Editor’s Note: This article, while dated, appeared in Mshale’s inauguration print edition.
Washington, DC– ‘Obama-mania’ and ‘Obama-phoria’ easily describe the
atmosphere in Washington DC during the week of President Barack Obama’s
But after my five-day visit ‘pilgrimage’ seemed most apt to describe
the huge presence of attendees of African descent. There were African
Americans from Alabama, Louisiana, Illinois, Texas and elsewhere, as
well as people from the Caribbean Islands, as well as Africans from all
over the US and the continent.
Washington, DC– ‘Obama-mania’ and ‘Obama-phoria’ easily describe the atmosphere in Washington DC during the week of President Barack Obama’s Inauguration.
But after my five-day visit ‘pilgrimage’ seemed most apt to describe the huge presence of attendees of African descent. There were African Americans from Alabama, Louisiana, Illinois, Texas and elsewhere, as well as people from the Caribbean Islands, as well as Africans from all over the US and the continent.
For Africans, President Obama brought a renewed sense of hope for their continent. Their expectations of the ‘The Son of Our Soil’ were high: Obama’s presidency is expected to change the hearts and minds of African leaders; his administration is also expected to pay more attention to the needs of the continent, to have better policies than those of his predecessors.
The DC area was party central as different communities gathered for inaugural dinners, concerts and parties. The Kenyan community, it seemed, had the most parties; they had two sets of parties running from Thursday through Monday in Maryland, including one hosted by the Kenyan embassy); there was a general West African party on Saturday and a Ghanaian party on Sunday.
On Saturday night I went to a jam-packed Kenyan party at the Gallery in Maryland where everyone seemed to be dancing with an extra gallon of vigor. The mix of Kenyan Djs from all over the US and Kenya made it impossible for anyone to leave the dance floor.
Every once in a while, over the music, the MC would shout, “This one is dedicated to the Obama victory!
Ndio Tuliweza! (Yes We Did!),” the crowd would scream.
Many Kenyans admitted disappointment in their country’s politicians, and hoped that Obama would urge them to take proper leadership.
“He has inspired me, maybe he will inspire our leaders,” said Jennifer Kuria, a student in Maryland.
On Sunday, I made my way to the Hilton in Silver Spring, Maryland, to a party hosted by the African Foundation. Everyone came out in their ‘Obama-Best’ and the mood was extremely jovial.
Stand-up comedian and journalist Edwin Okong’o ‘Obama-s Cousin’ coined the phrase, “Don’t Hate, Inaugurate!”
He poked fun at stereotypical African cultures; and his jokes kept the crowd laughing.
“People say that Obama is Kenyan. We will only be sure that he is Kenyan if after serving two terms he changes the constitution to serve another,” he joked.
Among the great line up of diverse artists performing that night was Baltimore resident Ikeme from Zimbabwe who played the Mbira; Malian griot, Balla Tounkara, played the Kora and Nigerian musician, Emma Ik Agu, performed his song ‘Obama: The Wind of Change’. African dancers from Nova Scotia, Canada brought the crowd to their feet with their performances as did Jamaican ‘Queen of Reggae’ Marcia Griffiths when she led everyone in the electric slide as she sang her international hit song ‘Electric Boogie’.
The governor of Maryland delivered a message to the crowd via the state’s Assistant Secretary of Higher Education and issued a certificate to Eyobong Ita, the president of the African Foundation in recognition of the organization’s work in the African community in Maryland.
‘A Celebration of Change for the World’, was the last event of a 3-day inauguration celebration. It was co-sponsored by a group of African of professionals called Africa Aspire and the Smithsonian Museum of African Art. Elegantly dressed patrons danced to deejayed African music. For many it was an opportunity to network. For others it was a chance to enjoy Art housed in the three-storied building, the only museum in the United States to exclusively display traditional arts of sub-Sahara Africa.
Multi award-winning American actor, Jeffrey Wright remembered his travels to Africa to shoot Ali when he met a gentleman who lived in Sierra Leone.
“I found it ironic that as the bling culture was escalating here in America among Black Americans, the war in Sierra Leone was escalating in the same young black boys on both sides of the water. We’re not making the connection about their destinies,” he stated.
Wright is known for his roles in movies like Shaft, Ali, Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace.
Grammy award-winning musician Youssou N’dour was a no-show, however, Senegalese-born hip-hop sensation Akon gave a speech eliciting cheers when he said, “The same way that (Obama) is motivating the world to move in the right direction; we have to motivate each other to take Africa to the next level.”
On the insistence of the crowd he did an impromptu performance paving way for the Grammy – nominated duo Les Nubians, who enchanted the crowd with old hits and new songs from their upcoming album called ‘Liberte’ until the end of the night.