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Funmi Iyanda
Lagos, Nigeria
Funmi Iyanda is a multi award-winning producer and broadcast journalist. She is the CEO of Ignite Media and Executive Director of Creation Television
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Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Beyond the glare: lessons from Obama

This extraordinary morning, I sit in my hotel room in Johannesburg just crying silently. I am stranded in this city because the Nigerian airline cancelled its flight. I am not angry about the airline, I understand why this things happens in my nation. I had hoped to watch the American elections with friends at home but here I was all alone watching and absorbing in a very powerful way the nuances of this moment in history.

I had refused to be part of the sort of Obamamania that saw the fiasco of the Madam stock exchange led “Africa for Obama” fund raiser which culminated in her embarrassing boast about carrying an American green card. I was a Hilary supporter, won over by unfolding history but more importantly I am a supporter of true democracy and courage both of which Obama embodies and which the American people saw, supported and elected. It is truly a special country.

Obama is a special man and the fact that everything has conspired to make this day happen is a sure sign that this is a moment that is ripe in history, it also gives me hope that he will indeed go on to be an extra ordinary leader such as the world requires now. He has shown the intellect, decency, courage and humility that can help make that happen.

So why am so sad? My fear has always been that in typical fashion, we will celebrate Obama mindlessly but fail to understand and do those little things that bring about such great moments in history. I fear that in the way we admire, enthuse about and consume the world’s most luxurious and innovative products but fail to make one of our own at any level of sophistication, we will enthuse and buy into Obamamania but we will not “do” Obama. We watch the brightness from such a beautiful spectre and like a fly become transfixed and immobile in the light, at best only flapping our enfeebled wings in admiration. Forever the fan, never the player.
Why is it that the same people who will raise questionable money for Obama will not support anyone or ideal or idea outside our own obviously rotten establishment? As Kenya celebrates the victory of the “son of the soil” and expands her airport to accommodate air force one, what did Kenya do to produce an Obama other than donate Kenyan sperms? Would an Obama have emerged in Kenya, Nigeria or South Africa?

I can ask those questions and paint a thousand similar scenarios but then I will be as guilty as the next person won’t I? The fact is both cynicism and conspiracy are emotional cop out and cowardly. The tendency is to be emotional about the past but analytical about the future when real bravery is being analytical about the past but emotional about the future. If we paint it bad enough we can excuse our inability to resolve it.
Therefore I ask those questions not to disparage Nigeria or Africa but to challenge her. Obama’s victory is not just his but a victory of the American way, the American people, from the early white abolitionists to the marchers, the protesters, the thinkers, the questioners, the sitters, the country, white, black, Hispanic, Asian and all other exotic mixes.
Obama will face huge challenges going forth and I am hopeful that he and the people of America will surmount them but what about us?

So this morning as I sit in my room, I take my own lesson from the Obama journey, I refuse to fashionably stifle my irrational love and belief in Nigeria or equally fashionably paper over her difficulties. Fanatism and atheism in any ideal be it religious, political or otherwise is easy, the continuous quest and grapple for situations of the highest honour to the most humans is the tough cookie and what life really must be about.

Therefore the question for me is how can we make a similar history ours? Like the Americans we are sick and tired of the establishment, the old guard and the old ways. We too and more so have serious economic challenges (please ignore those paid analysts) and even more than America and many countries of the world, we have real issues of education, development, health and sundry.
How do we get to a similar moment?

I think we must go back to Rosa. One commentator beautifully put it thus; Rosa Park sat so Martin Luther can march, Martin marched so Obama can run and Obama ran so our children can fly.

So even as I make a clarion call to us all, I am aware that we cannot fully control the path of history but we must be aware that the laws of the universe are set and one of those laws is that all great things begin with a little thing which when occurring has no true inkling of the way in which its littleness will be transformed into greatness far beyond its wildest imagination.

So even as Nigerians rightfully join the rest of the world (especially the black world) in popping the champagne, I think more importantly is a need for both collective and individual sober reflection on the real beauty of this story, the audacity to hope that a new way can prevail and the willingness to do all that is necessary to achieve this in the most inclusive, intelligent and honourable way.

