Sounds like us, looks like us?

Obama may have African roots, but Burundians disagree on his allegiances to the continent, writes Haydee Bangerezako

“If Obama becomes president, he will surely be murdered,” says Nicodeme, an office cleaner who thinks it’s unrealistic for us Burundians to presume that a black man can be at the helm of the most powerful nation on earth.

Most Burundians are flabber-gasted at the idea of a man with an African father and a white American mother becoming president. When Obama said he planned to run, my cousin said a black man could never do that—especially not one with an African father.
She has since eaten her words and become an avid Obama fan, and is reading Obama’s memoir Dreams of My Father.

“He sounds like one of us, looks like one of us, his candidacy has boosted our self-esteem as Africans, immigrants and black people in general,” says Alice Karenzo, a freelance journalist. “White Americans are in denial and have yet to face the fact that during slavery white people were the villains and black people victims. They have yet to reconcile with their past,” she says. “Even if Obama doesn’t get elected, it is mission accomplished”—Obama has already changed people’s perceptions, she says.

“Martin Luther King’s ‘I have a dream’ has just been realised,” says Nzeyimana Andre, an entrepreneur. “It can be a model for other nations. Relations are going to be more humane. He proved that when he went to see his ill grandmother; family is important. Every young person wants to be like Obama.”

But if Obama is elected, “it won’t change anything for us Africans”, says Alexandra Sindahera, a communications manager. “It might change something for African-Americans,” but US foreign policy in relation to Africa won’t change, she says. “He’s not just black, he’d be president of the US. His obligations towards the US are stronger than his links to Africa, if those still exist.”

Haydee Bangerezako is a researcher and a freelance writer based in Bujumbura

Client Media Releases

Utility outages: looking at the big picture
UKZN scientists get L'Or'eal-UNESCO Women in Science grants
Springbok-mania hits MTN head office
Optimise your SMS campaigns this Black Friday