On Tuesday Barack Hussein Obama was sworn in as the 44th president of the United States in an event that was watched by millions of people around the globe.
In his forceful and well thought-out inaugural address Obama promised a new modus operandi to deal with the current challenges facing the US.
As we watched Obama speak we could only marvel at the man’s gifted intellect and vision as he sought to chart a new way for the US and the world.
Historians say not since John K Kennedy has a man rallied a nation and held it spell-bound as Obama has done.
Obama’s popularity cuts across racial lines.
As we watched his inauguration miles away here in little Lesotho we could only hope that inauguration will mark a new phase for the US and the rest of the struggling world.
Obama’s inauguration is a fulfilment of a dream for millions of African-Americans who for centuries struggled against racial injustices.
Not so long ago black Americans were considered second-class citizens.
Blacks had no right to vote and determine their fate.
They could not send their children to good schools across the across.
Racial discrimination was the order of the day.
The fact that the US could elect a descendant of an African slave as president marks a milestone in the history of the country.
This is the reason why Obama’s election last November and his inauguration on Tuesday was a moment of celebration for the US and the African-American community.
The rise of Obama to the highest office in the US opens a new chapter in the history of the country and represents a sharp break with the United States’ sad past.
However, there are huge challenges facing Obama’s administration.
The US is facing immense challenges on the economic front. The country’s financial sector is under strain resulting in several banking corporations shutting down.
Thousands of workers have been laid off. Pensioners’ savings have been wiped off in what analysts say is the biggest scare since the Great Depression of the 1930s.
The challenge is for Obama’s administration to haul the economy back onto the rails and restore confidence in the market system.
This is no small task but watching Obama speak on Tuesday the man appeared fired up and ready to roar.
We wish him well.
Apart from the economic crisis Obama must deal with the consequences of two unfinished wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Those two wars appear unwinnable despite George W Bush’s confident assertion some few years back that the US was on course to victory.
Obama’s immediate task must be to deal with that unfinished business.
There is a general perception that under Bush the US became too arrogant.
Bush’s unilateral approach in dealing with modern challenges appears to be the major cause for the disaffection with the United States.
In his address Obama stressed the need for respect for justice and the rights of the individual.
We hope Obama will steer away from that unilateralism.
For us in Africa, and Lesotho in particular, there are important lessons to be drawn from Obama’s speech.
Africa is awash with examples of political leaders who have no respect of their countries’ constitutions.
When they lose elections they manoeuvre intricate plans to stay in office. They sometimes change two-term limits to extend their stay.
When they choose to go through elections they do so merely as a ritual with no respect to the democratic will of their citizens.
This is the reason why most of the elections that we have had in Africa have been characterised by violence and bloodshed.
The elections in Kenya and Zimbabwe are an example of how much Africa lags behind in the respect for democracy.
We hope the rest of Africa’s leaders were watching.