That sober individual reminder and rededication is the ritual l am performing this morning, the purging of the self of greed and fear which is what drives what we know and the embracing of true often humbling courage to figuratively either sit, march or run in the smallest things and smallest ways firmly believing that one day it will gather its own momentum as all things must. It is not for the now, not for me, not for us but for our children and their children, anything less is sub human. Are we not tired of being less?

For me, I am reminding myself of what is most important and what my core values are, last week, as part of my new show’s pilot, I spoke to people from VI to Obalende and the difference in experience cannot be more painfully graphic. As I stood at the filthy bus stop amongst the multitude in the sun talking, I was aware of my destiny but fearful of the responsibility. This morning I lost my fear and silently steel myself for the kind of role I must play going forth, a role, which the entirety of my life thus far has prepared me for. To do it the way I must, may mean losing support from established financial and political order but it’s a risk I am willing to take, a risk I must take.

For that reminder, I thank Mr. Obama.


Tolulope Popoola said...

I'm so happy for Obama, he has proven that barriers can be broken and dreams can become true. As the incoming president of the US, he has a lot on his plate to deal with. Now I just hope the people that elected him as president will be patient with him and know that the promises he made will not happen overnight.

But I too await the day when Nigeria will have a leader like Obama that we can believe in, who will serve rather than rule.

Anonymous said...

i said it! that if the victory of OBAMA (Mr presido) cldn`t get u back on blogville, nothing will.
Hope ur ok, and hope u can use this to reignite the hope u ve in Nigeria and life as a whole...

Anonymous said...

i wrote my comment b4 reading ur post and u ve just answered my prayers.
Just believe, yes Funmi, you can! I can !, we as Nigerians can !!

Anonymous said...

Thanks a million to the friend who brought this post to my attention.
Funmi, you have perfectly articulated my bittersweet feelings about Obama's victory.
Thank you.

NigeriaPolitricks.com said...

Our time has come!....we too, can believe again that someday, change will come to our own motherland.

Yes We Can!

Apinke said...

Poor u, u absorbed all that alone, next time u could just take me along!

I am glad about this message of hope, it means everyone can dear to dream and work towards actualising that dream.

Hopefully, someday, somehow, we will celebrate true democracy in Nigeria.

Lets keep hoping!

always loved ur blog, just too lazy to comment.

Anonymous said...

obama's victory is a whole new experience, not just for Africans but for the world. we need to see Europe open up to realities, because;yes we can!

Anonymous said...

I agree with you Funmi. For all the derision Nigerians throw at African-Americans for lacking culture, they have taught us a powerful lesson but i wonder if we are listening. In less than a century, they have gone from the back of the bus to the White House. They have gone from having no more rights than property to full legal personhood and we can all see the great strides made by that community today.

It's such a shame the same cannot be said of Nigeria. What rights have we won for our people in that same time frame?

I hope that we as Nigerians reflect on Obama's speech from last night. What changes do we want to have made in 40 years time? We can't sit on our hands and wish for change to arrive magically. It takes vision,hardwork and sacrifice to make change happen.

Obama has indeed shown us the audacity of hope. The enormity of what he has achieved takes my breath away. At a time when nobody else could imagine this result, he believed in it.

His superior vision and organisational skills took down the 'mighty' Clinton machinery. He achieved everything that people said would be impossible - black voters, latino voters, women voters, old voters, 1st time voters, apathetic people, religious voters, he won them all. And he was chilled enough to play basketball on election day as well! All i can say is wow.

Sorry for the long comment but i'm just so overwhelmed.

Anonymous said...

hey funmi, just wanted to say, NO NEED to fear. I want u to read carefully wat I am about to type:

A son of the African BLACK MAN just became the ELECTED PRESIDENT of the UNITED STATES OF AMERICA. He's name will be the same books as george washington, thomas jefferson, FDR, and many others..FUNMI in ur wildest imaginest did u see a thing like this happening.

FUNMI there is no doubt a CHANGE will come to nigeria, because TODAY my childeren have seen the HEIGHTS that the BLACK RACE, SLAVE RACE, PERSCUTED RACE, can GO.

Thanks to this MAN, FUNMI my kids have the AUDACITY OF HOPE.

so do not fear, anything is possible.

