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The World-Uniting Force of a New American President

21 January 2009 9 Comments

Commentary by Molly Mayfield Barbee

There we were, 50 or more of us—mostly men on their way to Abuja, Accra, Cairo, Johannesburg, or Nairobi, and me—crowded around the 8-inch television screen over a bar at the Addis Ababa airport. On any other day it would have been a football game (or “soccer,” as our US readers call it) that gathered such a crowd. But yesterday was no ordinary day. It is, in fact, A New Day.

Inauguration Day 2009 found me wrapping up from meetings in the UAE and making the journey back home to Sudan. Because of the, shall I say, interesting restrictions and flight patterns to Khartoum, my route took me back through Addis. And that’s how I found myself standing on tiptoes in that bar, stretching for a glimpse of CNN and the most important proceedings to take place in the United States for many years. We stood, watching the elated faces of many Americans and holding our breath while we waited together for Barack Obama to make his way up to the stage and take his oath of office.

We had just seen Hillary Clinton take her place when an Ethiopian Airlines agent bustled over and called out urgently for all passengers to Khartoum to board their plane now. Disappointed, I pulled myself away from the smoky bar and my chance to witness the swearing-in of the 44th President of the United States so I could get home . . . where I knew I could find late night activities from Washington, DC still being broadcast live in what would be my morning.

And now here I am on the couch in my living room, glued to CNN as it goes over Michelle Obama’s fashion choices, Chief Justice Roberts’ bumbling the lines of the oath, and the ongoing (for me) festivities of the inaugural balls. I am overcome by the feeling this morning, as I have been since election day, that it is a proud, proud time to be an American abroad.

Over the New Year holiday my husband and I were traveling in Southeast Asia. At first we didn’t understand what we heard people calling to us as we walked the streets, but as the shout outs became more frequent, we recognized it: “Obama!” In Phnom Penh and Bangkok, people who recognized us as Americans called out, “Obama!” Yes! As soon as we understood what they were saying, yes! They weren’t calling us names. “Obama!” was becoming a new international greeting.

People all around the planet were finding the occasion of this transition to a new president of the United States a uniting force for hope and joy. Even if we didn’t speak the same language, people were looking for a way to reach out to us and express their good wishes. “Yes, Obama!” we’d smile and cheer back.

During the run-up to the election we had seen t-shirts with Obama’s face and phrases of support in the local languages of Kenya and Ethiopia. Now that he’s elected, we find that people who peg us as Americans are bursting to connect with us and our new president. In Khartoum now there’s even a new Obama barber shop.

The departure of former president George W. Bush from the White House has not been missed in the world’s recent analysis of American politics. In the days leading up to this week’s inauguration, I was in the UAE reading the local papers. Along with their profuse coverage of the war in Gaza, and reports on how the current economic crisis is affecting booming development in Dubai and Abu Dhabi, commentary on the end of the Bush presidency was a daily recurring news item. The relationships between the United States and Middle Eastern countries will certainly be some of the most important for President Obama to improve and rebuild, so his words addressed directly to the Muslim world were heartening.

Now, what does this big day mean for the women and men of Peace X Peace around the world? Well, we’d like to hear from you directly. What are your reactions to the inauguration? Has anything changed about your perception of the United States in the world with the election of this new president? What are your expectations? What are your wishes? Have you been tuning in to “Obama Fever” or do you have other things at the front of your mind? Have your say right here in the comments section of this blog and/or share your story on our home page. You can post it yourself or send a photo (.jpg) and your text to

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9 Comments to “The World-Uniting Force of a New American President”
  1. Reporting in from Paris where I flew from the UAE as Molly returned to the Sudan: the French are happy, smiling, relieved, and hopeful for change for the world – but being French they don’t demonstrate actual giddiness. Much too sophisticated for that! …. mainly they hope Obama will have the support to make needed changes real.

