Much of the World Applauds Obama

From Kenya to Britain, Indonesia to Korea, many people see signs of hope.

November 5, 2008, 10:59 AM

LONDON, England, Nov 5, 2008— -- With unprecedented news coverage worldwide, this year's presidential election had already captured the globe's attention. Now, it has delivered a winner who is capturing the world's imagination.

World leaders, normally diplomatic in their official statements, were unusually effusive in their praise for President-elect Barack Obama.

"I applaud the American people for their courage and the great morality that they showed," Afghan President Hamid Karzai said.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy was even more glowing in a letter to Obama: "In choosing you, the American people have chosen the path of change, openness and optimism. Your election raises immense hope in France, Europe and beyond: the hope of an open America."

Nelson Mandela, as qualified as he is complimentary in his comments, gushed, "Your victory has demonstrated that no person anywhere in the world should not dare to dream of wanting to change the world for a better place."

Newspapers at first stumbled over each other to declare Obama the winner, and then to find the language to match the moment.


The sense of global excitement is palpable in Britain, the United States' closest ally. Even before the results officially came in, the British press was both confident and biased: Headlines read "Gobama!" (Daily Mirror); "The History Man" (The Independent); and "Yanks Very Much" (The Star).

Obama's victory is being especially heralded among the young in London. "Obama is an inspiration, especially as an orator," 23-year-old Alexandra Demper told ABCNews. "We can't quite say what the effects will be for Britain yet, but it is a great change for America."

Of course, not everyone is pleased with the result. A taxi driver and former police officer told ABCNews: "An amateur is now the most powerful person in the world. A salesman is all Obama is. He has no experience in foreign affairs."

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown sent his "sincere congratulations" to the U.S. president-elect, saying Obama would be a "true friend to Britain."

Meanwhile, the leader of the opposition, David Cameron, said Obama's victory has restored America's status as a "beacon of hope."


But nowhere in the world was the news greeted with more emotion than in Obama's father's home village in Kenya. Kenya's president declared Thursday a national holiday to celebrate the victory.

Ouma, Obama's half-sister, seemed exhausted by all the attention her normally sleepy village has garnered in recent weeks.

"It's been tough; I won't lie," she said. "You guys have been really ... you're persistent. You're stubborn, so it's been hard."

But she quickly acknowledged the pride she felt when Obama mentioned her in his acceptance speech.

"I did have someone come in and say, 'Ooh I'm gonna shake the hand of the lady who was mentioned by the president of the United States of America,'" she said.

Global Reaction to Obama's Win

As in Kenya, the celebrations in Indonesia had a personal tone.

At the school Obama attended as a child in Indonesia, children cheered. Former childhood classmates, teachers and friends of Obama, who have followed his career, said they'd been waiting for this emotional moment for a long, long time.

One of them was Rully Dasad, who refers to the president-elect, his third-grade classmate, as Barry.

"I'm very grateful, thank God for him that finally he reached, achieved, what he's been seeking all this time," he said. "Good luck, Barry."

Another classmate, Dewi Asmara Oetoyo, said, "After a long, long rally of campaign, he did it. We are so happy for him and his family and also we are so proud of him."

There is a hope here in Indonesia that Obama will help bridge the gap between the two countries and cultures.

"I believe Obama would be able to restore the trust, the confidence, the hope, of Indonesians towards Americans," said Todung Mulya Lubis, CEO of Transparency International-Indonesia, a nongovernmental organization addressing corruption. "This is a really good and historical moment, for both countries."


In Italy, Romans on the street this morning were openly excited by the results.

Drinking their coffees and cappuccinos, some called the election results "real democracy." Many had watched Obama's victory speech this morning before they left home; it aired live before 5 a.m. Italian time.

Though most didn't seem sure about how Obama as president would or could change things for them, they were especially relieved that this marked the end of the Bush era.

"Of course, it affects me," said Filippo at his newsstand this morning, as he happily handed out papers with Obama on all the front pages. "This is change. Not like that Bush. ... Oh mamma mia."

One commentator on television this morning summed up the country's mood, saying, "While the rest of the world is questioning America's supremacy as world leader, Americans elect a true postmodern politician, one who encapsulates the whole American dream in one person."

South Korea

But popular fascination with Obama is already yielding to hard questions in some countries.

In South Korea, young people cheered for Obama. Chung Han-Ho, a 24-year-old student, told ABC News that "I have high hopes for him. He will put an end to racism around the world."

South Korean leaders, however, fear Obama's stance on diplomatic and trade issues with the two Koreas. South Korea is waiting for the U.S. Congress to ratify a free-trade agreement, which Obama has said he opposes, claiming that it gives U.S. automakers too little access to the South Korean market. Denuclearization of North Korea is another big issue.

Obama mentioned that he would meet Kim Jong-Il in person for direct talks, a meeting that North Korea has long wanted but that the Bush administration has denied.

The prospect of direct talks is not welcomed by the conservative South Korean government, which believes that it would only increase the unpredictability in North-South relations and might even relegate South Korea to the sidelines.

Future Change in Policies?

Obama-mania has not reached fever pitch everywhere. In Pakistan and elsewhere in the Muslim world, many doubt any new U.S. president can make real changes in what they see as hostile American policy.

