This is the best article written by A Kenyan that I have ever read:
Kenya: Barack Obama And the Graveyard of Hope
The East African (Nairobi)
15 June 2008
Posted to the web 16 June 2008
I am finding it very difficult to join in the jubilation about Senator Barack Obama. Not that I want to deny the man his victory, but my impulse to celebrate keeps deflating on the idea that the best thing that happened to little Barack was not growing up in Kenya.
I have been imagining alternative trajectories for him if he had come to know the world through the eyes of a Kenyan citizen, if his mother and grandparents had not rescued him from our chaos and contradictions and brought him up somewhere his intellect and talent could grow.
If he had grown up here, and had he somehow managed to retain most elements of his current self, he would have been another outstanding, intelligent and competent Luo man in our midst: and he would have been killed.
Yes, we would have assassinated a Barack Obama if he had remained ours, with us, one of us here in this schizophrenic cauldron we call home. This is not going to stretch the imagination of any Kenyan - after all, when we had that incredibly good-looking and charismatic home-grown hero, Tom Mboya, we shot him to death.
And when that austerely intellectual and elegant leader, Robert Ouko, threatened to look overly intelligent to the world, we killed him too. We killed Pio Gama Pinto and we killed JM Kariuki. There is no reason to suppose that Barack Obama, whose integrity of purpose and stringent sense of ethics even his enemies concede, would have survived his Kenyan roots.
HE IS MUCH TOO INTELLIGENT, TOO charged with the promise of history, too bold in his claim to a shining destiny, too full of the audacity of hope, for us to have let him survive. Kenya would have killed Barack Obama, or at least his dream, as we inevitably destroy, in one way or another, the best and the boldest of us. Goldenberg whistle blower David Munyakei's challenge to his country to be bigger than our greed was met with a whimper, and then with rapid abandonment. We did not deserve him, either.
As for John Githongo, he should have known better than to take the idea of public ethics seriously - this is Kenya, after all. Let him enlighten people at Oxford instead; such considerations are too virtuous for us, too sensible, too conducive to a promising future. We do not even remark on the haunting wastage of all this shining accomplishment - Micere Mugo sings her lyrical poetry for Americans, and we do not even know enough to mourn the loss.
AND YET WE ARE ALL ENCHANTED with the power of the idea of Barack Obama, the hope of him, the beauty of his life's trajectory, the universe of possibilities and probabilities that it conjures for the least of the rest of us. If someone's cousin's friend's neighbour makes it to the United States... then we all have a chance. We have a strange predilection for schizophrenic loves and loyalties; we let geography dictate our alliances and imaginary lines decide our friends. It is as if our social contract states that here, at home, we are obliged to behave like fighting rats to each other but when abroad, when released from the shackles of kin and clan and conclave, we can fly and soar and master the sky.
When Wangari Maathai is abroad, we feel that her Nobel Prize is partly represented in each of our Kenyan living rooms; when she comes home, she is just another Kikuyu politico. We preen about our athletes winning yet another international competition to anybody who will give us half a chance, but when they are at home we turn them into more fodder for militias.
Caine Prize winners are Kenyan by automatic assent, but Binyavanga Wainaina is a Kikuyu writer when at home and Yvonne Owuor is indelibly a Luo - we shrink them to fit the midget-sized visions we have of ourselves.
IT IS CLEAR TO ALL OF US, AND THE evidence continues to accrue, that we have, collectively, a certain global competence, as Kenyans, that we produce individuals of substance and historical purpose.
Being Kenyan, however, we prefer to drown in the pettiness of our parochial quarrels when at home, and if one of us threatens to be too hopeful, too ambitious, too intelligent, too creative or too inspirational to fit into our trivial little categories of hatred and suspicion, we kill them, or exile them from our societies, or we just cause them to run away inside, hiding from us and from themselves the grandeur of their souls, the splendid landscapes of their imagined tomorrows.
Nothing but the worst for us, at home. We recognise each other by our most rancid rhetoric. We insist upon it, we cultivate it, we elevate it to an art form: Kenyan, and quarrelsome.
Kenyan, and clannish. Kenyan, and counter-productive. Kenyan, and self-destructive. Kenyan, and consistently heart-breaking. Genius everywhere, and not a thought to be had. Promise and potential everywhere, and not an opportunity to be had. Money everywhere, and not an honest penny to be earned. Helicopters aplenty, but no help for the needy. A land awash in Cabinet ministers and poverty.
I HAVE BEEN WATCHING KENYANS getting high on Obamamania, and I am wondering what we are so happy about? It is perhaps that we are beginning to acknowledge what we should always have known - given a half a chance, an ever so slightly conducive context, Kenyans are more likely to over-achieve than not. At the faintest provocation, Kenyans will leap past expectations without breaking their stride or breaking a sweat, especially if they happen to have escaped the imprisoning edifice we call home and found foreign contexts to flourish in, no matter how alien.
