Mr. Obama is a symbol of progressiveness, among other things, but most of all, an inspiration to many. The ‘inspiration’ bit that is often mentioned is what bothers me. We have often queued up to identify with personalities because of what they stood for but have hardly shaped our beliefs and actions to match them. How many times have we heard our leaders naming Julius Nyerere, Nelson Mandela, Kwame Nkrumah, Anwar Sadat and others as role models yet they themselves are some of the most fractious individuals? How exactly is Obama supposed to be an inspiration? When we have lined up to congratulate him for his achievement, what are our thoughts about what he stands for? Is Obama a package or a charismatic Black man separate from his principles and general belief system? If I may, let me suggest to my fellow Ugandans what Obama should inspire:
- Respect for minorities: Obama is a member of a minority community in the US. This is an important lesson for those of us who look down on minority communities to the extent of ignoring and suppressing their identities
- Tolerance: Obama could have ran an angry and bitter campaign. He won on a message of unity and reconciliation
- ‘The past is in the past … let us look to the future’: Obama could have gone on about the absence of his father in his life, reparations for slavery, e.t.c. He chose the message that we should use the past to shape the future but not to transplant it to the present.
- Spiritual and cultural figures are not infallible and if they fail, we should not hesitate to let them know. Obama distanced himself from his spiritual leader when the latter fell short of his expectations.
- We get inspiration for others in history not so that we can be fashionable or feel good about ourselves but to inspire others and form a ‘chain of inspiration’. It would be pointless for me to say that Obama inspires me when my messages to others are divisive and inflammatory.
- ‘Yes we can’: Yes we can let Baruuli have Sabaruuli; yes we can carry out a campaign against spiritually-inspired murders; yes we can influence our drivers to be more disciplined; yes we can be Ugandans first and everything else after; yes we can confront corrupt and abusive officers, e.t.c. The possibilities that exist if we apply that slogan in the cultures, politics, business and other sectors of our country are limitless.
Let Obama not be just a fashion statement like many African icons have turned out to be over the years. We should take everything that he symbolises and tailor it into our personal and collective belief systems