lessons from America

Voices from the african ball

At last, some of those much promised snapshots of people I met during inauguration week; starting with the African Inaugural Ball.

1) Jessica:


She is in her mid-20s – a demographic that was by-and-large missing from this particular event – and was of Sierra Leonan descent. She was here with her friend Marie (on the right). Jessica wasn’t involved in the campaign at all, nor was especially interested in politics and campaigning. But she was volunteering as a steward at the Inauguration. She wanted to be part of the event and the celebrations, and also do something that reflected her African heritage (and this ball was cheaper than most, which was an added incentive).

2) Julius Mucunguzi

He works as communications officer, including with responsibility for African affairs, at the Commonwealth Secretariat, London. He was in DC his job, but on a personal level was also very happy to be witnessing the inauguration events. He was interested in the effect Obama had and was going to have on how Africans see themselves. He hoped that they would gain confidence to hold their own leaders to account and bring about political change. He also thought Obama’s campaign might inspire more young people to become involved in politics, as long as the candidates gave them a similar level of attention and feeling of empowerment.

3) Edwin Okong’o


He was MC for the night, and also did a good line in stand-up comedy. His day job is communications director at New America Media – “the country’s first and largest national collaboration and advocate of 2000 ethnic news organizations; dedicated to bringing the voices of the marginalized – ethnic minorities, immigrants, young people, elderly – into the national discourse”. Or, as Edwin described it, “a Press Association for the ethnic press”. Amongst all the good things, he did express one note of caution to me: that the mainstream US media had focused a huge amount on Obama’s Kenyan ‘grandmother’, but had not broadened out their coverage much beyond that. So he was frustrated that there was little other showing Africa in a positive and non-stereotyped light, despite the opportunities.

4) Nelima

[with Edwin in the photo above] A fellow blogger, she writes for the Minnesota-based MinneAfrica, which covers all things African-related in that State. She was staying with her cousin, who lived in DC, and was very excited to be covering the week’s events. She had seen Obama speak at several rallies in the Twin Cities, and – like me – being at the inauguration was a chance to complete a journey.

5) Kristie and Julie


They were former PeaceCorps volunteers, who were now hoping that the America’s AIDS / HIV prevention programme (which they gave some credit to Bush for) would be able to expand at a greater pace. Together with their colleagues and fellow former volunteers around the table, they were at the ball to celebrate at an appropriate event for them. And they were looking forward to continuing their work campaigning on international health and development issues, now in a more sympathetic political climate.

February 1, 2009 - Posted by | Uncategorized

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