Kenya: Barack Obama And the Graveyard of Hope
(Page 2 of 2)
I went to a town in the Canadian Arctic once, in the far north, where in summer the sun shines even at midnight and in the winter the world is an endless landscape of ice and snow. Here, far, far away from home, where nothing was familiar except the gentleness of elderly Inuit women and the comforting weirdness of the white residents, I was told that the local dentist had, for many years, been a Kenyan. Everybody said he had been an excellent dentist, out there in the desert of the cold. I was unsurprised.
We are an adventurous people, we Kenyans, and we take to the world outside our home as if born to a conquistador culture - we are brave and brash and bold, out there. We buy and sell things, and make money at it, out there. We go to school and excel and cover ourselves with accreditations, out there. We win things, out there. We get prizes, out there. We are at our best, out there.
HOWEVER, AT HOME, FOR SOME REAson we refuse to either acknowledge or examine - we have chosen simply to set aside this capacity. Here, at home, nothing but the very lowest common denominator will do; nothing but the basest and most brutal aspects of our selves are to be presented to each other; nothing but the most cynical manipulation is the basis of our political space. We prefer to be ruled by individuals whose mediocrity is matched only by their mendacity, here at home.
We prefer to abdicate our adult responsibilities and capacity for reason to "leaders" whose lack of virtue is as legendary as our attractively exotic pastoralists. We do not only waste talent, here at home - we go out of our way to suppress and repress it. We do not only deny dreams, here in Kenya - we devour them, and ask each other, "Who do you think you are?" As if the success of another is an affront.
In Kenya, grand vision and soaring imagination is illegitimate; here, they just call you naive. Out there, you stand a chance of becoming a hero; at home, you will have nothing but the taste of ashes in your mouth. Mothers, take your children abroad.
Barack Obama has written two books, in which he discusses ideas. Ideas. This is a man with vision and conviction, and enough good ideas that even those who do not like the pigmentally-advantaged are listening, and changing their minds.
Even those who think that his name sounds suspiciously like a terrorist's are reading his books and listening to his speeches, and changing their minds. This is a man with interesting and inspiring things to say - which disqualifies him from any Kenyan-ness we would have liked to claim.
Americans like the image of them that Barack Obama has painted in words; which Kenyan leader would dare to build dreams bigger than his roots? Which Kenyan leader would ever be so foolish as to attempt inspiration instead of instigation?
BARACK OBAMA HAS SEDUCED THE world by the power of his persuasiveness, and while Kenyans raise another glass to the accomplishments of "one of our own," it seems clear to me that we gave up our rights to him when we gave up our hopes for ourselves. When we settled for incompetence, and corruption, and callousness, we defined ourselves out of his universe, and out of his dreams.
We rejected Barack Obama-ness when we allowed those pangas to slash our dreams, when we watched our hopes spiral away in smoke. We allowed the ones who had done this to become the only mirrors of ourselves, and then squelched our disgraced selves back to the mire of our despondency.
Barack Obama cannot be a Kenyan, and Kenyans cannot grasp Barack Obama's dream. We have already despaired of it, and of ourselves. His dream would have died with ours, here at home, here in the graveyard of hope.
But oh, how we yearn to see ourselves reflected in his eyes...
And this is the best Political Criticism I have ever read. It is availabe in Mashada.com and Jaluo.com
Is a Raila presidency such a potential threat to Kenya?
By John Otieno
There could be no starker illustration of the threat that a Luo presidency poses to Kenya, nor more dramatic determination by other communities to forestall that eventuality! Professor Makau Mutua diagnoses the crisis facing ODM in a most simplistic manner.
In an article that coincided with the ODM’s Nakuru rally, Mutua revealed further the bad side of Kenyan intellectualism; lopsided observation of phenomena from an unashamed ethnic viewpoint.
The distinguished professor of law at State University of New York at Buffalo has penned among the most venomous articles in the Kenyan press recently, aiming solely to denigrate Raila Odinga’s role in Kenya’s democratisation and reinforcing myths about Luo unelectability.
Close interrogation of Mutua’s pieces over the last few months suggests that the professor hates Luos; stomachs a grudge against Raila; and is looking for whatever scapegoats to justify prejudiced conclusions on Raila’s role and/or predicament in today’s politics.
How else would he write singly on one man and one community at a time when Kenya is on fire set upon the country by an avaricious elite? Does Mutua find the Mungiki butchery, Mt Elgon clashes, escalating tribalism in government and corruption weighty enough for concerted analysis?
