In which our intrepid hero watches the world change

hana is an interesting place. It has been an independent country for a little over 50 years, and in that time there have been several economic crises and several military (albeit bloodless) coups d’etat. Yet in that time, the Ghanaian people have kept an admirable commitment to peace and stability while the countries around them have experienced civil war and genocide. The 2000 election and transition of power here was considered a milestone, because it was the first peaceful handover of power from a former military dictator to a civilian government in over 25 years.

But for all of the great strides that have been taken in this country, there are still many more ahead. Corruption (especially in the police and civil service) is a major problem, and the national road infrastructure is a major hindrance to agricultural development in the rural areas. And if you happen to be a person whose paycheck comes from a government ministry, it’s a sad reality of life that your bi-monthly paychecks might actually come every other month, or not at all.

This week, I asked my students what they would change if they were in charge. Everything I mentioned above was covered. I asked them what they liked about their country, and they told me about the peaceful stability of their country. But they knew things could be better.

This week, I got the rare opportunity to watch the world change. For the first time in American history, a black man was elected to the presidency. And not by a small margin, either.

Ignore the political ramifications and just think about that for a minute. 100 years ago, black people could not vote in U.S. elections, much less run as candidates. 50 years ago, protesters (black and white) had dogs and fire hoses turned on them simply because they thought you should be able to eat at any restaurant, shop at any store, and take any seat on a bus regardless of your skin color. 40 years ago, a black Baptist preacher made known to the world his dream that one day, his children would be judged not by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character, and lost his life for it.

And on Wednesday, November 5th, 2008 at 3:30am, I sat by the radio and listened as the American electorate voted for a man based not on the color of his skin, but on the content of his character. I don’t care what party you ally to: that, my friends, is a reason to pay attention.

Ghanaians — and the rest of the world, for that matter — were paying attention, too. Many, like me, got up at obscene hours of the day to huddle around shortwave radios and listen to election coverage. And as the day progressed, there was a lot of talk about what an American president with African roots means for Africa, a continent where for many, indoor plumbing is considered a luxury and electricity may or may not come to your village. The jury’s still out on that one, but it seems like a lot of people are saying “If America can overcome its issues, why can’t we?”

I look at my students, and I see kids who struggle to overcome adversity every day. They’re thrown out of classes for not knowing answers, caned for the slightest transgressions, and yet they still show up, eager for the opportunity to learn. They show up with the hopes that if they work hard and keep trying, they can someday make things better. If nothing else, they can now look at the soon-to-be 44th president of the United States of America and know that hard work and a good education will get you anywhere you want to go, regardless of who you are.

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