May 22, 2008
Obama inspires belief in ourselves
Anne Mugisha

Oprah Winfrey, billionaire talk-show host, often refers to an ‘A-ha!’ moment. It is a moment of perfect clarity when we stop in our tracks and realise that we finally understand something entirely.

I think it is what we used to call a brain wave during my college days. An ‘A-ha’ moment is that instant when a bulb is turned on in your head and a flash of wisdom crosses your mind and you capture it with amazing certainty and understanding. Unfortunately, I do not seem to get enough ‘A-ha’ moments, but last week I had one.

Many of us are holding our breath as the moment for nominating the US Democratic Party candidate approaches. My moment happened as I was reading an article by an Associated Press writer, Charles Babington, titled ‘Obama on the verge of history.’

The writer, like the rest of us, is fascinated by the surprising rise and rise of Barack Obama. He wrote:
“Representative Elijah Cummings, a black Maryland Democrat who endorsed Obama early, says the Illinois senator convinces people of all races that Americans as a society, and as individuals, can achieve higher goals if they try.
“He says we can do better, and his life is the epitome of doing better,” says Cummings, noting that Obama was raised by a single mother who sometimes relied on food stamps.
“He convinces people that there’s a lot of good within them.” And why should they believe such feel-good platitudes?
“Because he’s real and he has confidence in his own competence,” Cummings says.

Without question, Obama is an electrifying speaker. At virtually every key juncture in his trajectory, he has used inspirational oratory to generate excitement, buy time to deal with crises, and force party activists to rethink their assumptions that a black man with an African name cannot seriously vie for the presidency.
Now, while the article as a whole was inspiring, I found my ‘A-ha’ moment in the phrase: “he has confidence in his own competence.”

I paused right there and thought about all the times that I had missed opportunities simply because I had little confidence in my ability. I thought of the number of times that I could have made a difference in other people’s lives but failed to raise a finger to help because I felt I did not measure up to the task, or because I thought there was someone else that could do a better job.
I remembered the times I did not speak up because I thought no one would listen or even worse, someone would laugh at me.

I remembered the times I pretended not to see things in order to avoid a confrontation. I realised that in all those instances, lack of confidence in my competence had failed not just me but also other people that I could have helped.

Those who are weak and trampled on, especially women in our society who are often relegated to silent and invisible roles, will understand this better than most.
Even when they assume high political or executive roles, they are often stifled into silence by suffocating cultural practices absorbed consciously and unconsciously as they try to claim their rightful place in a male-dominated society.

Now put these thoughts in a wider context and imagine how much work is left undone because we have stopped believing!

I wondered in my flash of inspiration how much potential was sitting there untapped, simply because good people are trapped by lack of confidence in their ability to change their lives, their destiny.

And in that moment, I also appreciated fully the Obama phenomenon. His ability to unleash that confidence in others, so that they believe again in their competence to change their society, that they can make a difference.
His magnetism for young and old, rich and poor, black and white, including the 75,000 people that he drew to a single rally in Portland, Oregon, last weekend; is due in large measure to the fact that people recognise their better selves in this 46-year-old man whose ‘audacity of hope’ has propelled him to such incredible heights.
And they nod and think, nay, believe, that if Barack Obama can do it, so can they.

And they chant with the faith of new believers: ‘Yes we can!’

The author is a Special Envoy, Office of the President, FDC. anne@fdcuganda.org