The following is a column I wrote for The Capital Journal about the 2012 Presidential Election. It ran this week.
When I meet new Basotho, often on public taxis, they are curious about the foreigner and ask several questions:
Where do you come from? Where do you stay? Where do you work? How do you like Lesotho?
In the last few months, there has been a new one – Do you like Barack Obama or Mitt Romney?
When I left the U.S. a year ago, Obama had announced his intention to run for reelection and the leader of the race for Republican Party nominee changed each week. In my third election as voter, I observed the race from the outside, away from the constant political ads and party phone calls, and obtained most news through social media and the BBC Radio.
What has been most surprising to me about this election is how interested Basotho are in our selection for a new president. Many Americans do not even know where Lesotho is (including myself, until I was invited to serve here), nor that the country held its own election in May, which removed the administration of 14 years and voted in a coalition government. The peaceful election was considered a model for the rest of Africa.
Yet, many educated Basotho understand the importance of the 2012 presidential election and are curious about who will be the next leader of the U.S. They want to know whom I plan to vote for and why. Most Basotho know Obama as America’s black president, but they also know the name of the man trying to unseat him in the White House. I know I am not that attentive with elections in other countries.
Sometimes they even give their own opinion on the race or tell me about the pieces of the debates they saw on television. I recently spoke with a man in his 30s that believes America should give Obama another chance. A 17-year-old boy, hoping to attend university next year, told me he thinks Mitt Romney would make a fine president. They may not know or understand all the issues related to the election, but they have a genuine interest in the outcome.
When I ask why, they say, “Because we love America.” To many Basotho, the U.S. still represents the land of opportunity, a place where you really can make dreams happen. Not only do they see our country for its pop culture, but also the support it gives Lesotho through programs such as The Millennium Challenge and, of course, Peace Corps. Many see America as their brother and that is enough to care about who will be its next leader.
I enjoy sharing what I do know, albeit not as much as I should, about each campaign and proudly state that I sent in my absentee ballot weeks ago. These conversations about health care and the current economy’s role in the election are engaging, like a bridge forming between cultures.
On Wednesday morning, before I put in my contacts lenses, I checked my phone’s Internet for a winner. Then I dressed and went out to share the news the rest of the village. That connection is be there, between my country and theirs, and, for me, that is more important than any outcome.