‘Can I find the words? Yes I can’
Senator Barack Obama’s election as the first black president of the United States has been greeted by celebrations across Africa.
Ghanaian journalist Kwaku Sakyi-Addo gives his personal reaction to seeing an African-American becoming arguably the most powerful man in the world.
“I never quite realised how difficult it would be to write about A Day Like This.
Initially, I thought I could pre-cook a reaction piece in anticipation of what might be and, like bad journalists like me sometimes do, microwave and serve it after the event.
You can take that sort of risk if this was about a derby between two third-tier soccer sides across town.
You just fill in the blanks after the game, like a communique drafted ahead of a Heads of State summit.
But not for A Day Like This. Such A Day does not yield to fast food.
But now I cannot find the words. Words flood my senses. Yet none is fitting enough to describe Such A Day.
Perhaps the expressions that accurately capture it are yet to be woven.
The best linguists and wordsmiths didn’t foresee A Day Like This.
So thanks for the space and can I go now?
In my lifetime (I’m 50) the most historic days have been Yuri Gagarin’s blast into space in 1961; the moon-landing in 1969; the collapse of the Berlin Wall in 1989; Nelson Mandela’s release from prison in 1990 and black people voting in South Africa in 1994.
But the election of Barack Obama as the first black president of the United States beats them all:
• A first-term senator
• Whose middle name is Hussein
• Whose ethnic Luo surname doesn’t quite open doors, even in his father’s native
• Whose step-grandma still lives on a subsistence level in Kogelo
• An African American without the hyphen
• A man born in Hawaii and brought up in Indonesia
• Who ran against former white White House occupants and war heroes in a country where your race defines you and if you’re black you ran the risk of getting deposited into a box marked and sellotaped for track and field and entertainment and crime and jail and self-doubt and shame.
But Barack Obama defied all the rules and cracked the code. And tore down the fences and hand-wrote the form book.
Admittedly, if Mr Obama can touch the horizon and walk on water, it’s also because he’s elevated on the broad shoulders of heroes.
There’s a text message making the rounds in Ghana’s capital, Accra. It reads: “Rosa Parks sat down so that Martin Luther King could walk so that Jesse Jackson could stand so that Obama could run so that our children can fly.” Oooh, yes, they can!
And that, for me, is the entire point about Such A Day.
Frankly, I’m not that keen on the analysis of prospective policies which Mr Obama might introduce towards Africa or the Middle East or North Korea or Pakistan.
Early in the morning of Wednesday 5 November, while Mr Obama was belting out his acceptance speech to legions in Chicago, my 10-year old daughter, Ofeibea, emerged from her bedroom to join me to watch the historic event.
“I didn’t want to wake you up; I thought it was too early,” I said to her.
“I was up already; I was listening,” she said: “I thought if I got out of bed you would ask me to go back to sleep.”
No, I wouldn’t have sent her back to bed. I was happy that she was interested in Mr Obama’s election.
She listened to him speak and charm and inspire with his words and the perfectly pitched cadences.
She watched me quietly as my creeks broke and overflowed their salty banks.
Later, when her brother, Ohene, joined us I told them, between phlegmy sniffs, why Such A Day was oh so special.
“Daddy, you mean since God created the world this is the first time that a black person has become president of America?” Ohene asked – he’s seven.
“Yes,” I replied.
“Woooooooooooooooooow!” he exclaimed, until he was nearly out of breath.
This, I believe, is the whole point about Obama’s election.
It’s not the dense geo-political hair-splicing that now rings tediously on the channels that has been keeping people awake around the world.
Mr Obama hasn’t been elected to pause the Earth from spinning so he can fix it.
He’s been elected to wooooow each of us towards our dreams, no matter the obstacles.
Well then, it seems that out of the mouth of a babe, I may have found the one word that encapsulates the way I and millions around the world feel.
The word is “woooooooooooooooooow”!
PS: This, really, is all I needed to say to start and end – what I had on my mind, instead of this lengthy script. But, hey, in the end, I found it. See? I can!