Mutua criminalises Luo support for Raila but glosses over the ethnic blocs of other presidential candidates. Yet Raila is perhaps the only one with a record of reaching to other tribes.
Mutua says Luos suffer from ‘communal psychosis,’ believing only one of their own can liberate Kenya from the yoke of anti-Luo socio-political and economic marginalisation.
Yet Luos voted for President Kibaki, a Kikuyu in 2002, shortly after cruising Moi, a Kalenjin, through a tumultuous second term under intense Kibaki/DP pressure. If Luos opposed Jomo Kenyatta and Moi, then it was certainly not because of the psychosis, for what would explain the revolt by Kikuyu, Kamba and other masses against Moi in the 1990’s?
Since former Justice Minister Kiraitu Murungi appointed him to explore a Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) for Kenya , Mutua seems to have patented discussion on TRCs. Where was he before South Africans tried the idea? Even at the level of prescribing duplications for Kenya and Uganda, Mutua betrays ignorance about internal dynamics of those societies. He accuses Raila of impeding the formation of a TRC as he advised, conveniently forgetting that Raila was minister for roads, not justice, and even there many of his recommendations were overturned by Kibaki’s aides, then led by Mutua’s own friend Kiraitu.
Still, Raila left government years ago. What stops Kibaki from forming the commission now without Raila’s hindrance? Isn’t Kibaki in bed with Moi and the very people that Mutua wanted investigated?
Mutua’s recent vigour betrays his ambition to have the last word on Kenyan politics. He conveniently signs his articles as a ‘distinguished professor’ of law at SUNY Buffalo. Analysis of his intellectual worth is constrained by the fact that his pet topic, Raila and Luos, does not constitute a field in which he can be judged as a lawyer. His oversimplification of chequered Luo history cannot pass the slightest scrutiny in a serious sociology or politics department.
For those ignorant of the stratified American university system, Mutua passes as one Kenyan who has scaled the heights in American academia.
Distinguished he might be, but at SUNY Buffalo. Judging by eminence of faculty and competitiveness of programmes, the US News and World Report traditionally ranks SUNY Buffalo from below the tables.
To find distinguished professors of law in New York, one needs not cross the Manhattan waters to Buffalo; there are plenty at Columbia, NYU and at other respectable universities across the nation.
Mutua is about the only distinguished professor of law with substandard monologues to his name. For sharing his thoughts he courts bad company; I’ve come across a lame paper by Mutua prescribing TRC for Uganda: “Beyond Juba: Does Uganda Need a National Truth and Reconciliation Process?” Deficient of rigour, it regurgitates reports in western media about Kony’s abuses, incapacity of former Sudanese rebels to mediate peace etc., making it more like the work of a journalist than a scholar.
Last weekend Mutua was on Raila as always, lecturing readers on ODM’s death and the tribal underpinnings of Kenyan politics. “Mr Musyoka has no choice but to exit because Mr Odinga’s kinsmen will not even allow him to address an ODM public rally,” he wrote. Yet the rally was most peaceful; Mr Musyoka ran into a rousing welcome.
One wonders whether Raila’s kinsmen boycotted it.
The article ended in a sermon on how to rid Kenya of tribalism. “We must return to a policy of deliberate nation building, demarginalise ethnic groups and communities through affirmative action programmes, sensible devolution of power, and the equitable distribution of national resources.” Why not tell these to Kibaki? “We cannot build a modern 21st century state if our leaders are looters and perpetrators of human rights violations.” Besides rushing to England to bask in John Githongo’s limelight, does Mutua understand the gravity of Anglo Leasing or the roles of those involved?
“We will have to pass a new democratic constitution, grow a vibrant…..civil society that is insightful and devoid of ethnic, gender, religious, regional, and racial barriers….forge a new political class that is global in outlook, national in character, and altruistic in nature.”
Just how has Mutua contributed to Kenya’s democratisation, or is this something he just preaches to others?
Mutua was a lawyer when Kenyans were agitating for multipartism, what role did he play? Besides attending the Bomas conference as Kiraitu’s spanner boy, how has he contributed to discourse on political reforms?
Most preposterously Mutua questions people’s credentials as if he has any ideas to run Kenya. Yet all his friends, for whom his criticism is reserved, have failed to inspire under Kibaki.
He should be told, firmly, that now is not the time to falsify history. He should be satisfied being an economic immigrant in the USA. The last five years have exposed Kenya’s civil society leaders of yore as ideologically incapacitated people who jumped onto the democratic bandwagon without any values or inherent appreciation of its application.
They have failed in politics, and there is little evidence they were good in academics.
E-mail: jkotieno2000 aT yAhoo dOt co Dot uk.