In Pakistan, most people are skeptical that President Barack Obama will change U.S. policies there.

"It really didn't matter whether it was [John] McCain or Obama," 38-year-old Mohammad Fasil Aziz said. "It was going to be the same policies implemented."

Among others, however, especially among the elite, there is hope that Obama will at least focus more on economic development than on CIA drone attacks inside Pakistan.

"There's a belief that Obama will certainly pursue policies that will move the United States away from the policies pursued by the Bush administration," said Tariq Fatmi, a former Pakistani ambassador to the United States.

"Redirect the relationship towards one of economic engagement, support for people-oriented programs. Present America as a promoter of good rather than a messenger of death and destruction."


And nowhere, perhaps, does America have the reputation of such a messenger moreso than in the Middle East. Much will hinge on Obama's Israel policy and his ability to bring peace to this fractious region.

Most Israelis have been captivated by his charisma, his youthfulness and skills of communication. Many say they wish they had a politician like Obama there. Israelis will be voting in their own elections in February.

During the long campaign the majority of Israelis and their political commentators have become convinced that a President Obama will not compromise on Israel's main preoccupation, security.

If there are reservations, they concern his apparent desire to engage with America's enemies in the Middle East.

He has said he will talk with Iran about its nuclear ambitions, which makes some Israelis nervous. A nuclear Iran is their No. 1 fear and, despite today's euphoria, some there will be wondering if the future president will be tough enough on Tehran.


Obama's stance on Iraq has been a cornerstone of his campaign. He wants to bring troops home within the first 16 months of his presidency.

This policy made headlines earlier in the year after Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki appeared to use Obama's plan of a 2010 troop withdrawal during negotiations with the Bush administration. Many interpreted this as an oblique endorsement of Obama by Maliki.

But this does not mean all will be clear sailing between Maliki and Obama.

The Iraqi prime minister is more concerned with playing to an internal audience and consolidating his power in upcoming local elections. Iraq's state broadcaster, al Iraqia Television, which Maliki controls, chose not to carry any of the live coverage of Tuesday's elections or even report the results in its regular morning broadcast.

Al Iraqia's decision to ignore the American election is seen by some as a more calculated message from the government, designed to show that Iraq is truly a sovereign nation not the least bit concerned about who will lead the United States for the next four years.

Indeed, when asked their opinions about Barack Obama's historic victory, many people in the streets of Baghdad on their way to work this morning had the same question: When will the Americans go home?

"The Iraqi people were hoping that Barack Obama would win the U.S. presidential elections because Iraqis know that he issued orders to withdraw the troops," one elderly man wearing traditional dress said. "Iraqis are optimistic about this decision."

But another man wasn't as hopeful about an immediate change in U.S. policy: "Obama's victory won't change anything because U.S. interests in Iraq and the whole Middle East region are selfish," he said. "U.S. policy is all the same, whether it's Barack or McCain."

World Reacts to New U.S. President-Elect

Many in Russia are equally doubtful of a positive change. The mood on the chilly streets of Moscow is the same as it is most days, with some Russians pleased to hear that Obama will be the next president of the United States, but most ambivalent to the news.

The Russian headlines read "America opens itself" and "America made a historical choice," but for most Russians, America is still regarded with distrust, irrespective of its leader.

Svetlana, a cleaning lady in Moscow, told ABC News, "I can't really say that I am happy or sad that Obama won, we still have so many problems with America."

Still, Russia's Communist Party leader, Gennady Zyuganov, said, "His election is a choice in favor of a younger and more modern America, which is now completely disappointed in George W. Bush's policy resulting in extremely hard times for the country's economy, in which a financial crisis is raging."

President Medvedev offered Obama his congratulations unusually late in the day and was not particularly effusive in his telegram, citing "solid positive potential" between the two countries.


The Chinese president sent an equally official sounding message to Obama. "China and the United States share broad common interests and important responsibilities on a wide range of major issues concerning the well-being of humanity."

Ordinary Chinese reacted to the U.S. election with a combination of curiosity and indifference. In Tiananmen Square in Beijing, which attracks tourists from across China, several people had a vague recollection of the name "Obama" from reading newspapers, but didn't know that he won the presidential election.

But some Chinese who don't normally follow U.S. politics have been observing Obama and believe his race helps him relate to "ordinary" people.


But one place where his election was greeted with almost unbridled joy was the sleepy seaside town in Japan that shares a name with the president-to-be.

The people of Obama came out to the streets and danced in celebration at the news. And, in Tokyo, Obama's words gave one resident hope for a new-world order.

"His speech was heartwarming," said Fusae Asano, a 64-year-old homemaker.

"Through his speech, I get this idea that he wants all of us to unite, it is one world and we are all one. Although he will be the president of a foreign country, his speech made me cry."

For more international reaction to Obama's election tune into Worldview on ABC News Now.

Noriko Namiki, Clarissa Ward, Gabriel O'Rorke, Simon McGregor-Wood, Matthew McGarry, Joohee Cho, Dana Hughes, Margaret Conley and Phoebe Natanson contributed to this report.

ABC News Live

ABC News Live

24/7 coverage of breaking news and live events