Kenya could be Obama’s downfall

Short of some cataclysmic event, the victory of Illinois Senator Barack Obama in the US Presidential election is almost guaranteed.

Barack Obama

Barack Obama

Senator Obama is viewed as having great potential to transform the United States presidency, after the ire it attracted in eight years of President George W. Bush. There’s lots of excitement in Kenya as well, because Obama’s father was a Kenyan. Barack Obama Senior went to the United States as a student, where he met Obama’s mother – a descendant of Irish immigrants.

Amidst all the optimism about Obama, little mention is being made of the fact that Kenya could be Obama’s weakest point. Like the proverbial Greek mythology of Achilles, whose weak point was his heel, Kenya is likely to turn into Obama’s Achilles heel.

By coincidence, the General Election of 2012 will coincide with the next American presidential election. Whatever happens in Kenya between now and 2012 will determine whether or not Obama wins a second term of office.

During the presidential campaigns, Obama’s opponents in the Republican Party made a huge deal about the Senator’s relationship with Kenya’s Prime Minister Raila Odinga and the ODM Party. Raila comes from the Luo tribe of Obama’s father and has told the media that he is Obama’s cousin.

Now, problems arise out of ODM’s involvement in post election violence that rocked Kenya in early 2008 resulting in the deaths of over 1,000 people. At least 500,000 were rendered homeless when Raila and ODM rejected election results that gave President Mwai Kibaki a second term in the presidency.

The Commission of Inquiry into Post Election violence, chaired by Justice Philip Waki has blamed most of the top leaders of ODM for organizing violence against rival ethnic groups, or at the very least, condoning it. So heavily implicated was ODM that the party rejected calls for ethnic warlords to face a criminal tribunal on grounds that the tribunal would provoke violence from supporters of the suspected leaders.

To be fair, the Waki Report did implicate President Mwai Kibaki for holding meetings in State House that plotted retaliatory attacks against pro-ODM ethnic groups.

But the challenge for Senator Obama is on how he will interact with Kenyan leaders who have been associated with ethnic cleansing, corruption and electoral malpractices. By choosing to work closely with the leaders, Obama will be viewed as being complacent with their actions. In Kenya, years of impunity have numbed the populace into accepting whatever their leaders do or say. In the United States, any association with masterminds of ethnic warfare will spell doom for any politician regardless of his / her abilities.

That is the dilemma for Obama. Obviously, he is aware of the expectations of Kenyans that, as president of the United States, will play a positive role in influencing events. On the other hand, Obama’s opponents in the United States will be waiting for the slightest hint of co-operating with Kenya’s cruel and corrupt leaders. In other words, Obama can choose to ignore Kenya in order to save his presidency or alternatively, get involved with Kenya and risk everything he is working to achieve.

Kenya is far from being at peace. Ethnic tension is increasing as groups view each other with suspicion thanks to incitement by short-sighted leaders. Operation Rudi Nyumbani (Operation Go Home) launched in May to close refugee camps is mired in failure. Just a couple of days ago, villagers who had returned to their homes in the Rift Valley were attacked and threatened by rival tribes who want them to leave for good.

In Mandera, along Kenya’s border with Somalia and Ethiopia, fighting between rival Somali clans drew the wrath of the military into tormenting civilians instead of bringing culprits to book.

As the economy falters amidst decayed roads, erratic power supplies and water shortages, Kenya’s leaders award themselves huge pay perks that rival those of legislators in advanced countries. The President of Kenya earns almost as much as the President of the United States, yet the American economy is thousands of times bigger than Kenya’s output. Indeed, there are more police officers fighting crime in the city of New York than are employed by the entire Kenyan police force.

The money to pay huge salaries for politicians is obtained from a punitive taxation structure that has driven corporations into bankruptcy. The number of companies which were engaged in actual trading that have collapsed in the past ten years speaks volumes about Kenya’s business climate. Meanwhile, the Attorney General’s offices are inundated with applications for new companies whose main activities are speculation while soliciting government contracts.

The political leaders behind the miasma of filth in Kenya are lobbying for amnesty from political, financial and war crimes. They have rejected the Waki Report and its recommendations for prosecution. They rejected the Kriegler Commission when it accused political parties of violent nominations and rigging in their respective strongholds.

Kenya is not out of the dark woods yet, and its clear that major violence is likely to erupt at any moment between now and the year 2012. The way Obama handles the Kenya situation will play a major role in how he is remembered as an American president.

Obama is well advised to be wary of Kenya’s political hyenas for they can bring him down just as easily as they have brought down their own people.

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3 Responses

  1. 1. Obama is too savvy to be caught up in village politics.

    2. Kenya is so inconsequential in the American equation right now with unemployment, dwindling 401Ks, fragile world economy etc. How the next president steers through these issues will have more of an impact on the American psyche than Kenya in my opinion.

    3. I have a funny feeling Raila will step down in 2012 or will let someone else take over.

  2. Obama is Kenyan. He should have run for presidency there, instead. Kenya needs him more than the US.

  3. Right now Kenya might seem insignificant, but imagine what would happen if there was major violence resulting in the deaths of tens of thousands. People will start looking at Obama’s associations with Kenyan politicians especially on the ODM side and his opponents will use that to hammer him, literally. As long as Kenya remains peaceful, Obama will have nothing to worry about but when things go downhill, as they are likely to, then whatever he does or says can either build or ruin his presidency.

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