Obama's Plea for Unity Should Be Heard in Kenya

In his victory speech after the Iowa Democratic Caucus yesterday, Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) describes himself as having a "father from Kenya and a mother from Kansas" and seeks to use his campaign to unify the United States.

His words should be relayed and listened to in Kenya, where widespread unrest and loss of life is occurring following actions of the incumbent president, Mwai Kibaki, a Kikuyu tribesman. Kibaki rushed to declare his reelection over Luo challenger Raila Odinga, despite signs of election irregularities.

It is easy to see why tempers flare over these irregularities. At the time of Kenya's independence in 1963, Kikuyu tribesman and Mau Mau independence movement leader Jomo Kenyatta came to power as head of the Kenya African National Union. His accession to power was greatly assisted by Oginga Odinga (father of Raila Odinga), a leader of the Christian Luo tribe, one of the three largest in Kenya. It was widely expected that Luo trade union leader Tom Mboya would succeed Kenyatta. Unfortunately, Mboya was assassinated in 1969.

This week's Kenya election reminded the smaller tribes how they had supported the Kikuyu candidates in 1963 and 2002, when Raila Odinga played kingmaker by throwing the support of the Liberal Democratic Party behind Kibaki.

Kenya needs now exactly the kind of national unity that Barack Obama is calling for in America. It needs to find again the spirit that motivated the various Kenyan tribes to work together for independence and nationbuilding. Otherwise Kenya risks a civil war and economic collapse.