The freedom to vote: Why do young Africans care so much about the US elections?
(CNN) — This weekend, I got a reality check.
As I can’t vote in the American elections, I had decided to do the next best thing: be in America as the woman I have been rooting for since 2004 possibly wins its presidential elections.
So I got my ticket three weeks ago, booked my hotel, booked my inter-state flights to meet friends across the state, and began a countdown to my flight.
Then on Sunday, as I packed my bags to prepare for my flight later that day, a random thought occurred to me: check your passport and just double check that you have a valid visa.
You probably guessed what happened next.
I flipped open my Nigerian passport, went down to the column for my last American visa — and found out that my visa had expired four weeks ago, on October 13.
Yeah, that reminded me of my priorities. No matter. I will be there for Hillary Clinton’s inauguration in January.
But what is it that drives tens of thousands, if not hundreds, of Nigerians to feel so passionately about the American elections?
To lose friends and lose respect for friends based on their choices and world views on these elections?
To spend hours posting, arguing, and fighting and posting. People have asked me: why do you care so much?
There are seven reasons, as far as I know and I will share them with you.
1. America is a thing of beauty
The other day, an aunty got a permanent residency as a “Person of Extraordinary Talent” or something like that. And she said to me “This is SO America.”
Sure, America is an imperfect country, with so many fault lines, but warts and all it is one of the world’s most heartwarming experiments — in nationhood.
This is the country where a half Kenyan can become president of the world’s most powerful nation.
How can you not fall in love with that?
2. America is an open book
I have been a recipient of the State Department’s charm offensive, sure.
The relentless selling of America in everything from its movies to its media, to those little innocuous activities when John Kerry visits, are a little too obvious. But the larger point is — there is something remarkable to sell. And that’s the fact that, America isn’t afraid to show its underbelly to the world, especially through its media.
This is an open book. It’s feelings, its flaws, its stumbles, its mistakes. Many countries are scared stiff of showing any vulnerability.
America is unafraid to be both strong, and honest.
3. We share a common sensibility
By this, I mean Nigeria.
Visitors here always marvel at the entrepreneurial energy, at the fierce ambition of Nigerian.
There is a commonality with America — with its fierce independence of spirit, the individualism that drives the country, a belief that you have the power to rewrite your story, to chart your own course, that, essentially, anything is possible.
That’s why many here love Trump. He is fearless.
American activist, Al Sharpton says in a promo for MSNBC: “Everyone came here from somewhere.” And that is the central brand promise of America.
Everyone came here from somewhere, and came to claim that country as their own.
And it so happens to be the most powerful country in the entire world. According to the census bureau, by 2044 ethnic minorities will have become the majority in America. Everyone will level off, perhaps just as the founding fathers wanted it.
How can you not connect with that?
5. The drama
The American elections are the world’s biggest event. Every four years, ever since I began to pay attention with Bush vs. Gore.
I cried when Gore conceded. A man I barely knew. And a man whose life is so far removed from mine. But like all good movies, it’s the tropes: good vs. evil, man vs. beast, today vs. tomorrow.
The American elections are always a clash of visions, strongly held, deeply owned visions.
And that leads to drama. The drama is riveting. The debates, the rallies, the town halls, the Sunday interviews. There is nothing like it anywhere else in the world. Sorry, not even the World Cup.
6. Democracy at its finest
Again, I plead guilty to drinking the American Kool-Aid. Let’s have a thought experiment: whatever happens in these elections, regardless of the disdain Barack Obama has for Donald Trump, does anyone feel if Trump loses, Obama will deploy the state to harass him in any way?
Now, ask yourself that same question about elections in many powerful countries of the world.
You see, you can criticize America for plenty things, including inevitable hypocrisy, and you can even claim that the system is rigged against certain people, but you cannot say that this is not democracy at its finest.
Even the improbable rise of Trump is an exercise in the will-of-the-people, anything-is-possible democracy. It’s egalitarianism at its very finest.
7. Hillary and Trump
Inside America, they have full name recognition. Outside America, they have been roaring stars — superstars — for at least one decade.
I read Trump’s “Why We Want You To Be Rich” when I was 17. I read Clinton’s “Living History” when I was 19. And I have been in love with her ever since, rooting for the day when this phenomenal woman would become president of those United States.
I supported her over the candidacy of America’s first black president. I am that invested in that one woman. So is much of the rest of the world. People are very invested in the Obamas and who they support, in Trump and what he represents, in the Clintons and what they do next.
You bring all these global favorites into one election, and hysteria is what you get.
No matter what happens today, I am one of those that firmly believes that America will be fine. It has too many strong institutions and too many ironclad traditions for one man (or woman) to destroy it.
And to watch thousands of Americans, including those with elections to lose, abandon their candidate for love of country… that’s also a thing of beauty.
Or maybe that’s me hoping.
Because the world needs America. I look at all the world’s possible superpowers, and this is the one I’d rather have. The one with heart, the one with s