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Why Jamaicans love Barack so

Published:Monday | November 12, 2012 | 12:00 AM
Robert Lalah

By Robert Lalah

When Barack Obama won a second term as president of the United States in last week's elections, it wasn't exactly a huge surprise. It was supposed to be a close contest, but with the growing influence of non-white voters and Obama's popularity among them, the final count in the end wasn't even close.

What was perhaps more of a surprise was the support Obama maintained here in Jamaica. It seemed like everywhere you went on election day, people were preoccupied with the goings-on up north. Some rushed home after work to spend anxious hours in front of the television, and others were too nervous to watch it at all. There was joy all across the land the next day when Obama supporters re-emerged.

"Mi couldn't sleep whole night! Mi did nervous, yuh si!" they declared.

It's not hard to understand why so many people are enamoured with Obama. His inspiring words, cool demeanour, and level-headedness are impressive, and he just might be the ideal leader for a postmodern America.

But this doesn't mean he hasn't struggled (a lot) since he first won the presidency in 2008. Some have been downright let down by the man they thought was going to heal the sick, cool the oceans and bring world peace. Many of us here in Jamaica, though, remained loyal and supported him (in thoughts, if not with votes) all the way.

I say this is a little surprising for a couple of reasons. First, Obama is the world's most high-profile gay-rights advocate. If you were to believe everything you read in international magazines, you'd be convinced that Jamaicans are little more than violent homophobes who stand on street corners with pick-axes and machetes waiting to pounce on the first chap with an ultra-flexible wrist. Jamaicans' support for Obama suggests otherwise.

Second, the president's economic policies in his first term didn't exactly favour 'poor people', which almost seems like a sought-after designation in Jamaica these days. Under pressure from Republicans, Obama's achievements, in this regard, have been limited. But he has been specific on objectives for his second term, and since he no longer needs to be concerned with re-election, he might be more forceful about getting his way this time around.

Inspiring a generation

There are a few other reasons Jamaicans might have turned their backs on Obama. Like the fact that there wasn't a massive 'freeing up' of visas which, some persons, oddly enough, genuinely expected. Collectively, however, our support for him hasn't waned.

Why is this?

There are those who just like him because of his skin colour. Policies, agenda, ideology - who cares? He's a black man and that's all that matters. A few people who answered local vox pop questions were honest enough to admit this.

But another reason is that Obama is that rare figure who can inspire a generation. All across the world, people have expressed their admiration for this unlikely American president and have been motivated by his words. Jamaicans, like so many others, can't help but be moved by this man, even if he's doing little to impact them in any way.

That's the kind of leader Jamaica desperately needs - a motivator; someone to breathe new life into our political scene.

The US system of government is far - very far - from perfect, and partisanship is as crippling there as it is here. But Americans can at least be encouraged by the fact that Obama's ascendancy has ignited the passion of young people there and has driven them to become more involved in the political process.

Obama's rise has shown youth that anything is possible, and they're more ready than ever to put this theory to the test. The pool of future leaders has been expanded, and this can only lead to better days. That's the greatest take-away for Americans in this Obama era.

Whether he'll manage to achieve great things in his second term is unclear. But the road to a better America, where voters know their power and are eager to exercise it, has been paved.

Meanwhile, we in Jamaica look on enviously, wondering when our Barack Obama will show up.

Robert Lalah is assistant editor - features, and author of the popular 'Roving with Lalah'. Email feedback to and