Saturday, April 5, 2008



By Jerry Okungu
Atlanta, Georgia

A few years ago, when Bill Clinton was the President of the United States of America, he was larger than life. The man was so popular that despite a series of sex scandals at the White House that culminated in his near impeachment, Americans still elected him for a second term. That legacy made his wife Hilary be elected New York Senator soon after their tenancy at the White House was over.

Eight years later, the Clintons are again eying the White House. They want to go back through Hilary his wife as the Democratic president. However, there is a small problem. A black boy from Chicago is standing in their way and they are not liking it. By the look of things, they are both livid at the idea that a mere black boy can rise to defy an American celebrity family like the Clintons.

The son of a Kenyan father has become some kind of David against Goliath in American politics. His influence has transcended racial boundaries. In a very short time, he has become the symbol of hope for the American dream in more ways than one. His message has been simple; to bring change to the American people. He is preaching the unity of purpose for the American society like never before. What is more, he is attracting support from unlikely quarters the political establishment. Senators and governors that a few years ago would not support a black presidential candidate are lining up for young Obama. Campaign funds are flowing into his bank accounts uninterrupted.

More interestingly, he has zeroed in on the most sensitive issue of America’s oldest conflict; race stereotyping and prejudice. He has discussed these issues with rare sincerity and sobriety. He has treaded where other politicians would dare not, not even the most liberal Clintons. And America seems to be listening to him to the chagrin of his opponents.

The other day he discussed the American economy. What Obama was saying was interesting. He implied that since World War 11, America may not have enjoyed economic prosperity contrary to commonly held belief. His argument was that lower class Americans have over the years worked harder for less pay culminating in a good chunk of Americans being squeezed out mainstream economy. He was quick to point out that if big banks ran into trouble in Main Street Manhattan; the Federal Reserve would quickly run to their rescue and bail them out. Yet, when small businesses encountered the same, they were quickly closed and forgotten with dire consequences for the small American.

In a way Barack Obama has made American politics fairly comparable to our politics back home in Africa. The difference is that our politicians do not want to discuss the sensitive issues of tribalism, poverty and inequality with the frankness of Barack Obama. In Kenya for example; when politicians discuss tribalism or ethnicity, it becomes blame game. We apportion the problem to the other side rather than our side. Take for example the 2007 elections; the Kikuyu leaders were blamed for being tribalistic because they did not want to join hands with other tribes in the ODM. Kambas were blamed for being tribalistic because Kalonzo formed a predominantly Kamba party. The Luos were branded tribalistic because Rail rallied other tribes to unite against PNU that was dominated by Mt. Kenya.

Musikari Kombo of Kimilili was branded a tribalist because he called Raila Odinga One Dangerous Man (ODM) because to him, Raila was a Luo who had no business leading Kenyans!

So in Kenya, every one blames every one for promoting tribalism and none of us is ready to take responsibility for our collective guilt.

Talking to Americans about their opinion as to whether Obama would end up at the White House, interesting comments from some White Americans bordered on the hilarious. One man reminded me that taking Bill Clinton back to the White House as the President’s jobless spouse would be a disaster for the young White House interns! He would not imagine an idle Clinton alone in the White House with Hilary is away on national assignments!

This brings me to the negative side of politics. Since the Clintons left the White House eight years ago, they became some sort of a celebrity family. Bill’s visits to South Africa, Kenya and South Africa were crowd pullers. Crowds surged forward to see one of America’s greatest presidents. However, since he got involved in campaigning for his wife, Americans have come to see the other side of him they had not seen before. They have seen the selfishness of the Clinton family they never knew existed. Even their traditional black supporters have detected a trace of racism in their attacks on black Barack Obama.