Anonymous said...

Do you mind elaborating about this? "Madam stock exchange led “Africa for Obama” fund raiser" I heard about this, but did not quite understand.

Sherri said...

"This morning I lost my fear and silently steel myself for the kind of role I must play going forth, a role, which the entirety of my life thus far has prepared me for. To do it the way I must, may mean losing support from established financial and political order but it’s a risk I am willing to take, a risk I must take."
to this i say: yes u can!
backing will come from the unlikeliest of people and places.

Anonymous said...

Yes sis Funmi ..you really capture the whole essence of Obama victory vis a vis the Nigeria scenario...I look forward to the day when we can have a real democracy.. But for me its really a renaisance that i can be what i want to be.....No matter the barrier

Whole Truths said...

Hi Funmi. Good to hear from you. As hard as you rooted for Hillary, I rooted for John McCain. I shared his values, his committment and his willingness to reach across the aisles to get things done. This moment for Obama and Black people all over the World, means that there has never been a time such as this when a Black Man's competence will be called into question. Every mistake and Misstep will be magnified 100 times! Bipartisanship is the only way forward for America. It is at least a semblance of Unity! Obama is as far left wing liberal as a Democrat can be! He's also a very smart cookie. I hope we don't find his Kryptonite soon!

Anonymous said...

So help you God.
I agree with you that the guy has only half a teaspoon of contribution from Kenya, but my sister, success has just inherited a whole nation of brothers and sisters from Kenya.
Can it happen in Nigeria? Hmmmm. Are you sure Nigeria wants it to happen? We automatically put down all those who dare to hope, discourage good people and celebrate mediocrity.
Obama, a man so squeaky clean he would not "distribute things"? forget it. Even his local government people would hate him were he a Nigerian in Nigeria.
Ekiti Gal

LovePaprika said...

I almost cried! My spirit was stirred up indeed.

LADYBRILLE.com said...

My sentiments exactly.

It's good to see you back and I hope all, on a personal level is well.

Warm regards,

Anonymous said...

Funmi dear,

With every seminal moment, you claim to have 'lost your fear' and to 'find the will' to push your dreams.

Every single time - you re-discover this strenght?!

The grandiosity does get tiring, and - you will have to admit in your quite moments - unnecessarily pretensious.

But this is about Obama; let's bask in the moment!

wellsbaba said...

I watched as the torch of obama's victory lights up diff souls around d world.countless souls recount ow is victory inspires n motivates them but for us my concern really is we should stop chanting(literarily) "yes we can" n b PRACTICAL bout moving nigeria4ward....its not enough to say we bliv,we gotta DO something...only actions make,thoughts dont!

afrochic said...

the world and especially Nigeria can never remain the same after Obama made history on November 4, 2008. i could practically hear the shattering of barriers and wrong mindsets.(at least i heard mine)!!!i'm a firm believer in the greatness of this country but i also realise that there's so far mere optimism will get us to our destination. it's time each & everyone stepped up by doing the "little" things that make all the difference. Believe me, Funmi, just do your thing & you'l be amazed at the sheer number of like-minded people around.
....and really good 2 have u back on the beat.u were sorely missed.

Maryanne said...

"With every seminal moment, you claim to have 'lost your fear' and to 'find the will' to push your dreams.

Every single time - you re-discover this strenght?!

The grandiosity does get tiring, and - you will have to admit in your quite moments - unnecessarily pretensious."

Obviously this "Anonymous" person doesnt have a clue the kind of challenges you are up against.
He or she does not have an inkling of the daily stuggles you experience to host a show on the Nigerian Media...this clown is completly clueless as to what it takes to do what you do.

As for those of us that sit at the side lines, and what in awe of your courage, we will always be at your disposal to support your EFFORTS, for a better Nigeria...we LOVE you, and will be here for you.

Drop by in Srilanka sometime for a Holiday... Me Casa your Casa.

Anonymous said...

We all write and say big grammar in Naija to describe simple events- that's our major flaw! Simple and honest elections with simple and strict laws will take Naija beyond USA's Obamania but are we brave enuf to be SIMPLE & STRICT?