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African bloggers: Florida Is Not Zimbabwe

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This post appears in partnership with Voices without Votes, which aggregates and follows what non-Americans are saying in blogs and other forms of citizen media about U.S. foreign policy and the 2008 presidential elections.

When this presidential campaign began -- sometime shortly following the 2000 election -- candidates of all stripes promised us a thorough debate on issues, both of national and international importance. Yet, for all the hot air generated by the three remaining contenders from the major U.S. political parties, the subject of Africa (and its people) has received short shrift. (And this comes at a time when citizen interest in news from the continent is growing, according to journalists.) Other than a few mumbled words when President George W. Bush visited Africa in February, the policy response to a continent of more than 900 million inhabitants has been meager. Instead, the majority of discussions on foreign affairs have centered on the usual suspects: the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the hassles of free trade (or not) and containing Iran.

No longer. In an attempt to get the votes counted and certified in Michigan's and Florida's Democratic primaries, Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton compared her cause to the recent election (and post-election) travails in Zimbabwe. You may remember that each primary result was invalidated by the Democratic Party because, against policy, both states moved their primary dates forward. It is wrong, CBS' Fernando Suarez quoted Clinton saying at a retirement center rally in Florida, when "people go through the motions of an election only to have them discarded and disregarded."

"We're seeing that right now in Zimbabwe," Clinton explained. "Tragically, an election was held, the president lost, they refused to abide by the will of the people."

Leo Africanus, a South African who blogs at Africa is a Country and lives in the U.S., says you have to respect her chutzpah for making such a bold statement, but the comparison is more than a little shallow.

Given the Clintons' race-baiting, I am wondering whether the aim is also to use "Mugabe" and "Obama" in the same sentence?

Well, what do Zimbabweans really go through? Here's an account of what happens to people who vote against Mugabe.

Let's stay with foreign affairs for a moment longer. Tony Karon, a South African journalist who lives in the United States, points out in his blog Rootless Cosmopolitan that while Barack Obama was correct to "slap down George W. Bush" over the president's recent comments implying the Democratic contender is a latter-day Neville Chamberlain-like Nazi appeaser who wants to negotiate with Hamas without preconditions. But Karon argues Obama went about his defense clumsily.

Obama's problem was that he denied he would ever speak with the Syrian- and Iranian-backed Hamas. This not only paints him into a strategic corner but those with knowledge of the region understand that not only is Hamas a powerful organization, but it is the true threat to Israel, unlike Mahmoud Abbas of Fatah.

So, he may have come out swinging, but Obama picked the wrong punches. Instead of insisting he wouldn't talk to Hamas, he'd have been better off ridiculing the notion that Hamas or Iran are the equivalent of Nazi Germany, and pointing out that Bush -- by substituting teenage testosterone for serious policy -- is essentially teeing up another war that will not be good for Israel or for the United States.

From Oga Tunji Lardner, a Nigerian journalist and self-confessed Latte Liberal, who is being reprinted in a fellow countryman's blog called Omoluwabi Okebadan, finds some commonalities between Obama's run today and Jesse Jackson's candidacy for the White House more than 20 years ago.

I remember how the news of Jesse running for the presidency of the US in 1984 impacted on our global political consciousness in Nigeria, literally a generation ago. As a young idealistic journalist working for a fledgling weekly magazine, and like the rest of my equally young and idealistic colleagues, the very idea of a black man as the president of the United States was a notion we readily accepted as a possibility After all this was "the United States" --with its self evident truths about the equality of man: the democratic ideal that we all so dearly wished for Nigeria, which was then in the grip of yet another predatory and distinctively vicious military dictator by name Ibrahim Babangida.

Looking back, I marvel at our naiveté and sense of moral certitude about the world ultimately being a good and just place. I suppose we were subconsciously projecting our hope and sense of justice and optimism on that great whiteboard called America. To look too closely at our selves, our country, indeed our continent would have been too painful and depressing. So we cast our eyes far, far over the rainbow to that mythical place where someone like us was running to be the leader of the most powerful nation in the world. Even so, a little voice now and then whispered in our ears, the cold calculating facts of American electoral politics, there was no way any Jesse was going to beat the "Gipper," an extremely popular incumbent Ronald Reagan. Nonetheless we persisted in our little game of self-deception, knowing fully well that given the tortured history of race in America, it was highly unlikely that a Blackman, indeed any black man would ever make to Pennsylvania Avenue in the foreseeable future.

However, times are different in 2008, where the grand narratives of African Americans, America and Africa are much changed.

Nelson Mandela once remarked about how African men (and by extension Black men) are tentative about fully embracing their potential greatness, but not this brother. As I marvel at the sheer chutzpa of the man, trying hard not to "hate the player, but to hate the game"--almost like loving the sinner and hating the sin--that niggling little voice is back, again. It is saying, and I render this with my tongue firmly planted in my cheek, and bearing in mind the properly contextualized, albeit widely misunderstood rhetoric of Reverend Wright, "Damn you Obama... Damn you! Damn you for blowing our collective alibis as black men... Damn you for kicking away our pathetic crutches, now we must stand tall, with no excuses, and grab and shape the destinies of our people!"

This time I am responding to the imperative rather than the fearfulness beneath the surface of this dubious little voice. It is a new day. And there is work to be done.

(Yes, you noticed correctly the word chutzpah has come up in this round up two different times.)

The Angry African, another member of the South African Diaspora residing in the U.S., proves that the process of writing is more than merely throwing words on the wall and praying they stick. He takes us through the development of writing a Dear John letter to Senator John McCain. We'll skip right to the end result.

Dear John,

I don't know quite how to tell you this, but you're a schmuck. I think I first knew it when you shackled me. And I saw you render impotent the USA. I'm sure you're masochistic enough to see how miserable I've been. I'm returning your Darth Vader poster. But I'm holding on to those oil stocks as a keepsake. I want you to know that I'll be a lot better off without your new life as a clone.

Regards to your creepy (political) family,

Angry African

And things come full circle. Just because American candidates are a little fuzzy on African issues, that doesn't mean African bloggers are clueless on the hopes and fears keeping most Americans up at night. Ivo, a South African who blogs at the Spike, argues the recent move by the U.S. Dept. of Interior makes a dangerous move by adding the polar bear to the list of endangered species because global warming threatens its habitat.

[I]t's going to hit Americans -- and anyone who buys American products or relies on American investment capital -- in their pockets. Not only trade, but similar decisions made by other countries or by international bodies, will spread this damage worldwide.

Environmentalists failed to convince the US legislature to enact draconian new laws to enforce costly measures whose benefits are at best speculative. Having failed to make their case, they fall back on what appears to be an innocent and even noble regulatory decision. They know listing the polar bear as threatened opens the door for litigation to enforce their ideas about carbon dioxide emissions on others, on the basis that any such emissions contribute to the destruction of the polar bear's habitat.

Orikinla Osinachi at the Nigerian Times reprints a letter calling on viewers to write CNN demanding an apology from Republican media consultant Alex Castellanos, who was referring to Hillary Clinton on air when he said that some people are called bitches and sometime it is accurate.

Abesha Bunna Bet from Ethiopia joins the ranks of those who think commentator Bill O'Reilly of Fox News is bonkers. (His words, not mine.)