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Though many Senegalese I have met since arriving in Dakar last week have quickly smiled and reminded me that today is, in fact, the day of Obama's inauguration, their pleasure at this historic event seems to stop short of exuberance. It appears that I am not in Chicago anymore, nor am I in Kenya.
Senegal has plenty of problems of its own, problems a new American president isn't going to solve overnight, if at all.
The debate over homosexuality, which is illegal in Senegal, rages after the recent imprisonment of nine gay activists. The price of a bag of rice — a food staple whose cost functions as a sort of economic barometer — has doubled in the past year. Rising unemployment leaves countless young men loitering and hustling in the streets. A conversation about local politics or democracy becomes one about corruption and unfulfilled promises.
Discussions of Obama's intelligence, charisma and leadership skills remain firmly couched in an understanding of the litany of challenges he will face, of which the economy is the constant refrain.
"Obama, la présidence des incertitudes," is the headline of an article about Obama's inauguration on the third page of today's Le Quotidien, a popular Senegalese newspaper. It says a new era has dawned in the U.S., but it's going to be a busy one with no guarantees of success.
Still, there is a real appreciation for what Barack, as some simply call him, (and the United States, for that matter) has achieved as the first black president of the United States. A young law student I met in the streets of Dakar this morning said he understood the hope and excitement many Americans feel.
"C'est une fierté partagée," he said. "It's a pride we share."