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Ademola Bello Headshot

Out of Africa: My Encounter With U.S. Politicians At Mid-Term Campaigns

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There is no better way to learn about United States politics other than through its politicians. As a Nigerian in Alaska I watched closely the mid-term elections and I happened to have interviewed the three candidates vying for the U.S. Senate race in the State.

Each of the candidates has a different personality and demeanor. Joe Miller, the Republican nominee, is the self-styled constitutional candidate who is out to change Washington D.C and fight what he labeled as the fiscal insanity of the central government. The Democrat Scott McAdams is the one who believes his experience at the local level as someone who has advocated for infrastructure both physical and human before State and national audience prepares him well for the Senate office.

Senator Lisa Murkowski who wants to retain her seat by mounting a write-in campaign- is the establishment candidate who quickly positioned herself as an insurgent but relishes on her vast experience over her opponents. She also canvassed on why she should keep her job because of the usefulness of her seniority in the U.S. Senate for the benefits of Alaskans.
It is striking to me that they have different plans on jobs, economy and Social Security. But despite their disagreements these candidates have abiding faith in American people to get them elected. And the testament of the U.S democracy is that politicians knows that if they fail to deliver on their promises they will be held accountable by voters in next election. This is a sharp contrast in what is occurring in most African countries where democracy is being practiced.

In Nigeria for example, the civil society is so cynical of politics as a result of massive poll rigging, they have given up on the importance of their votes in deciding elections. The last two Presidential elections in the country were marred with fraud and irregularities. Similarly, candidates running for office in Nigeria believe their political fortunes or success are tied to political god-fathers and their party top hierarchy. Recently, a Federal Judge in Nigeria nullified the election of the Ekiti State governor, who has spent three years in office under the banner of President Goodluck Jonathan's ruling PDP because the evidence later suggests that he clinched victory in the election that was actually won by a candidate of the opposition party as a result of election malpractice.

In Angola, President Eduardo Dos Santos Africa's current second-longest serving head of state, after Colonel Muammar Ghaddafi of Libya, was able to convince the country's Parliament to approve a new constitution which abolishes direct presidential elections and could enable President Dos Santos to remain in office until 2022. Under the new constitution, a President can only serve two five-year terms, but he would start afresh in 2012. As a result of those changes, Mr. Santos has managed to weaken the separation of powers. And as the head of the executive branch he has a firm grip on all aspects of the power in his country including the legislative, judiciary, army and police force. If Parliament members in Angola are held accountable by the people this situation would not have arisen. There is slight hope for Africa's Democracy through Ghana's model where we have witnessed successful elections in two different cycles.

There are more things Africa countries could learn from U.S. democracy that could help the continent have a free society and viable economy; the polarization in American politics to some degree may be healthy for separation of powers and democracy because it has led to serious debates on the direction of the country and vital issues that U.S. citizens really care about. To some degree this had yielded results as in President Obama's health care overhaul, financial reforms, auto industry bailout, and economic stimulus, among others. On the other hand, the effect of polarization in U.S. politics, especially the gridlock of government, could deal a serious blow to Africa's fragile democracy because African leaders watch what goes on in U.S. politics, and this could pave the way for another Charles Taylor or Mugabe-style dictators who abhor opposition, consolidate power, and try to move the country towards a one-party system.

Also, the polarization or divisiveness of U.S. politics could also divert Washington policymakers' attention away from the humanitarian crisis and peace process in Congo and Sudan. Aid to the continent and bilateral talks could also suffer as well. If U.S. politicians can put aside rancor and bitter partisanship, and work together for the common goal of the American people and humanity as a whole I have no doubt that this great country that has been known as the beacon of democracy will continue to provide great leadership that it has been known for-in a world that is becoming a global village.