Thursday, February 7, 2008

Primary source(s): And then there was one

Primary sources is a new regular feature that investigates how Africans view the U.S. presidential elections. Here are the first and second installments.

For two African journalists, it’s been nearly ten days flying coast to coast, living out of (probably very nice) hotels, attending major party debates, listening to more than their fair share of candidate stump speeches and talking to unknown number of various party hacks.

So, what have they learned? “Most people don’t understand how tricky it is to understand the political system here of delegates and popular vote and the state’s making all the rules,” said Louis Oulon from Burkina Faso. “And the fact that you have people who right now are willing to accept anything.”

So it was, Super Tuesday: 24 states in play, plus those all important delegates that so befuddled Louis. The news, as you most likely know, is that John McCain deepened his stranglehold on the Republican Party nomination. And Democrats Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton mostly traded jabs, and while Barack carried a number of states, Hillary got a big hit in California – the biggest prize of them all for Democrats – but she didn’t get a knock down.

It’s here that we announce we missed an opportunity to speak with Davison Maruziva, a print journalist, who had to catch a flight back to Zimbabwe. We thank him for his candor and insight and wish him the best of luck.

So, on to Louis, our new one-man show from Burkina Faso.

The Democrats
I am not sure it’s changed. It’s definitely still open with 25 or 27 states willing to organize their primaries and caucuses. There are only some delegates between them, so the game is not over. And I don’t know how these results from Super Tuesday will influence the rest of the states.

For Obama, I wonder if his rising popularity will still increase or will his supporters be discouraged and lay down and say ‘we are losing.’ For Clinton, this presents a good opportunity for her to win [the nomination]. Last night during the speech, Obama was looking a little unhappy, and it was like he started talking towards African Americans, which is not what he really used to do. I don’t know whether or not this will upset white people.

This all depends on [Obama’s] capacity to comeback. How will he be affected by this defeat?

I asked Louis if he thought the near deadlock in the Democratic Party would lead the campaigns to turn negative toward each other.

I don’t think so. People are sensitive to the attitudes of the campaign. When we went to Hillary Clinton’s headquarters and later heard her speak, she had a distinct way to say things, like trying to bring every group with them, they are very inclusive, trying not to focus on a type of person or a specific race.

[Every candidate] thinks they are the winner of this race. But someone has to lose, and I don’t know if [Obama] will be a good loser or a bad loser.

The Republicans
McCain is in a good position to win. Mike Huckabee did well, but I don’t think the game will be very tricky for the Republicans. McCain is ahead by such a large distance. But he does have problems. He is in a position where he has to follow the will of Americans. The will is to change. They don’t have the ears to listen to a person if the person doesn’t want to talk about change. McCain has a hard time because he’s not all talking about change. Look at Iraq. He’s talking about staying in Iraq for 100 years, just like Bush said.

One way he could do better is if we have something in the last days and the months of the campaign, near November or October. He could make a big surprise. There could be a terrorist attack, and, if so, people could start paying attention to him. Just like what happened a few years back in Spain.

What campaign issues and themes have you been reporting back to Burkina Faso?
Most people must understand that elections in my country are organized very differently. In 1997, the ruling party, the CDP, tried to run primaries for people running for parliament. It worked only for one year. It was very good because most BurkinabĂ© liked it, but the politicians didn’t. Some [politicians] said that they were leaders [of the party], but they weren’t liked by the voters in their own cities. It was a good thing because you could politicians in their right place.

Also, I am interested in how nobody controls the political parties in the United States. There is nobody saying ‘I am the founder of this party, I am the boss, and I will decide who will run.’ If they had that here, I don’t think you’d see a guy like Barack Obama able to run.

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