  2. biola Adimula says:

    Definitely the swearing in of Barack Obama as President of the US is a wind of change, I mean real, real change. Students of History will agree with me that, for a black man to rise to the No. 1 citizen of America within a space of just four (4) decades from the time of Martin Luther Jnr, considering the stuggles in his days and the relationship between the whites and the blacks … this event is unique and oustanding!
    The quiet emergence of Obama, his rapid popularity, his acceptance by all, his global recognition mean more than what the eye can behold. Obama is now a world leader, accepted by all, take it or leave it. This is not ordinary. As we follow the events as they unfold in America, let us understand the signs of the times physically and spiritually.
    Hearty Congratulations to President Obama!

  3. Lucia Quahey says:

    It is a dawn of a new era. People of African decent must be proud to have produced a fine, qualified, as well as elegant gentleman, who not only believe in himself but has the ability to take others along with him. He has challenged everybody no matter your color, race or creed, he is calling on everybody to put their shoulder to the will. He is a source of inspiration to the under-previlage as well as those elite who think that all is lost, that things should remain the same or should be done as usual. He is hope for the hopeless and the oppressed and most importantly a shining star for African people. African leaders should learn from this ilustrous son who is promising his people that his country comes first before his comfort, not only that, he has always through out his campaign indicated thst, he can not do this alone without the people involvement of the people, he promise to be open, sincere to the peolpe, he recognised that people comes first.
    I love him, he is the right person to be the president of this great nation America at this critical time in the history of the world.

  4. Kizzie says:

    As a Sudanese, I’m happy to have someone other than Bush in the white house. I think Obama’s speech was amazing. It really touched me. But, the most important question for me as a Sudanese woman is not about the American economy , it is about America’s foreign policy.

    What is he going to do about it?
    When it comes to Sudan, I’m happy Susan Rice is not America’s rep. to the UN. She supports a military intervention in the Sudan. We do have a lot of problems, but a military intervention is not the answer. Obama, what are you going to do about Sudan?

  5. Erin E Ludwig says:

    As an American, I am filled with overwhehlming optimism and happiness at the possibilities ahead of us. I know that things aren’t going to change overnight. Just like anyhtig else in life, it’s going to take more than a day, more than a month, and more than a year to clean up this mess that took 8 years to create.
    One of the most exciting challenges that President Obama is bringing to the American people is the responsibility to serve and to become an active part of the solution. There is so much possibility stemming from this simple act of everyone chosing one thing and becoming involved. As a nation drowning in economic turmoil, the majority of our population is still greatly blessed, even if it is smetimes difficult to see. We all have something to give. Change does not come through inaction. I’m excited to do my part to help you succeed President Obama. Thank you for being the instument which threads us together, inspiring each one of us to unite and emerge from the ashes of the Bush Administration to build a better America, and a better world.

  6. Virginia says:

    As a peacemaker and an American, but most importantly, as a member of the human family I am so proud of my countries choice of President. I see the hope on peoples faces, hear the shout outs with every update on the presidential decisions that are being made and sense the feeling that we can, once again, hold our heads up, work vigorously for justice and peace and re-enter the world arena with pride and purpose.
    God bless this country and the whole world!!

  7. Glory says:

    I am from a third world country and I have followed each step of election up to the inauguration of the new President of United States. I must say Obama is a big change in the history of not only America but of the world itself. However, the expectations are too high within and outside of America. He has many problems to handle and solve. My brother is in the States and he got laid off by his company now he has no job with his two sons. He is a single parents. I am worried for him that if economy is not going to get better and if there are no job opportunities, what will people like my brother do there and his sons? Therefore, I wish Obama all the very best as he goes about tackling problems. May God give him wisdom, guidance and conviction to carry out his duties. May there be peace in the world and justice for everyone.

    God bless you all!!

  8. Aisha Mustafa Mohamed says:

    In fact Molly Mayilds words express how i among others I know, felt that day.
    We are stil lrft with the feeling of a world-wide unted feeling for a better America, a better world and a better future as possible .

  9. Molly says:

    Thanks to all for your comments! I particularly appreciate the blessings and hopes we have in common. Kezzie, your question about what to do in Sudan is also right on. It feels like it is taking forever to get a new special envoy for this country appointed, and once that happens I think we’ll see what Obama’s Sudan strategy is all about . . . I’m waiting with bated breath like you. :)

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