Tuesday, January 20, 2009



By Jerry Okungu
Dar es Salaam, Tanzania
January 20, 2008

As I woke up on the breezy Kunduchi seaside hotel in Dar es Salaam, the morning Indian Ocean breeze did not disappoint me. The waves beating against the sandy beaches of this Tanzanian Coast provided me with the freshness that the white man’s man-made air conditioner could not match. I decided therefore to open my double glass door facing the Indian Ocean wide open to let it this morning sweetness.

Sitting there watching the red morning clouds turn yellow then bright with light; I wondered aloud and let my mind wander freely across the seas and oceans of our mother earth. As my spirit wandered through the Northern African desert, into the Mediterranean Sea and into continental Europe, I reconstructed my journey across the Atlantic Ocean in recent weeks into the Northern Hemisphere where Barack Hussein Obama lives.

And I wondered aloud how nature could be mean and deceiving. I wondered why on this day of all days; the day black people all over the world had waited for, for close to four hundred years, would still arrive and look the same. Why had the sun risen and the clouds continued to float across the skies as the waves continued to beat against the sandy coast just like yesterday and every other day since time immemorial?

Why were the huge ocean ships and small fishing canoes still plying the sea and going on with their daily journeys as if nothing had happened? I thought in honor of Barack Hussein Obama; the world would come to a standstill until it was all over and he was safely settled on the most powerful seat on earth!

As I wrote this piece, I knew many other writers all over the world were falling over each other trying to outdo one another with stories they considered masterpieces this black wonder-boy. His meteoritic rise to power, his enigmatic exploits had earned him a place among the greatest in human history. He had caused tears to flow freely among friend and foe. He had become the new enigma of American politics only compared to John F Kennedy fifty years his senior. In Africa, he had obliterated Nelson Mandela from the pedestal of world celebrity; at least for awhile. Obama’s magic performance on the theatre of merciless, ruthless and violent American politics had found no parallels, even fulfilling Martin Luther King Jr.’s American Dream in the process.

According to reports, just hours before he was inaugurated, his approval rating among Americans was an all time high of 80%; the highest in American history for a president- elect waiting to assume office. Coincidently, as this 80% magic number was being announced, he was busy celebrating Martin Luther King’s 80th birthday in Washington DC.

As Obama promised the people of America “One people, One nation and One America” style of leadership, his inspiring power, message of hope and his “Yes We Can” message did not deter one thousand three hundred perverted Americans to threaten his life! Yes, Obama’s possible assassination threats again were the highest recorded in American history, prompting the authorities to lay out the most elaborate, expensive and sophisticated security apparatus in American history.

As I joined millions across the globe to listen to Barack Hussein Obama’s inauguration speech, my heart went out to millions of people of all races that would brave the chilly winter of Washington and march on foot, miles and miles away from their homes, hotels and wherever they left their vehicles onto Pennsylvania Avenue to listen to him and be witness to this rare human phenomenon.

Then I remembered those great black Americans and black people everywhere that had inspired me and influenced my life all my life. And they were quite a mixed lot of achievers in sports, music and politics. I remembered their heroic deeds and messages of hope at different times in my growing life.

I remembered my father who believed in me and told me to be who I am. I remembered my mother whose whole life revolved around me as long as she lived. I remembered Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream. I remember Isaac Hayes who became our black Moses as we grew up. I remembered James Brown who first told me that I could be black and still be proud. I remembered Mohammed Ali who went on to become the greatest boxer of all time. I recalled Malcolm X’s revolutionary message and the violent manner of his death. I remembered Elridge Cleaver of the Black Panther Movement and his “Soul on Ice” book. I remembered that great warrior Angela Davis of the Civil Rights Movement, Nickkie Jiovani my poet and actress Cicely Tyson humbling sitting in my Luo Theatre Production at the University of Nairobi guarded by American Marines way back in 1981!

Oh, yes, I remembered the good old days when Curtis Mayfield would belt out his song” We Black People” on the airwaves and remind us that if there was hell below, we would all gona go there!

To celebrate Obama’s presidency at this point in our history without remembering that great heroine of the Civil Rights Movement, Rosa Parks of the Bus boycott, Nelson Mandela’s 27 year imprisonment on Robben Island or even Frederick Douglas the god- father of black consciousness in America is to miss the point and meaning. We can only do justice to ourselves if we put Obama’s story in the context of our continued struggle to be recognized and accepted as equal human beings on the arena of human achievement and excellence. That is why we cannot forget Jesse Owens in the Berlin Olympics, Kipchoge Keino of Kenya and Carl Lewis as our super heroes of world sports. That is why our celebration would not be complete if we didn’t slot in the names of Ray Charles of “Georgia My Georgia” fame, Aretha Franklin’s “Mid Night Train to Georgia” and the Temptations’ inspiring songs of the 1970s.

Back here in the African continent, let us see the Obama story as the culmination of a journey started hundreds of years back in time that included Patrice Lumumba of Congo, Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana, Franz Fanon of Algeria, Julius Nyerere of Tanzania and Haile Se Lassie of Ethiopia and all those men and women who, despite their human weaknesses still managed to make a difference in our lives and made us reclaim our dignity among the human race. Though gone away from our midst, Obama’s feat has rekindled our memories of these truly great black heroes of their times.

As Brazilians danced to the samba in honor of Obama, as the Caribbeans shook to the calypso for Obama and Congolese gyrated to the rumba while the Luos of Kenya loin-danced to the Ohangla beat of his father’s ancestors, let us remember one thing; let us be content with what his victory has done to us and let us rise to the occasion and prove to the world that truly as black people, we too can change the world!