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Capability First

Dec 4, 2008, 5:06 AM

When Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton clashed repeatedly during the Democratic Party nomination, most observers thought they would never see eye to eye any more. But the moment Obama emerged as the party's standard-bearer in the historic presidential election, the Clintons threw their weight behind Obama's candidacy, rooting for him as though they had never been political opponents. They stood for him throughout his battle with the Republican candidate John McCain who was finally routed at the November 4 polls.

Although both Obama and Clinton were political opponents, they nonetheless recognise each other's strengths and weaknesses. According to a biography of Barack Obama written by journalist David Mendell, Senator Hillary Clinton is one of the several people who paved the way to the US Senate for Obama. Because in politics there are no permanent friends, nor permanent enemies, it was necessary for both friends to slug it out for their party's nomination and then patch up their differences after the gruel and get on with the task in hand.

Having got the greatest job in the world, President-elect Barack Obama realises he cannot do it all by himself; he realises he needs a result-oriented team to help him revitalise America - and give hope to the rest of the world. And to him, it does not matter what your political affiliations are, or whether he had sparred with you before. What matters is capability and patriotism.

He recognises that Hillary Clinton has the drive needed to make the requisite change that America badly needs, so he has just given her the influential job of secretary of state. "She's [Senator Hillary Clinton] an American of tremendous stature who will have complete confidence, who knows many of the world's leaders, who will command respect in every capital, and who will clearly have the ability to advance our interests around the world," Obama said. He added, "Hillary's appointment is a sign to friend and foe of the seriousness of my commitment to renew American diplomacy and restore our alliances."

Such nobility is rare in Africa, where nepotism and sycophancy are seen as the requirements for high offices. If Obama had been an African president-elect, he would have not have given Hillary Clinton the job at all, as he would have seen her as a political enemy "who does not have the interest of the state at heart". That is how most African countries are run, denying the state the benefit of the guidance of experts who can make a difference because they belong to the opposition and are therefore unpatriotic elements. The Obama way of doing things is a lesson to African leaders on how to govern right - placing premium on capability, not on sycophancy.

"A statesman is a politician who places himself at the service of a nation. A politician is a statesman who places the nation at is service."

- Georges Pompidou