Yesterday, 3rd June 2008, was a truly historic day on many accounts in the United States -- and in Kenya. Dare I add Africa and the world at large? Circumspection, alone, holds me back -- but not my [My! My! My!] exclamation! Since we are hours ahead of America here in Kenya, that moment of glory, when Obama reached and then passed the pivotal total of 2118 pledged delegates and superdelegates, a moment which will be etched indelibly (dare I say for eons?) in the annals of at least two great countries, actually occurred very early this morning -- June 4th. A son of Kenya (for that he is) -- alright, a son of America and Kenya both -- had won a presidential marathon in that same America in which Kenyan runners are so used to winning marathons; and in which Americans are so used to seeing, and cheering, them! Cheers, America! And cheers Jatelo!
While in neighbouring Tanzania on that momentous night, Jesse Jackson aptly noted on CNN (I believe I heard him correctly) that Obama's veins flow with the blood of two continents! And I think he thinks -- as Obama and millions of Democrats and Independents and even some Republicans think -- that the time has, this time, come; come for the dream deferred to be at last lived.
Here in Kenya, where the average political leader is a crook of one kind or another (and/or ring-fenced by crooks with a till to loot), where party primaries (if they are held at all)are typically "won" by those who pay the largest monetary tribute to the leader (under the guise of the party), and where local and national elections are habitually rigged(stress habit), with impunity, in favour of those who have thus won the party leader's favour, is it any wonder that millions of us have been so enthralled by, so suspensefully glued to, Obama's indomitable quest -- first as an underdog and then as the much-maligned front-runner -- and are now so thrilled by his present victory, and the victory which (we see) is to come?
To Kenyans, the most important lesson of Obama's primary victory is this: you can be a successful politician without being a crook. Conversely, crookedness is not at all "genetically" (inescapably) programmed into political forms of life. Nor is mean-spiritedness. And self-centeredness, which invariably breeds self-aggrandizement, should not be a feature, let alone the defining feature, of political ambitions or public life generally.
Crookedness may be the way things are, concretely, here and now in Kenya (and elsewhere); but it is not the way things must be. Nor the only way these things can be. It is not that politicians cannot help themselves, but must lie, cheat and steal. All too often, what is read -- indeed, misread -- as typical is only that which we have refused or failed to check, and have instead irrationally accepted as rational; that is, rationalized. Impunity thrives on such rationalization, even as it sucks out all the creative energies in our field of play.
If Obama should win in November, I think certain politicians, with an attitude and bad habits, here in Kenya (and let me say elsewhere in Africa) will begin to notice that the unrequited public attention and adulation which they have for long enjoyed will begin rapidly to wane. You see, there will be another (more electrifying) standard and standard-bearer to be measured against. There will be another Jatelo whose wholesomeness of character will put a glaring spotlight on the blemishes in these other characters. May he win, then, in November! And may he never deviate from the promise that he has become; the promise that his electorate, and we here, have come to see in him!
Last night Hillary refused to concede, but that's OK. She will, still. What would be obscene, and utterly unacceptable, would be to trade (or to seek to trade) her concession for the Vice Presidency. I have remarked upon her unsuitability in another blog. What transpired last night only reinforces that view.
I know, though, that a trade of that kind(widely hailed as the only escape from civil war) occurred right here in Kenya just a few months ago, following a disputed presidential election which degenerated into widespread inter-ethnic violence. Many observers believe that the violence was in part instigated or encouraged by political leaders, too used to double-speak for our own good, who doubled up as underground warlords. In the latest issue of The East African, a weekly newspaper, there is, instructively, a chilling account of serious arms-smuggling, as late as last March (which was after the February signing of the peace accord between PNU and ODM) from Somalia into Kenya (and into the hands of an unnamed militia group here). AU (Ugandan) peace-keeping forces in Somalia are, disappointingly, implicated in this smuggling. The point here is that this is the very antithesis of Obama's brand of politics, to which the world is now going to have to pay attention. But does Hillary want to emulate Kenyan politicians, having recently made reference to Mugabe's bad ways?