by the information explosion, including the thousands of African news bloggers at home and abroad. Moreover, there is also a reservoir of grassroots information appearing on the Web from the 4 million Americans working and living abroad. The number of young Americans studying in other countries has risen 150 percent since 2000 to nearly 250,000—many more now in Asia, Africa and Latin America. And many of them are blogging. It is vitally important that this pool of citizen reporters be heard.

If President Obama is to succeed in getting our global neighbors to love us, it is important for us to love them in return. We need to know that not every Muslim is a terrorist. We need to know that even the poorest African mothers and fathers have the same ambitions for their children as the wealthiest American parents. To do that, Americans must work harder at understanding the world beyond our borders, exerting a little more energy than is required for channel surfing or sticking with the one channel that shares your point of view.

President Obama has laid out a vision for bringing about international cooperation to contain extremism, advance peace with justice, and to better manage the global economy and the environment. But Americans need to hold him accountable for making that vision become reality.

Forging principled partnerships with young democracies such as Ghana is a welcome compliment to his recent efforts at improving ties with traditional allies and former adversaries, as well as his historic appeal for greater respect and understanding with Muslims around the world.

But none of this can succeed without the backing of a public that is better informed. We live in a global neighborhood, and it’s time we got to know our neighbors.  

Charlayne Hunter-Gault is a Johannesburg-based journalist and author of New News Out of Africa: Uncovering the African Renaissance.

John Stremlau is formerly Head of International Relations at the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg and a frequent commentator on international affairs.