Decision Time in America; If Barack Obama Is Elected on 4 November It Will Clearly Signal the Pre-Eminence of Merit and Competence over Race in an "Indivisible Nation" of Immigrants Transcending Their Differences to Collectively Share the Same Values of Freedom and Equality under the Globalisation of Citizenship, Argues Hippolyte Fofack, Founder of the Nelson Mandela Institution and Fellow of the African Academy of Sciences

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In 1786, the US founding fathers laid down a road map for the establishment of a great nation rooted in strong democratic principles underpinned by freedom and equality. These principles are enshrined in the Constitution, which enabled the US to become a beacon of freedom, especially following subsequent amendments. In particular, Amendment 13 abolished slavery in 1865 after the Emancipation Proclamation; Amendment 15 granted voting rights to African-Americans and other minorities in 1870; Amendment 19 gave voting rights to women in 1920.

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Since then, significant progress has been made to advance the democratic process. In particular, the representation of women in the Upper and Lower Houses of Congress has been growing steadily. And history was made in 2006 when Nancy Pelosi, the Congresswoman from California, became the first woman to be elected Speaker of the House.

Notwithstanding these milestones, the challenges to fostering racial and gender equality remain important. Under the current legislature, the Upper House has one African-American senator, Barack Obama. Should he emerge as winner of the presidential race on 4 November, the Senate will be left without a person of African descent. And the deficit of diversity can be broadened to include religions.

On the other hand, and paradoxically, many countries which were later inspired by the US model of freedom and equality seem to have made great strides. For instance, Britain elected Margaret Thatcher as its first female prime minister in 1979. Similarly, the Indian Parliament has emerged as one of the most diverse institutions, with a good representation of Christians, Hindus, Muslims and other religious and ethnic minorities.

Decades earlier, the charismatic Indira Gandhi had been elected India's first female prime minister, spearheading the Indian nuclear industry and fostering the green revolution to ensure food security to hundreds of millions of Indians. But America is yet to elect its first female president. The upcoming presidential election offers Americans a golden opportunity to fulfill the dream of their founding fathers and reclaim their global leadership as a beacon of freedom. From the outset, it was dubbed as historical, in part because the Democratic Party nominee was bound to be either a woman or an African-American. Senator Obama won the highly contested primary, and was officially anointed as the party's nominee.

However, while the historical nature of this race has focused on the potential for advancing gender and racial equality, the election of Senator Obama to the highest office in the land could have far-reaching implications at the global level. In particular, it could complement the globalisation process, which has thus far been dominated by economic and financial flows in a world that is still influenced by ideological parameters which dominated the slavery and colonial eras.

Globalisation can be defined as a significant reduction of timescale in the movement of goods, capital and knowledge in a spherical space, in spite of the constant distance between source country and final destination, as a result of technological advances and the increasing interdependence and connectivity of world markets. In the latest wave of globalisation, the volume of global exports increased dramatically after the 1970s, to exceed US$17 trillion in 2007.

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This surge in global trade reflects the convergence of consumption patterns, but also and mote importantly the emphasis on standards and quality of goods, and less on the source and country of origin. Paradoxically, the globalisation of trade has not been accompanied by the globalisation of citizenship; the latter would have called for the eradication of historical and latent gaps in access to opportunities across race and gender.

Short of this eradication, the distribution of opportunities has not evolved to become uniform on the spherical space. …