World Dispatches: Global Audience For Obama
The inauguration of Barack Obama as the 44th president of the United States has brought a sense of hope and possibility. Around the world, people are now celebrating — and watching, with cautious optimism, to see whether that promise is fulfilled. NPR reporters offer updates on the mood in Kenya, Iraq and elsewhere on Inauguration Day:
From Lourdes Garcia-Navarro, In Baghdad:
In his inauguration speech, Obama talked about seeking a new way forward with the Muslim world, based on mutual interests and mutual respect.
Sheik Jalal al-Din al-Sagh, a religious cleric and senior member of the governing Shiite coalition in Iraq, said that it is very important to hear this change in tone in discourse with the Muslim world.
He said that over the past five to six years, the Muslim world has been targeted and labeled "terrorists." Now, he says, Muslims welcome a better relationship.
Most Iraqis do express skepticism about Obama and whether there will ever be a day when there are no U.S. troops in Iraq, due to U.S. oil interests in the country. But Iraqis won't miss President Bush and are hoping Obama will engage in a different way with Iraqis and treat them with respect.
At the same time, there is still a great deal of anger throughout the Muslim world — about recent events in Israel and Gaza, the Iraq war and Afghanistan. As a result, people across the board in the region are advocating a "wait-and-see" policy.
From Eleanor Beardsley, In Paris:
Europe is celebrating Obama's inauguration. French TV and radio stations are airing wall-to-wall coverage of the event. A recent poll shows 76 percent of the French have a positive view of and high expectations for the new American president.
Obama has similar support in countries across Europe. In Spain, Prime Minister Jose Luis Zapatero said an "Obama effect" could shorten the global recession, while Spanish newspaper El Pais published a photo of Obama and his wife Michelle above the headline "The American Dream Comes To Power."
After years of strained trans-Atlantic relations under Presidnet Bush, Europe has enormous expectations for Obama. As one French government official put it, with the election of Obama, Europe and America once again share the same values.
From Meghan Collins Sullivan, In Guadalajara, Mexico:
People in Guadalajara expressed a hopeful skepticism as Obama was ushered in as the 44th president of the United States. Many Mexicans are distrustful of their own government, often leading them to question the integrity of those of other countries too. But in Guadalajara, there was a sense of new possibilities Tuesday.
"The problems of the U.S. are enormous," said Isabel Guzman, 20, a theater student at Instituto Nacional de Bellas Artes in Guadalajara. "I like that it is a change; it will be better for Mexico."
Guzman added that she hopes Obama's administration will provide new, better opportunities for Mexicans in the United States — many of whom send money back to their families in Mexico. But she did express concern about presidents being "puppets."
"We don't like Bush and we like this president," said Flor de Mar, visiting from Ciudad Satelite, just outside Mexico City. "I think he is going to be good but everyone expects too much of him. We hope he can do something better for the Mexicans in the U.S."
But she was hesitant to be completely optimistic.
"We never know," she said. "When they are president, they change."
Meanwhile, students from the U.S., Mexico and other countries around the world watched the inauguration live at the American School. Two feeds brought the event to 1,144 children in grades 2 through 12. There was much enthusiasm in the group, especially among the high schoolers, who cheered and clapped throughout.
From Gwen Thompkins, In Kisumu, Kenya:
At a sports ground in Kisumu — the regional capital of southwestern Kenya — thousands and thousands of young people cheered and danced during Obama's inaugural speech. They went nuts when Obama made references to Kenya — particularly when he mentioned Kogelo, the village where his father was born.
The audience members were waiting for Obama to look into the distance and see them here — to see Kenyans. And when he did, the crowd could not have been more satisfied.
The Obama family is an extensive one in Kenya; there are scores and scores of people with the last name Obama.
If there is an analogy or apt comparison for today's inauguration, it's as if a royal wedding took place in Kenya — with Obama as the bride. It's considered lucky to touch the bride on her wedding day, and Kenyans wanted to "touch" Obama: They want him to know they are here for him, and they want to know he is there for them.
This sentiment extends to all Kenyans — and to most Africans, who are hoping that Obama has a soft spot for them and will remember them in his years in office.
From NPR's Stringer, In Basra, Iraq:
The black Basrawis are celebrating Obama's inauguration at their headquarters in Basra, southern Iraq. They are overjoyed at seeing the first African-American U.S. president.
"We are happy today. We were waiting for this moment, and we are here to express our feeling on this occasion," says engineer Salam Shaaban, a member of the Movement of Iraqi Supporters of Freedom and Peace. "Obama is great man and he deserves this position; he will help poor and tired people."
