- The Washington Times - Monday, February 18, 2008

DAR ES SALAAM, TANZANIA — African opinion of the United States is being transformed by Barack Obama’s candidacy for president, but sentiment among Tanzinians about the son of a Kenyan native is complex and falls far short of unanimous support.

Citizens of this east African country, which borders Kenya, are keenly aware of Mr. Obama, a Democrat from Illinois.

There is support for Mr. Obama here. During Mr. Bush’s trip to the northern city of Arusha today, a handful of Tanzinians were spotted at the airport waving ‘Obama ‘08 ’ signs.

But several who spoke with The Washington Times over the last two days did not back Mr. Obama. Some said they like Mr. Obama’s Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton, while others said they had not decided who they are for.

But there is no doubt that the prospect of a black U.S. president with direct roots to this continent is forcing Africans to grapple with how they think of America.

“America has changed. I see it accepting things I did not think it would accept when I was there,” said Otto Ringia, a consulting company operations manager, who earned a Master’s degree at Colorado State University in the mid-1980’s.

Other Tanzinians, however, are not so sure that America is ready for a black president.

“People say that because he is black he will never win,” said Mecky Mkwawa, a 19-year-old sales clerk at the Tingatinga Arts Cooperative.

Imanuel Muro, an accountant at a business development firm, said that the fate of Mr. Obama’s success or failure will determine “whether America is racist or not.”

Victor Wile, a Tanzanian radio editor, said Mr. Obama “can make it.”

“To be a black man is not a big deal,” he said.

Mr. Wile later said by e-mail that “Tanzania cannot support Obama just because he is a black man.”

“Tanzanians can support Obama because of being a good leader,” Mr. Wile said. “I think Tanzanians can support any good leader of which the Americans will find fit for president position.”

“Still we have time to discuss this hot issue,” he said.

Opinion of Mr. Obama among Tanzinians interviewed for this article was decidedly mixed.

“It’s fifty-fifty,” said Steven Mponda, a 36-year-old cab driver, who said he favored Mr. Obama over Mrs. Clinton.

Peter Devid, a 22-year-old student who works at a safari tour company, said he opposes Mr. Obama because of statements Mr. Obama has made stating that he would send U.S. troops into Pakistan to pursue al Qaeda without consulting the Pakistani government.

William Masawe, a business consultant, said that Mr. Obama is “a brave young man who has taken the bull by the horns.”

“He’s a young man who thinks differently. I think he would be good for business,” said Mr. Masawe, whose company tries to build up entrepreneurs into self-sufficient businesses.

Mr. Masawe also said an Obama presidency would help Americans better grasp Africa.

“To be frank, you Americans don’t understand us. Maybe Obama, if he has come so far, people will understand Africa more,” Mr. Masawe said.

One Kenyan woman who lives here in Tanzania’s capital city is of the same tribe as Mr. Obama’s father, the Luos.

“That doesn’t matter,” said Joyce Okal, a 34-year-old clothing and accessories designer. “I like Clinton because I’m a woman. I don’t want Obama. He wouldn’t help me much. He’s from my tribe but I don’t like him.”

Ms. Okal’s friend, Sarah Moyo, 32, ribbed Ms. Okal and said she should support Mr. Obama.

“I like Obama because he is African and he is tall,” said Ms. Moyo, who has a 13-year old son whose father is Kenyan.

But Ms. Moyo said she questions whether Mr. Obama is possibly a Muslim.

“Even for us here we are afraid of those people,” she said of the Arabic and predominantly Muslim nations across the Indian Ocean to the north.

Tanzinian President Jakaya Kikwete avoided answering a reporter’s question yesterday about Mr. Obama, at a press conference with Mr. Bush where the two leaders signed a deal cementing $698 million in aid for Tanzania’s infrastructure.

“Of course, people talk with excitement of Obama,” Mr. Kikwete said. “For us, the most important thing is, let him be as good friend of Africa as President Bush has been.”

Mr. Bush, after receiving a raucous reception from a few hundred Tanzinians at the State House prior to the press conference, drew laughter when he said, “It seemed like there was a lot of excitement for me, wait a minute.”

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