Contrasting political opportunities between the US and Kenya

One thing that fascinates me most about Americans is there extraordinary sense of appreciation for ‘newness’. During my visits to New York and Boston on the East Coast of this beautiful and powerful country,

One thing that fascinates me most about Americans is there extraordinary sense of appreciation for ‘newness’. During my visits to New York and Boston on the East Coast of this beautiful and powerful country,

I am often greeted by a conjecture of glee and optimism contrary to the lonesome mistiness that London unravels, according to its visitors.

Unlike Kenya, which is currently locked in political and economic stagnation brought about by the despicable re-election of 77 year old Mwai Kibaki, all because a tiny albeit ruthless and corruptibly overfed elite from central Kenya, find it thorny to comprehend that a non-kikuyu has won the popular vote as per the constitution and ought to lead the republic. In the "democratic" shores of the US, a bright, brilliant, and youthful Illinois Senator Barack Obama is making contrary history.

Not so long ago, whenever he appeared on international media, most folks would often resort to asking: Barack Who? But today ‘Barack Obama’ is a household name, from a tavern in Mbale to a market in Soweto to a barbers’ shop in Harlem everybody is talking about him. The Illinois state lawmaker seems en route to stardom in the Democratic Party, which seems set to choose him as their presidential candidate after trouncing Hillary Rodham Clinton, the wife of former US president Bill Clinton, ten times continuously in the primaries nominations.

Out of fairness, most Democrats like both Barack Obama and Hilary Clinton, in principle; they are, it is said (conciliatorily…) on the same page.  But slowly and surely the indications now, especially given the Obama victories, are that the voter power is shifting in favour of the first Kenyan-American aspirant for the most powerful office on earth.

One thing clear about Obama is that he’s such a great speaker; at times he sounds like a professor delivering a neat and tight lecture, a union activist campaigning for a raise of something or even a street preacher chatting about social mysticism. Obama, it is often said, prefers to speak off the cuff instead of working from a prepared manuscript. His supporters have gone as far as likening him to the late American president JFK, civil rights leader Martin Luther King, and more recently his principles have been comparatively linked to those of former US president Eisenhower.

When Senator Obama was two years old, his Kenyan father who also attended Harvard University and held a PhD left the family, returning to Kenya, where he eventually became a senior economist in the Ministry of Finance. Young Obama was brought up in Indonesia, Hawaii and the US, where he later went on to earn degrees from Columbia and Harvard universities, he then taught law at a local University before finally charming his way to national politics, the rest as they say is history.

Since then, Obamamania armed with the ‘audacity of hope’ has engulfed the American political map, while psychological rhetoric such as "Change you can believe in" renewing global interest in a post-Bush America, where the prospects of an Obama-led administration (many hope) may alter America’s much despised self-centred foreign policy.

For a start, the superstar backing that started with Queen of talk shows Oprah Winfrey has gone across Tinseltown to the cold mountains of Alaska with endorsements from the likes of actors George Clooney and Will Smith alongside rapper JZ and others.  The Kennedy Family has even included Pam Shriver whose husband Senator Arnold Schwarzenegger is still behind his Republican colleagues. The latest crucial endorsement was made by President Eisenhower’s granddaughter Susan, herself a sworn Republican has stepped up and given her thumps-up saying Obama, like her grandfather is concerned about the core values of the future generations of America. Susan falls among the growing numbers of Republicans who have chosen to back Obama in the presidential quest. 

However, on the current tribally mired situation in Kenya, Obama, very aware that some ignorant elements in Kenyan society may see him as a Luo in this context, has understandably refrained from taking sides. Although, it is noted that he reached out to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to discuss the situation, the result of which led to the current Annan-led mediation process. It is ironic that while Obama of Luo origin stands a fair chance of becoming a White House tenant, were he in Kenya and engaged in the same aspiration albeit for State House, according to a certain group of "gentlemen", he would have no audacity for hope.

Viva Obama!

Ronald Elly Wanda is a political scientist based in London.

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