- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 5, 2008


On Election Day, foreign diplomats in Washington were “bubbling with great excitement and great expectations,” said the most senior ambassador in the nation’s capital, who has witnessed every presidential election for the past 20 years.

Ambassador Roble Olhaye of Djibouti said the entire diplomatic corps was aware of the historic nature of the campaign with Barack Obama as the first black presidential candidate and Sarah Palin as the first Republican woman on a national ticket.

“There is no doubt that this is one of the most important events in U.S. history,” he said of the election, although, as a consummate diplomat, he declined to predict a winner. “For us who are around to watch this history-making election, we feel fortunate to be on the ground and witness it with the greatest enthusiasm.”

Mr. Olhaye expressed his amazement, watching the campaign over the past 18 months, as a black man “finally emerged” as a serious contender for the White House.

“This is … an indelible fact that we will always remember,” he said.

Mr. Olhaye, the only ambassador still in Washington who presented his credentials to President Reagan, watched since 1988 as every winning presidential candidate was either a Bush (father and son) or a Clinton.

That was another fact that had the diplomatic corps giddy.

“All of them are really bubbling with great excitement and great expectations,” said Mr. Olhaye, who as dean of the diplomatic corps represents foreign ambassadors at official functions. “The whole world is also watching with great excitement and interest.”

Mr. Olhaye added that he was impressed by how Mr. Obama, the son of a black man from Kenya and a white woman from Kansas, ran a campaign with little emphasis on race in a nation still burdened with racial guilt over slavery and racism.

“The interesting thing is Obama is transcending race, transcending Africa,” he said.

The ambassador was also awe-struck by the massive amounts of money spent on the two presidential campaigns. The Washington-based Center for Responsive Politics estimated that $2.4 billion was spent on the election.

By contrast, Mr. Olhaye’s tiny nation of 506,000 people on the Horn of Africa had a gross domestic product in 2006 of $769 million.

On President Bush’s legacy, the ambassador said he will be remembered fondly in Africa, where he championed free-trade agreements and approved record amounts of aid.


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