By Eghe Isiaka Guobadia
In his first term as the US President, Barack Obama appointed two of his fiercest challengers during the 2008 Democratic Party primaries – Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden – as Secretary of State and Vice President, respectively to his administration. This was an unparalleled show of political sagacity and sincerity in healing the divide created by the rancor during the fight for their party‘s nomination. The party was instantly healed and the two former opponents went on to become trusted and powerful members of his administration.
The decision perhaps helped President Obama to forge an even stronger relationship with former President Bill Clinton, husband of Senator Hillary Clinton, a man still considered an indispensable leader of the US Democratic Party. This relationship, undoubtedly, would help President Obama in the recently concluded presidential election, which saw him re-elected for a second four-year term.
For various ideological reasons, President Obama was unable during his first term to employ these same maneuvers satisfactorily to bridge the divide between him and many Republicans; and obtain the cooperation of the Republican Party, with whom he has shared governing since 2010. As a result, governing was made less easy for him and his country split along uncompromising ideological lines, a situation he would truly have to overcome in his second term.
In cognizance, in all his public utterances so far, President Obama has signaled his willingness to work with the Republican Party. In his acceptance speech in the wee hours of the morning of 7 November, he said, amidst cheers and applause, “In the weeks ahead, I also look forward to sitting down with Governor Romney to talk about where we can work together to move this country forward.” True to his words, he recently received Governor Romney at the White House.
If President Obama succeeds at all in attracting some level of cooperation from the Republican Party, by inviting a few of its leaders to key positions in his administration, he would not be the first to employ such gimmicks to encourage bipartisan compromise to address national issues. The call for government of national unity (GNU) saturates Nigeria’s political history. Even as recently as May 2011, the Jonathan administration had sought to work with members of the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) in such a collaborative manner. Before him, the Yar’ Adua’s administration considered it. The problem, however, is that both President Jonathan’s party, PDP and ACN, and for that matter all Nigeria’s political parties, seem to be a mirror image of one another – they all do not have stringent ideological identities that set them apart. So, for all intents and purposes, the invitation to ACN may just have been an invite to come and “chop”.
Some political observers maintain that the absence of ideological backbone amongst Nigeria’s political parties will under any form of collaborative arrangement make their fusion more likely, become more self-serving; and so, offer a fast track to an oppressive one-party system. Perhaps these are the reasons why Nigerians have shunned this issue every time that it is raised. While the raison d’être may be evident, the way to truly make it work remains to be seen. Yet, it is one sure way, if it is sincerely executed, that Nigeria too can use to find solace from its recurring post- election troubles and install a government that would be inclusive of all, even though many of our political parties have remained regional parties.
The world waits to see to what extent the gap between President Obama and his political adversaries can be bridged by the efforts that he and his Democratic Party make. No doubt, how much they succeed, given the policy differences between the two parties and the disdain they both openly show towards compromise, will show the degree to which he can solve America’s economic problems in the next four years; and how his legacy, as America’s first black president, is shaped thereafter. How he chooses to do it, if he does it at all, will be a lesson that the United States stands to teach and the rest of the world waits to learn from.
What this could signal to Nigeria and several other countries that have ideological, racial, religious, tribal and cultural differences is hope – hope that a settlement of differences by mutual concessions is possible; and that an agreement to adjust conflicting or opposing claims, ethos and principles by reciprocal modification of demands can be reached. It will signal also that there is a better alternative to armed conflict, which, today, has become the preferred route to conflict resolution in many developing countries.
President Obama’s 2008 “hope and change” electioneering slogan could yet have a meaning, if not in America, amongst politicians in the developing world who will learn to forsake violence and corruption for compromise in order to move their countries’ economies forward.
As we are now seeing, hope and compromise alone will not address all problems and conflicts. Hope and compromise as much as it was wished did not resolve the Cote d’ Ivoire conflict. Similarly, the conflicts now playing out in Mali and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) will require a different set of approach.
Obama’s attention was apparently consumed largely by both domestic politics and events in the Arab world during his first four-year term that left him very little time for the Africa continent. Yet Africans look up to him as one of their own. They wish that he is concerned about the southward retreat of Islamic fundamentalism and its destabilizing effect on some African governments; the crisis in central Africa that is creating a refugee problem of epic proportion; and the problem of institutional failure that has stymied the growth of economies in Africa and the evolution of democratic culture. They, therefore, hope that Obama will become more involved in African affairs in the next four years. Yes, I believe, he can.