- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 19, 2008

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

Citizens of this east African country, which borders Kenya, are keenly aware of Mr. Obama, and there is support for the Illinois Democrat. During President Bush’s trip to Arusha yesterday, a handful of Tanzanians were at the airport waving “Obama ‘08” signs.

But several who spoke with The Washington Times over the past two days do not back Mr. Obama, saying they prefer his rival, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, New York Democrat. Others said they are undecided.

But there is no doubt the prospect of a black U.S. president with roots to this continent is forcing Africans to grapple with what 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-1980s.

Other Tanzanians are not sure 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 the fate of Mr. Obama’s success or failure will determine “whether America is racist or not.”

Victor Wile, a Tanzanian radio journalist, said Mr. Obama “can make it.” “To be a black man is not a big deal,” he said.

He later said in an e-mail that “Tanzania cannot support Obama just because he is a black man.”

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

Opinion among Tanzanians about Mr. Obama was generally mixed.

“It’s 50-50,” Steven Mponda, a 36-year old cabdriver, told The Times, adding 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 he made about sending U.S. troops into Pakistan to pursue al Qaeda without consulting the Pakistani government.

William Masawe, a business consultant, said 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 transform entrepreneurs’ ideas into self-sufficient businesses.

He 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,” he said.

One Kenyan woman who lives in Tanzania’s capital city belongs to the same tribe as Mr. Obama’s father, the Luo.

“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.”

Miss Okal’s friend, Sarah Moyo, 32, said she likes Mr. Obama but she questions whether he is 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.

Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete avoided answering a reporter’s question Sunday about Mr. Obama at a press conference with Mr. Bush during which 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 a friend of Africa as President Bush has been.”

Mr. Bush, after receiving a raucous reception from a few hundred Tanzanians at the State House before 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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