Obama’s Win: Why Some Africans Cared

Despite their own pressing problems, locals on the continent still take an interest in U.S. politics.

Simon Maina/AFP

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 But, he said, the affinity extends beyond the man himself. “In South Africa’s context, even during the fight against apartheid, there were three friendly Democrats who were in leading positions who contributed and were actively part of the struggle,” Monyela told The Root.

I’m used to being an American abroad, but this positive reception is new to me. I’ve lived overseas since 2005, and my first port of call was Iraq, where people had no trouble telling me what they thought of our country and our president. When I lived in Germany, people sneered at the mere mention of George W. Bush’s name. And when I lived in Ethiopia, a young lawyer friend once suggested that Americans overthrow Bush. As in, stage an actual coup d’état.

It was the only time I have lost my cool over politics, and the hot little speech I delivered would have made my high school history teacher proud. “Say what you want about the man,” I said righteously, “but have some respect for the system.”

I honestly cannot imagine having this level of vim for any other nation’s politics, and I’ve covered a number of foreign elections. With apologies to my British friends, I never much cared whether David or Ed Miliband was chosen to head the Labour Party.

In fact, I wouldn’t dare offer an opinion, lest I be accused of being an imperialist. I’ve strenuously maintained a level of studied disinterest in all things political. (And so did South African President Jacob Zuma. He was careful before the U.S. election to avoid picking a winner, but as soon as the results were announced, he promptly sent Obama a congratulatory note, Monyela said.)

But I have always been touched by the level of interest — from experts and ordinary people alike. Shortly after Obama’s speech, I spoke to one such “ordinary” South African. James Satekge makes recycled furniture out of old railroad ties from his tiny, cramped workshop in a downtrodden part of Johannesburg. 

Satekge immediately launched into a concise and elegant analysis. He quickly outlined what he said were his two key issues — the U.S. economy and climate change — and called on Obama to urgently address both. These two issues, he said, directly affect him.