President Obama's trip to Kenya revealed many things that further underscore the Rorschach Test-like impact the man engenders. The trip also revealed the cognitive dissonance that Kenyans have with corruption, tolerance and their relationship with America.
BBC wrote a piece titled "Obama's trip to Kenya: 12 Things" that catalogued twelve things the part-Kenyan POTUS revealed in the run-up to the trip. This piece offers my (retrospective) observations on the trip.
1. Politics is the art of the possible. It also makes strange bedfellows. How else does one explain the positive reaction to President Obama's appeal for tolerance, from leaders of a group that has invariably called for "death to America" no less? That's exactly what happened when Muslim leaders in Kenya called on the government to heed President Obama's advice and "drop collective victimization of Muslims... treat them as close partners... in isolating and rooting out the few bad elements in the fight against terrorism."
2. In international relations, there are no permanent enemies, just permanent interests. This is a variant of #1 and is embodied in the prescient words of Henry John Temple Viscount Lord Palmerston and British Prime Minister: That nations have "no eternal allies and no perpetual enemies, only interests that are eternal." The one interest that America and Kenya have in common beyond economics is their war against al-Shabaab.
3. Africa and Kenya are both "on the move." The working assumption is that the "move" is in a positive direction and is happening in spite of the inefficiencies caused by corruption and incompetence! Said America's 44th President: Kenya, a country whose unemployment rate is 40 percent loses 250,000 jobs annually BECAUSE of corruption! To corroborate Mr. Obama's assertion, Kenya's Auditor-General announced less than 72 hours after his departure that "only 1.2 percent of Kenya's one trillion shilling (8.9 billion euro) budget for 2013-14 'was incurred lawfully and in an effective way'" and brings us to #4.
4. Choices have consequences! In the immortal words of Johnnie Carson! So Bell Laboratory's Jack Morton's adage "tyranny of numbers" (yes Kenyans, it was NOT Mutahi Ngunyi who originated the expression as much as y'all would like to believe that) won the presidency for Mutongoria Jamba and saved him from Bensouda. What has also happened is perpetuation of a culture of kleptocracy, impunity and toleration of incompetence resulting in a country that is eons behind its peers -- the Four Asian Tigers of the 70s.
5. Kenya is corrupt BECAUSE Kenyans embrace, accept and expect corruption: consequences of the choices they make. I wonder how many of those cheering President Obama's speech on corruption have ever partaken in the culture of "kitu kidogo" or characterized the pillaging of state institutions/parastatals as "astute business sense," "entrepreneurial spirit" or "business transactions" between "willing buyers and willing sellers?"
6. Much like the racist and philandering "founding fathers" of America, Kenya's "founding father" has an equally seedy and disturbing background. Jomo Kenyatta has been exposed as the land-grabber-in-chief and tribalist whose near-deification is belied by his stewardship of the country post-independence. In a bit of poetic justice and karma, his son Uhuru spent a significant portion of his inheritance fighting Gambian Fatou Bensouda because of corruption- and tribalism-fueled post-election violence of 2007/2008.
7. The Opposition was exposed as a collection of self-serving hypocrites who offer little, if any alternative to the equally self-serving hypocrites running the country. Tell 'em Barack: The same folks who bay "sovereignty" and "nationalism" when in power are the same ones who seek help from the "international community" (America) when they are in the opposition. Similarly, the same people who vilify the west are the same ones whose business and personal interests are so intertwined with the west you'd be excused for thinking they ARE westerners.
8. In life, the very people you step on or "diss" on your way up or when you are in "power" are the same people you see on your way down or when out of "power." It was priceless seeing Mr. (or is Dr.?) Alfred Mutua standing in line, under the watchful gaze of the U.S. Secret Service protecting the erstwhile "junior senator from Illinois," dutifully waiting for his turn to shake Mr. Obama's hands!
9. Kenya has sent several high-flying diasporites to all corners of the world. One wonders why this same world-conquering ethos has barely propelled or transformed the home of Kipchoge Keino, Chris Froome and now Barack Obama, to the socio-economic and political heights attained by its peers of the late 1970s South Korea, Singapore, Hong Kong or Taiwan.
10. Grass does not grow in one day even if it is in a roll (of sod). I am actually embarrassed to write about this. The rush to beautify Nairobi before President Obama's arrival spoke to the lack of planning and toadyism the country is accustomed to, not only when the "Big Man" is coming, but as its modus operandi! One wonders when Kidero and his planning team were notified that the visit was on or whether it ever occurred to the genius who suggested planting the grass that it may not grow in time for President Obama's arrival!
11. Success has many fathers; failure is an orphan. So intoned a chastened JF Kennedy after the Bay of Pigs debacle; variant of a line originally attributable to Roman historian Tacitus in his works "Agricola." It was near-comical seeing a country whose leadership had frustrated and ostracized Barack Obama's father, his personal foibles aside, and was complicit in the assassination of his benefactor Tom Mboya, fall over its collective self to welcome and claim as their own "the junior senator from Illinois."
12. Family trumps all. Two words: AUMA OBAMA. Okay, three more words: MAMA SARAH OBAMA. Dang it! Add to that "Every family has one" ergo MALIK OBAMA.