|It is looking increasingly likely
that Barrack Obama will be elected in November as Senator of the State of Illinois. The
number of prospective voters has increased after his presumptive opponent in the election
was felled by accusations of sexual impropriety.
with Obamas rising stature is the increasing desire by Kenyans to identify with him.
Typical newspaper headlines and messages flying around the Internet tend to lead with the
theme "Kenyan-linked", or "Kenyan-American", or even, erroneously,
People like identifying with winners, especially when they
can be linked to them in a direct way. However, Kenyans are mistaken in attempting to
claim Mr Barrack Obama as one of their own, for two very important reasons.
First, the only link that Obama has to Kenya is so tenuous
as to almost be nonsensical. If you havent heard the story by now, the short version
is that his father was a Kenyan scholar in the United States, who married an American
woman, and left them when Obama was a toddler. He was brought up mainly by his
grandparents and went through a difficult childhood and early adulthood, including a visit
to Kenya to attempt to understand his now-deceased father.
Obamas story is so typically American, that he will
probably end up a poster boy for the possibilities offered by that country. According to a
feature in New Yorker magazine, he was a black man whose immediate family was all white,
and whose racial confusion led to his experimentation with drugs. He made it out of that
rut and his appeal is now far removed from race. He is a surprisingly calm politician and
unwilling to carry out his political contests in a mud bath. With the Democratic Party in
America so sorely in need of an idealistic, honest and credible torchbearer, it would not
be difficult to imagine candidate Obama, and, even possibly, President Obama.
More importantly, we have little claim to Obama as a Kenyan
given our track record of how we treat those who attempt to fit into the Kenyan fabric,
when their ancestry is elsewhere. We have such a negative reaction to immigrants that
xenophobia could easily be part of our central political message.
We are psychologically and politically predisposed to
rejecting outsiders. For Kenyans, whether as official government policy or as evidenced in
our private interactions, refugees are a bothersome lot of people poor, smelly folk
whose sole mission in life is to compete with us for scarce resources. We keep them in
refugee camps in places that are out of sight. For the few lucky ones who manage to make
it into our cities, we put them into ethnic ghettoes such as Eastleigh, hoping they will
keep to themselves.
The Kenya Government sees refugees in two main ways. One,
as an international problem that we are unlucky enough to face and which should be taken
away from us as soon as possible. Two, as a source of instability, especially because they
are seen to be importers of the illegal arms circulating in the country.
The surprising thing is how much we may have missed out by
our refusal to integrate outsiders into Kenyas central life. Somalis are
acknowledged as some of Africas most entrepreneurial people. The fact that their
country imploded is an act of historical circumstance that can happen to other Africans
given their unilateral borders. Their landing in our borders, from all social classes was
an opportunity that we clearly missed.
The Ugandan case is even worse. In the worst years of the
1970s and 1980s, thousands of Ugandans sought refuge in Kenya. These were the very best of
the political, social and economic classes, yet we looked at them, again, as a source of
potential embarrassment and instability. Ugandans in Kenya were hounded mercilessly by the
police and many were understandably glad to go back home as soon as they could.
In the 2001 presidential election in Uganda, almost all the
candidates from Yoweri Museveni and his chief opponent, Kizza Besigye, on down
had spent significant time in Kenya. For Museveni, at least, these were not times
to be remembered with great fondness. He was constantly on the run from policemen such as
Patrick Shaw and it is no wonder that relations between Uganda and Kenya, at least at
presidential level, always alternated between chilly and lukewarm.
Against this background, Kenyas applause and ringing
endorsements of Barrack Obama sound a bit hollow. Kenyans would like him to succeed in a
country that has readily welcomed its progeny but it is loath to accept anyone who has not
been fully Kenyan for uncountable generations. Even Nubians, who have lived in Kenya for a
century or more, have no rights as Kenyans.
Kenyans are entitled to support Obama and to celebrate the
proximity of a Kenyan descendant at the centre of American power, but they should do so in
the full knowledge that they are hypocrites.