Zooming In

November 10, 2008

Election '08: The View from Abroad

Gelf highlights overlooked coverage from local media around the world. In this special election edition: Castro endorses, Kenya celebrates, Pakistan shrugs, and Russia sneers.

Joe Horton

Some of the most insightful writing from outside the US comes from local media. In this occasional feature, Gelf identifies noteworthy stories that haven't gotten much attention outside local borders. In this edition, Gelf examines the reaction to the US presidential election from around the world.



Among the many international endorsements garnered by President-elect Barack Obama, consider this one from Cuba's longtime firebrand leader Fidel Castro in the pages of the Communist Party’s official newspaper, Granma:

"Obama, the Democratic candidate, is part African, and the color black and other physical traits of that race predominate in him. He was able to study at an institution of higher learning from which he graduated with brilliant grades. He is no doubt more intelligent, educated and level-headed than his Republican rival," Castro writes in his regular column, "Reflections of Fidel."

"The people of the United States are more concerned about the economy than the war in Iraq. McCain is old, bellicose, uncultured, not very intelligent and not in good health," continued the old, bellicose Cuban leader, who seems to be in poor health. Castro is quick to point out, however, that he held off giving his analysis of the presidential race so as not to influence the outcome and professes his neutrality in the contest.

Granma, however, isn’t above taking a few passing shots at the "mercenaries" of the U.S. Interests Section in Havana who gathered on election night to hear "…the call of their masters to go and ‘vote’ for a president that they have adopted as their own and a government that provides them with a significant amount of money to carry out subversive acts." The paper reported that 64 percent cast their votes for McCain, though it questioned their fervor, concluding, "…the majority of the mercenaries who turned up at the USIS party were there just for the food and the beer."



The Daily Nation reports that celebrations in the hometown of Obama’s grandmother, Mama Sarah Obama, were understandably raucous. Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki declared a national day of celebration, which saw an international frenzy overcome the small village of Kogelo.

Famed African musicians Kanda Bongoman and Princess Jully serenaded crowds in Kogelo with their hits, including Jully’s Obama biro, roughly translated as "Obama’s coming." Nearby, the Nyang’mo Kogelo secondary school has been named Obama Secondary School. According to the Daily Standard, Kogelo has seen an influx of thousands of visitors in recent days, overflowing a village so small that many of its residents had never watched television until a large screen was brought in to watch the election returns.

Not all of the attention lavished on Obama’s relatives has been positive, however, as the country now has a standing security detail of 20 officers to guard Mama Sarah’s house. It was burgled after the Democratic National Convention in August and now has a fence erected around the perimeter. The Daily Nation also notes that an elite Israeli-trained commando squad or U.S. Marine force may be called upon to protect relatives in Kenya during Obama’s presidency.

Meanwhile, Mama Sarah isn’t sitting on her laurels. She has accepted a goodwill position as an international ambassador against malnutrition worldwide, the Kenya Broadcasting Corporation reports.



While Obama's candidacy prompted national celebration in his father's native Kenya, the Central American birthplace of John McCain was hardly eager to give their native son a good word.

Though McCain was born on a military base in the Panama Canal Zone while his father traveled around the world as a key officer in the U.S. Navy, the Panama News threw its full support behind Obama and the Democrats:

"To curb the political power of sleazy financial hustlers, to balance the budget, to rebuild American industrial might, to end the war in Iraq, to rebuild the overstretched US Armed Forces, to restore respect for human rights both in the USA and around the world—of the two parties with a chance to form the next US government, only the Democrats, led by Barack Obama, have the will to do these things."

But in the spirit of McCain’s overseas birth and current home state, let’s not forget the American expats who cast their votes from abroad. An Arizona couple who edits the Boquete Panama Guide did support McCain, though somewhat schizophrenically. After coming clean with, "I voted for John McCain," the post continues, somewhat ungrammatically: "I did a totally unscientific poll conducted with people in Argentina, Chile, Uruguay, Guatemala, Panama, Mexico, Venezuela, Cuba, Peru and Columbia. The people I spoke with are watching with great interest and 100% of those I chatted with would, if they could, vote for Barack Obama and hope for change, so would I."

So the mood among these ex-pats in McCain's birthplace is to hope for change while voting against it. Perhaps they're just upset to see their national palindrome—"A man, a plan, a canal: Panama"—upstaged by Sarah Palin's "Wasilla's all I saw."



Reaction to Obama’s victory in the Middle East was considerably more reserved than the jubilation reported in parts of Africa and Europe. In Pakistan in particular, a country that has featured in every major policy debate between the two candidates, the local media cast a wary eye on the results.

An editorial in the Daily Mail of Islamabad begins by placing Obama into the pantheon of Americana. "He is, by virtue of his election, everything that America stands for. He is Uncle Sam, the all-American kid, The Chief." The Middle East, the editorial concludes, can expect little difference from a man whose first and overriding priority is to his own people…even if he doesn’t bear all that close a resemblance to ol’ Uncle Sam. "Having welcomed the historic victory of Barack Obama in the US presidential election, let us begin by shedding too much expectations of him. They are likely to be dashed—generating a great deal of pain and resentment into the bargain."



If Homer's elitist portrayal of Odysseus's cruel attack on Joe the Cyclops is any indication, the liberal media bias has its roots in ancient civilization, and apparently, the Greeks are keeping it alive and well today.

Katerina Papathanassiou, chairperson of Republicans Abroad in Greece, explains the dearth of McCain supporters in Greece to the Athens News: "The media in Greece are totally biased against John McCain, presenting him as a joke and questioning his ability to run a country at his age."

One unabashed McCain-basher in the Greek press is columnist Mark Dragoumis. "Urged by some of his followers to 'kill' his 'Arab' opponent, John McCain simply promised to whip his "you-know-what" at their forthcoming third and last debate," wrote the hardly neutral Dragoumis last month. He continued, "Unable, as usual, to tell his own "you-know-what" from his elbow, McCain made once again a fool of himself at this debate."

Other Greeks had different issues with the Republican ticket. Platon Davakis, a retired director of the Greek Tourist Organisation, told the Athens News, "McCain's problem is also that young lady, Palin. She reminds me of Annie in Annie Get Your Gun! We, in Europe, don't like that. We like that in films and cartoons, but not in reality."



In a country that views its Prime Minister as a sex symbol, perhaps it's not surprising that Russia Today asks if Obama’s victory can be chalked up to his sex appeal.

Seizing a moment of levity during increasing hostilities between Russia and the US, the newspaper also jokingly wonders if Obama's policies towards Russia will be influenced by his detention there by customs officials three years ago. Journalist Dmitry Shayko reproduced the incident as a cartoon depicting Obama sleeping in the departures lounge.

Obama, for his part, played it cool with just a subtle dig at Russia's totalitarian past. "It wasn't the Gulag," he said of the incident.

The US-Russia relationship could use all the humor it can get these days. The St. Petersburg Times (not that one) makes it clear that President Dmitry Medvedev didn’t go out of his way in his state-of-the-nation address to congratulate Obama, even after it was clear that the U.S. voters had spoken. His telegram to Obama didn’t reek of praise either, noting, "I hope for a constructive dialogue with you, based on trust and consideration of each other’s interests." Former President and current Prime Minister Putin didn’t address Obama’s victory at all. Looks like Obama might have to use his smoldering good looks to melt the frosty US-Russia relationship.

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Article by Joe Horton

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