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What Obama’s election means abroad

Barack Obama’s victory was met with euphoria in many nations by those who see him as restoring their faith in American ideals.

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“His [Obama’s] message is so powerful for Africans: Yes we can,” says David Monyae, an independent political analyst in Johannesburg. “If an African-American can do it and become president, then people in Africa think, maybe black nations can also do it, and achieve prosperity, and people who are struggling for democracy in Zimbabwe can do it, and those in power can do what is in their power to change their countries for the better.”

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In Europe, the meaning of Obama is tied up with the meaning of America in a very real sense. Obama has tapped what has long been a “universalist” strain in French thinking, political scientists say – in part, that all individuals are equal and owed that equality.

“Obama will bring a new trust in America around the world. We can now think of ourselves dreaming again with the Americans, dreaming about better relations, about a real future,” says Harold Herman, a lawyer in a Paris firm. “For eight years, we’ve not been able to think of ourselves in a real relationship with America, and it is not what we wanted. But now, new things are possible. The US, Europe, and Africa all have new possibilities for the future.”

Dominique Moisi, a leading Paris intellectual, echoes the euphoric mood: “This is a Copernican revolution in the image of the US.”

In Montreal’s Haitian community, Obama’s visage has become ubiquitious, as iconic as Che Guevara. Sixty-four-year-old Haitian immigrant Jean-Michel Baptiste says he’s sold hundreds of Obama T-shirts from in his small ethnic grocery store in recent weeks.

“I never ever thought I would live to see a historic moment like this,” said Mr. Baptiste Tuesday night. “A page in history has been written. A black has been elected as the president of the most powerful country in the world,” he said.

Even though Canada has a Haitian-born woman, Michaelle Jean, as its governor-general (a titular representative of the Queen of England), Baptiste says it’s not comparable. “Look, she was appointed to her position. Obama earned his position by merit. He was chosen by the American people to be their commander-in-chief.”

Louis Balthazar, a political scientist at the University of Quebec in Montreal, offers some insight into Obama’s popularity in Canada. “Firstly, he’s not [George W.] Bush. He represents something different. He’s not arrogant or domineering. His approach is respectful and cooperative.”

Professor Balthazar says that the jubilation in the Haitian community is understandable. Obama’s election sends a strong message throughout the world about minorities. “It’s a lesson to other countries, to us in particular. It’s an inspiration for us,” he says. Of late, there has been a growing backlash to cultural minorities in the province of Quebec.

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