Obama Inauguration Event in the Amerika HausIf the excitement generated in Berlin after November's US election was any indication to go by, the actual inauguration ceremony of President Obama would be huge. And indeed it was! There was already a line of people outside of the Amerika Haus in Schoeneberg, Berlin, an hour before the event began. It was expected that there would be a good turnout, but everyone was surprised by the numbers that showed up. It seems that the on-going interest in Obama's success had grown rather than diminished and there was barely room to accommodate all of the excited guests. The event, organized by the ICD and the German Federal Agency for Civic Education, had already sparked widespread interest, with details appearing in media such as the Tagespiel and Bild newspapers the same morning.
First Panel DiscussionThe evening started early with a panel discussion led by the Institute for Cultural Diplomacy's founder and Executive Director Mark C. Donfried and included special guests Dr. Uschi Eid (Green Party Member and Secretary of the German Federal Agency for Economic Cooperation), H.E. Mr. Makase Nyaphisi ( Lesotho Ambassador to Germany) and John E. Eichler (Lawyer and Inter-cultural Strategist).
The three participants were asked to recall their feelings on November 4th last year when confirmation came that Barack Obama had won the US election. Mr. Eichler believed that Obama's victory signified a closing the chapter on 20th century ills such as colonialism and imperialism. He went on to explain the importance of a US president with an African background for the African Diaspora in Germany, providing as it does an opportunity for a clearer, more balanced, and more positive look at the African mainland and heritage. Foreign policy ramifications were explored more closely, with the Ambassador of Lesotho expressing his desire to see new approaches with regard to African-US trade agreements, while Dr Eid argued for a more comprehensive German foreign policy in Africa, instead of focusing only on economic assistance.
Obamarama – live streaming of the inaugurationWith the hour of Obama's inauguration fast approaching there was no time for questions. Immediately following the discussion, everyone rushed into both the lobby and the media lounge to watch the events unfold live on the large screens. The room and the atmosphere were equally charged, as people crowded into every possible vantage point to get a better view of Obama's oath of office and acceptance speech. The spectators were as diverse a group as one could imagine, all seemed to be equally excited and enthusiastic about the beginning of Obama's presidency. There was loud cheering when the President Elect appeared on stage in Washington. After Obama's address and the events that followed, there was a long pause during which guests could get something to drink and enjoy the authentic Jamaican food on offer from the Ya-Man Restaurant team.
Second Panel DiscussionFollowing the main inauguration event many guests left, but the Amerika Haus was still packed for the second discussion, which was again moderated by Mark Donfried. This panel also featured an impressive line of speakers that included, Pastor Frank Williams ( Of the Protestant Faith Fellowship Church Berlin), Yvonne Frazier ( American Classical Musician), Jeannine Kantara (Journalist and Co-founder of the Black German Initiative), Prof. Charles Yankah ( President of the African Cultural Institute), Ludovik Dakossi ( Cultural Attache of the Embassy of Benin and Christopher Lanz ( Director of Deutsche Welle TV).
Mr. Donfried began the second discussion by asking the panellists for their reactions to Obama's election and their thoughts about its impact on the future. Pastor Williams, Yvonne Frazier, both from the US, described their families' jubilation and relief on the results of the November 4th election. Jeannine Kantara also reported spending the night with her family amid the blitz of Skype, MSN, and telephone calls. Prof. Yankah explained his belief that Obama was elected to the presidency solely on the merit of his abilities, and this theme was reiterated by Ludovik Dakossi who mentioned that in a sense Obama was chosen not only by America but by the entire world. Christoph Lanz said he did not feel as emotional about the event as many others, because he was confident of the result long before he heard the confirmation the next morning.
The panellists were then invited to talk about the importance of Obama's election for the African Diaspora, of Black History Month and similar programs run by various organisations. Mrs. Kantara warned that Obama was not the solution to all of the African DDiaspora problems, but that his presidency did bring forward the possibility for more black leadership in Germany. She noted that Black History Month was only one of many means for black people to articulate themselves and their history. She also stressed the importance of widespread education about black history.
Yvonne Frazier recalled that during her school years there was a complete lack of recognition in the education system of the black community's history and contribution to America. She saw a similar absence in Germany's cultural institutions today and stressed that it was very necessary for the black community to spend time every year exploring their background, so that they can face the future with pride. Obama, she said, had set an example by talking about the black community's achievements as well as its trials, rather than focusing on black people as victims. Pastor Williams emphasised the value of a community learning its history in order to avoid repeating the mistakes of the past, a message reiterated by several other panellists.
There was broad agreement that Obama's presidency would stimulate and add momentum to Afro-German involvement in the politics of Germany. Mrs. Kantara said there was still a long way to go to reach total equality for black people in the US and Germany, and drew attention to some of the more negative aspects of the discussion about Obama in the media. She hoped, however, that Obama's presidency would help people move beyond their attitudes of ignorance. Ludovik Dakossi explained that because of Obama's Kenyan background, his presidency would also provide a boost in confidence for Africans abroad to make a significant contribution in their host countries. Christoph Lanz talked about A24 Media, an on-line media delivery site, that he is involved with which provides a platform for journalists broadcasters and NGO's from across the African continent.
The panel next shifted to the topic of identity, with Christoph Lanz discussing the current lack of clarity in German identity, and how Obama's election might in some ways lead German people to reassess the way they see themselves. Jeannine Kantara and Pastor Williams continued this theme, mentioning Obama's cosmopolitan background and the need here to recognise the very broad diversity of background that make up Germany's history and culture.