From Obama to Omar, East Africa is having an impact in US politics

A saying in Somali states: “If you are in a place with other people, you either shine or give way for others to shine”.

East Africa is beginning to have an impact and shine in the politics of the United States. The political landscape of America was hitherto a preserve of the WASP (White Anglo-Saxon Protestant) group.

Even John F Kennedy, the 35th American President, was considered an outsider. Born a Catholic, Kennedy was outside the mainstream, though he was a Caucasian with roots in Ireland.

The rise of East African influence in America started with Barack Obama, who has ancestral roots in Kenya. He became the President of the United States. Once again, someone from Eastern Africa is causing a storm in America.

Early this year, Ilhan Omar, a young woman from Minnesota was elected to the US Congress. The refugee from Somalia lived for four years in the Dadaab refugee camp in Kenya as a child.

Ms Omar is the first Somali, Muslim woman who wears a headscarf to be elected to the US congress. This has caused a culture shock to the predominantly white establishment. Immediately after she was elected, Omar increased this shock by causing a political stir unseen since Malcom X in the 1960s.

Lobby group

Louis Farakhan, leader of the Nation of Islam, encouraged her by saying: “Shake them up baby, shake them”. Barely a month after being elected, she attacked the powerful American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), a bi-partisan lobby group that takes care of Israeli interests in the US Government.

In America, AIPAC is untouchable. To be attacked by a woman from Africa and a Muslim proved too painful for this lobby group and its supporters, including President Donald Trump. According to her, a Muslim in America is not supposed to be seen or heard. And she is, therefore, on a mission to change that, she declared.

"I am in congress to make trouble, not to keep silent," she said recently in a TV interview. Her role model is Congressman Joe Lewis from Atlanta. Lewis is a civil rights leader known for his prowess in defending the poor. He has opposed the government many times, including by taking a harsh stand on the Gulf War in the 1990s.

The controversy around Omar has consequences for America. The young woman from Somalia has lots of support from people on the left side of the political divide. The attacks from the right wing America have only emboldened her and made her popular.

She has managed to raise record amounts of money from well-wishers supporting her and are standing up for her. Surprisingly, some of this support is coming from within the Jewish fraternity. This is a paradox considering the Republican Party has been accusing her of being anti-Semitic. This reminds me of Russel's Paradox.

Seasoned diplomat

This theoretical paradox has been described as "the most famous of the logical or set-theoretical paradoxes".

"Also known as the Russell-Zermelo paradox, it arises within a naïve set theory by considering the set of all sets that are not members of themselves. Such a set appears to be a member of itself if and only if it is not a member of itself. Hence the paradox," writes the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

The controversies emanating from Omar have really shaken America. Yet, despite a charade of attacks and even expressions of bigotry against her, this congresswoman is redefining America’s political narratives. She managed to say things even seasoned African American politicians were afraid of saying.

Her wit is unmatched. Using her position as a member of the foreign relations committee, she grilled Elliot Abrams, a prominent Jewish America appointed by the Trump administration as America’s envoy to Venezuela.

During that cross examination, Omar made a seasoned diplomat look like a school boy by using her wit to challenge his confidence. Many politicians on the right ridiculed her for her abrasive interview style, but in the end she became triumphant because it takes only a very courageous individual to perform such a task and challenge status quo.

The paradox once again in the case of Ilhan Omar is that many conservative white elites in America and other western countries have been accusing the Muslims for not empowering their women. The emancipation of women like Omar is now being ridiculed. This is a surprise.

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East African influenceBarack ObamaIlhan Omar