By Jerry Okungu
May 21, 2013
Having been born and raised in the USA, there is something that Barack Obama doesn’t get. He is missing the point of being a blood relation of a larger and even extended family in the true African sense of the word.
However, despite an early troubled family life soon after he was born and hardly knowing his father in the true sense of the word, Barack had the courage and presence of mind to come to Kenya, on his own at the age of 19 to look for his roots and reestablish that family relationship that he badly needed to give him strength to embark on the journey to greatness.
When Barack first came to Kenya, he was neither a Senator nor the President of the United States. He was not yet a world class celebrity. In fact he was carefree single young man of 19.
However, coming to Kenya then inspired him to write his first book, “Dreams of My Father” that did not sell well initially. Indeed books by great men sell faster than those penned by ordinary mortals. The sales of his books only shot up after he became president.
His second visit to Kenya was soon after getting married to Michelle. He brought his wife to be introduced to Jo'Kogello.
His third and last visit to Kenya was in 2006 when he was already a Senator of Illinois and alumni of the Harvard Law School. This visit had all the trappings of American power. He was heavily guarded by Marines wherever he went including Kogelo.
However, unlike the previous visits, protocol and security considerations did not allow him to sleep in his grandmother’s hut like he had done in the past. This time, he didn’t have the luxury of carrying millet and maize corn to a nearby posho mill for grinding. If anything, despite the ecstasy with which the entire Kenyan society received him, more so the euphoria that greeted him in Alego Kogelo, he only spent a few minutes in his father’s compound and returned to Nairobi to round up his trip in Kenya.
At this point, he had not even declared his interest in the American presidential race which was just two years away. And when he chose to announce that he was in the race for the White House, Kenya, like the rest of the world was stunned! Questions on everyone’s lips were: Did he have what it takes to run for the White House? Did he have a critical mass of voters? Did he have vast resources to make it to the finishing line? More critically, how would he handle his worthy opponent, Hilary Clinton who was white, had the cash and name recognition far greater than this son of a Kenyan? Could he beat Hilary Clinton at the Democratic Primaries then face John McCain of the Republican Party?
Despite these daunting handicaps, Kenyans who had seen him perform at the University of Nairobi’s Great Court during his public lecture somehow believed in him. Yes, he was following in the footsteps of Jesse Jackson another African American who had also run for that office way back in 1984. Somehow most people believed that this lanky son of a Kenyan had the power of persuasion.
In the entire period of primaries, most Americans had written him off. They knew he would be trounced by Hilary Clinton. The only people who believed in him were young Americans and Kenyans at home and Diaspora. In fact it reached a point when every African country including Nigeria was claiming Obama’s heritage.
The frenzy about Barack Obama knew no bounds in Kenya. He was the talk of the town in every social place and village.
I remember visiting the United States in December 2008 soon after he had won the presidency. Any taxi driver I used marvelled at the rate at which Kenya was colonizing the United States. His inauguration became a must attend event even for top government officials that were not invited.
However, when this Kenyan American entered the White House, something happened between him and his fatherland. Most Kenyans expected a triumphant return of their son after winning the American presidency. It never happened. Instead he visited Egypt and Ghana in a fleeting trip that took just hours. He gave Kenya a wide berth.
At that time, Kenyans were not amused but somehow were content with the theory that Kenya’s disputed elections that had turned violent could have been the reason Obama avoided Kenya. However, despite calm returning to the country following the signing of the Grand Coalition between Kibaki and Raila, still Obama avoided Kenya. He completed his first term without setting foot on Kenya.
Because of this lukewarm approach to Kenya in his first presidency, there was significant reduction of enthusiasm in Obama’s presidency when he embarked on his second campaign in 2012. The euphoria of his first term had dissipated. Kenyans had learnt the hard way that Obama was not a Kenyan but an American President. So, when he won elections and despite sending a message of congratulations to Uhuru Kenyatta and William Ruto, Kenyans saw for what it really was, a PR exercise.
It was therefore no surprise among Kenyans when they woke up early this week to learn from the American State Department that Obama’s second trip to Africa had again deleted Kenya. Instead, he would travel to Senegal, South Africa and Tanzania.
Those who know are explaining that he cannot visit Kenya as long as the current President Kenyatta and William Ruto still face charges at the ICC.
While this may be true, it cannot be the main reason to stop him from visiting his fatherland. It has to do with lack of attachment to the country he has really never called home.
On the flip side; maybe it is a good thing that he is not coming here. More often than not the harassment and humiliation the State Department subjects the host country to on such occasions is not worth it.