African Ubuntu's Time Has Come; US Presidential Candidate Barack/Obama Is Western Democracy's Great Hope, Writes Chris Chivers
The news that Illinois's 45-year-old senator, Barack Obama, has entered the race for president of the United States in 2008 is not only fantastic news for Western, indeed for global democracy, it is also the best possible news for Africa.
So-called liberal Western democracy is, frankly, dying on its feet. Both in the US and in the UK - as well as elsewhere in Europe - nations are finding it increasingly difficult to turn citizens into voters. The turn-out for elections is phenomenally low.
But the anecdotal evidence is even more depressing. Politicians know by now that they are a turn-off. People are simply not interested in the partisan way in which they carry on. There is enough violence in the world - mostly as a result of their policies.
People just don't want the verbal scrapping and mud-slinging, the sleaze and innuendo that has for too long characterised Western political discourse, and that for some incomprehensible reason been held out as the model for everyone else to follow.
Gandhi's famous quip comes to mind. "What do you think of Western civilisation?" he was asked. "I think it's a very good idea," he replied.
As a child, I learnt that "Western civilisation" and its politics could, of course, produce priceless moments of wit and wisdom. Nancy Astor accusing Winston Churchill of drunkenness, and receiving that most famous of responses: "Madam, I may be drunk this evening. You are ugly. In the morning I shall be sober."
But as I grew up, I realised that beneath the wit of such repartee lay an implicit fault-line that the hard-line regime of a Margaret Thatcher or a Ronald Reagan, and the chaotic weakness of what followed in the John Major and George Bush senior years, lay very bare.
There had been some great bi-partisan moments, of course. A stack of Labour MPs voting with Ted Heath's government to overcome a narrow nationalism and launch Britain into the heart of Europe to play a role in ensuring that there could never be a repetition of 1930s Germany and Italy, or Stalinist Russia for that matter.
Just as there was the amazing tenacity of a Helen Suzman, single-handedly taking on the might of the latter-day fascists with complete courage and conviction, to ensure that the flag of democracy and human rights was held high amidst the barbarism of apartheid.
But not even the real Iron Lady (from Houghton rather than Finchley) could repel the roaring tide of cynicism and apathy which was sweeping Western democracies, and asserting with a force - which is only now being recognised by mainstream politicians - that the partisan slinging-match really has had its day.
A reunited Germany began to |get the point as it constructed |pain-staking coalition governments to focus on the many issues |that were the consequence of the collapse of the Berlin Wall.
Anti-Iraq war protesters across Western societies also caught the bug - following in the wake of other single-issue causes like Live Aid in 1985 or the debt-cancelling Jubilee 2000 campaign - to bring an improbable alliance of people on to the streets of the world.
All over the globe, people asserted a common desire to fashion peace, not from a so-called war on terror, but from the removal of injustice wherever it is found. Just as Al Gore's amazing film, An Inconvenient Truth, is regalvanising a world-wide response to global warming, by showing us the alarming impact of our carbon footprints.
But it is only an Obama presidency that can galvanise this changing tide and perhaps deliver the pearl of greatest price to a world racked by poverty, disease and conflict.
A few weeks ago, I found myself in Boston, Massachusetts, standing on a cold January morning outside the city's State House to watch the swearing-in of Deval Patrick as the very first black American governor.
Like Obama, Patrick has made a name for himself for his bipartisan approach which cuts through the old arguments, rows and even hatreds as it tries to bring people of all parties and persuasions, creeds, cultures and colours together, to ach-ieve new alliances in pursuit of common goals. …