"Today announces the birth of a new era," says Jalal Thugeel, who is also a member of the group. "It is time for the oppression to end and to start a new era of ambition. ... The world will live in a new era. Yes to justice of the human race. ... The time is over when the blacks suffered — now is the time of justice and fairness ... It was not a victory for blacks, but a victory for all other races."
From Gwen Thompkins, In Kogelo, Kenya:
The village where Obama's father was born, Kogelo, is located near the shores of Lake Victoria in southwestern Kenya. Normally, it is a very sleepy farming village — with more bicycles than cars and very little electricity.
But now, in a cornfield, it looks as if a bustling country fair is taking place — there is a traffic jam, with motorcycles, cars and trucks everywhere. People are playing soccer, listening to plays, a comedy routine.
There had been plans to set up a large-screen TV for people to watch the inauguration. Kenyans' curiosity about Obama is seemingly insatiable: Last weekend, one Kenyan newspaper published 37 pages of information about Obama and his family, including his speech at the 2004 Democratic National Convention.
From Ofeibea Quist-Arcton, In Accra, Ghana:
Africans all over the continent are hailing the United States' first African-American president. That includes Liberia's Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf — Africa's first female president.
"I'm as excited as people the world over. This represents the fulfillment of a longtime dream. It represents a sea change in American politics, and I think the fact that he has African roots excites us all. And it tells everyone that they can reach their full potential if they are willing to work at it," she said.
The Liberian president outlined some of Obama's challenges.
"The blessing is that everyone wants you to succeed because you are a first, so that means you can open doors for others to follow. But it also comes with the responsibility to succeed," she said.
Liberia was founded by freed American slaves in the 1800s.
In West Africa, Adam Thiam helped organize a celebration in Mali, with American and Malian flags fluttering over a portrait of Obama.
"We in Africa are in desperate need of hope. We just think that Obama's action would really help Africa. The United States has proved that someone can come from that far and be elected. It's a real message of hope for all of us," he said.
Thiam said Obama was the embodiment of Africa's dream of a better future for all.
From Lourdes Garcia-Navarro, In Baghdad:
Most believe Obama will usher in a better relationship with Iraq and many hope he will correct the mistakes — a word they used — of the Bush administration in Iraq. That means different things to different people. The general impression of Obama, like in many places across the Middle East, is positive and hopeful. People use the words diplomat and statesman; people think he will be flexible and invested in solving Iraq's problems.
Everyone is waiting to see what Obama does, and if he fulfills his campaign promise to remove U.S. troops from Iraq.
The fear is that all the money and the interest is headed east to Afghanistan. People are afraid this will become the forgotten war.
From Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson, In Kabul, Afghanistan:
Afghans are talking a lot about this inauguration especially because President Karzai is not attending while Gul Agha Shirzai, the governor of Nangarhar province, is. Obama had visited the governor in July. There are a lot of questions about what this means and what the new relationship between the U.S. administration and the Afghanistan government will be.
Karzai had to open the parliamentary session and give a speech on Tuesday, but some people are saying he wasn't invited to the inauguration. We haven't been able to confirm whether this rumor is true.
The people of Afghanistan want suicide bombings and attacks to end, but they are worried that Obama will continue the strategy of the Bush administration.
From Eric Westervelt, In Gaza City:
A cease-fire between Israel and Hamas fighters is in effect — partially because neither side wants to be fighting during Obama's inauguration.
Palestinians are hoping to see a change in policy, but many voice skepticism that U.S. policy will really change: "U.S. presidents have been so pro-Israeli for so long, we don't think Barack Obama will change that," they say.
On the Israeli side, there was some skepticism during the campaign that Obama would be as pro-Israeli as President Bush was during his eight years. Israelis are cautiously optimistic that Obama will continue Washington's strong relationship with Israel.
And more broadly, the Arab world is also cautiously optimistic — and hopeful that Obama brings a fresh perspective and new policies.
From Gwen Thompkins, In Kobama, Kenya:
Kobama, in southwestern Kenya near Lake Victoria, is the home of Obama's great-grandfather, and people here are extremely proud, practically bursting at the seams.
Residents have been writing songs in honor of the president-elect, celebrating his inauguration and wishing him well — but also cautioning him that "it's time to make good on his campaign promises."
Across the country, Kenyans will be watching Obama's inauguration, which will take place in the evening, local time. Jumbo-screen televisions will be set up in the capital of Nairobi; in Kisumu, the regional capital of southwestern Kenya; as well as in Kobama, where Obama's step-grandmother still lives.
There are few televisions in Kobama — in fact, there is not much electricity. As a result, crowds are expected to gather around these large-screen TVs.
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