A few years back, Barack Obama became the buzz word all over the world. In Africa and East Africa to be precise, Obama was more of an epidemic. People of all ages got to know who he was, his relatives and so much more. Eventually, he got the world’s most coveted job and made history as America’s first black leader.
Songs were made about Obama, children were named after him, matatus in Kenya had his face and in Kampala a brand of chapattis – Obama chapatti -became a top-selling delicacy among city dwellers. The fact that Obama’s father was Kenyan was used as a justification for East Africans to obsess and ‘own’ him.
However, our ownership of the most powerful man has not paid off quite well since he has not even visited his home country during his four years as American president. Now he is back to the vote hunting trip and although our excitement about him has waned a little many people around here still prefer him back in office and not Mitt Romney.
In fact some don’t even know that he is up against anyone in this election. All they know is that he is trying to keep his job and they are cheering him on. There are others who are keenly following the US elections on a day to day basis and posting on Facebook or Twitter every twist in the race.
Just like the English Premier League football, we now have a crop of East Africans who know so much about what is happening in the US and what it means you may think they are working for the American embassies here. After all, it is important for them to know the fate and chances of their Kenyan brother Barry.
What some of these people forget is that actually, Barack Obama is not more Kenyan than the Kenyans. Just like the Americans, the Kenyans will also have a general election coming up in the near future and in my view it has more impact on the lives of the East Africans than that of the Americans.
At the beginning of this year, I made a pledge to myself that I will keep a very keen eye on the political developments in Kenya more than those in any other place. You may ask yourself why a Ugandan living and working in Rwanda would invest time in events happening in Kenya. Well, a burnt child dreads fire so they say.
In December, 2007, I innocently boarded a bus from Kampala headed to Moshi in Tanzania via Nairobi. The Kenyans were to have vote in a general election just a few days later. When I was in Tanzania they voted, disagreed and fought to prove their emotions.
In a flash my holiday in the nice environs of Moshi was technically transformed into a refugee situation. I was stuck in Tanzania. I could not afford to travel by air and the roads in Kenya were impassable so no buses were heading in or out of Nairobi which was the best route for me to get back to Kampala.
I was actually told that if I was to use the alternative route through Mwanza then by boat across Lake Victoria into Uganda it would take me about four days to get from Moshi to Mwanza apparently because there are no direct short routes connecting the two towns. But then again my hosts may have just been glad that my stay was being extended automatically by the chaos in Kenya.
Meanwhile in Kampala the price of fuel and transport in general was shooting through the roof and rising almost hourly. That meant that even if I found my way to Kampala I would have to win the lottery to find the money to board a bus to Kigali. I had no option but to pray and hope the violence in Kenya would cease and life would return to normal.
Eventually it did and I managed to return to Kampala and later to my workstation in Kigali. The Christmas holiday had turned into a tough lesson for me. I had learnt about Kenyan politics almost without choice.
I now knew who Raila Odinga, Mwai Kibaki, Martha Karua, ODM’s pentagon members and Samuel Kivuitu among others, were and what their actions meant to the region. Once again, I am hoping that Kenya does not make the rest of us suffer as it chooses a leader. As we watch Obama we should remember that events in Kenya have a greater impact on the rest of East Africa and should interest us as well.