What Obama means to the world

From Saudi bloggers to immigrants in the suburbs of Paris, his election has revived global hopes for what America is and can be.

Thomas Mukoya/Reuters
On Monday, a boy sang and cheered near a poster of U.S. President-elect Barack Obama, in Kenya's western town of Kisumu, 220 miles west of the capital Nairobi.

The buzz around Obama’s inauguration is huge in America, but it reverberates far beyond our shores.

I live in what may be one of the most Obama-crazy neighborhoods in the US, a gritty urban hamlet of mostly minorities where only 14 people voted for John McCain. Seriously. That’s an official number.

As I was trudging through shin-high snowdrifts on my way to work this morning, I wondered if the snow-blower operators hadn’t just decided to join the throngs already in Washington, heeding the telephone-pole poster I saw last month for a bus trip to the Inauguration.

But if people in my neighborhood are excited about an African-American man rising to the US presidency, think of what it means in France – where minorities fill only three of 911 seats in parliament – and in the rest of Europe. Rigg Walker, a young Ghanian in the Parisian suburb of Chateau Rouge, told the Monitor exactly what it means:

"Whites think blacks can't do more, that we have a black mentality not as good as theirs. But give us opportunity – this is what Obama proves – and we can…. Obama shows that capability is not about skin, but about the mentor, the teacher – and this is where we can grow."

Pap Ndiaye with the School for the Advanced Study of the Social Sciences in Paris put it well to our European bureau chief, Robert Marquand: "Obama puts the political system in France on the hot seat.”

But Obama also resounds with the elite in Europe, potentially enabling him to become a unifying force there. In Berlin last summer, a huge crowd turned out to see him speak – more than double the number officials were expecting. He warned the enthusiastic crowd against allowing “new walls to divide us from one another,” giving many hope for a more united US-European approach on issues ranging from climate change to Afghanistan.

"He's an inspirational individual and that may be important when it comes to offering a vision that asks Europeans to do more,” said Karen Donfried, vice president of the German Marshall Fund in Washington.

Obama’s election also seems to signal to the world that American democracy is more than a doctrine – that the American dream can still come true. Here are a few comments collected by Monitor correspondents around the world:

“Saudis … did not really believe in the American version of democracy. How could they when all the presidents of the so-called ‘melting pot’ were Anglo.” - Eman Al-Nafjan, Saudiwoman’s Weblog

"We always feel we are lower-class people… But if someone of Kenyan origin becomes president there, it will make us feel we are on the same level." George Anyango, shopping mall employee in Kenya

"[Barack Obama is] what the rest of the world dreams America can be." - Jacques Mistral, transatlantic specialist at the French Institute for International Relations in Paris

“If an African-American can do it and become president, then people in Africa think, maybe … 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.” - David Monyae, independent political analyst in Johannesburg, South Africa

“We can now think of ourselves dreaming again with the Americans, dreaming about better relations, about a real future.” - Harold Herman, lawyer in a Paris firm

“Obama’s story shows that identity is not a fact of nature that locks men up inside their births, but [is shaped] by a conscious adherence to democratic principles…. For the first time in a long time, the New World deserves its name.” - Laurent Joffrin, editor of the French daily newspaper Libération

"I have the feeling that he is another bearer of the 'American Dream.' " Liu Na, China

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