By Edward Kisiang’ani
In his first trip to Africa since he became US President, Barack Obama has not only given Kenya a wide berth, but he has demonstrated a fresh zeal to reform the chemistry of world politics.
While in Egypt, last Thursday, Obama delivered a candid speech in which he relayed messages that must have left the leadership of his father’s ancestral land extremely uncomfortable. Frustrated by our country’s lethargic approach to reforms, the American leader is not going to visit Kenya any time soon.
Addressing the Muslim Council in Cairo, Obama admonished leaders who had the tendency to advocate for democracy while out of power, but who had callously suppressed the rights of others whenever they got the opportunity to govern.
In the land where Obama’s father was born, those who were admirable crusaders of good governance under the Kenyatta and Moi administration have suddenly become enemies of democracy.
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Though his speech was exclusively meant to address the Middle East crisis, it also raised matters that were extremely relevant to the local political situation. Obama implored leaders to put the interests of their people above those of their political parties. Given our recent political experience, one would be forgiven for thinking while his body was in Egypt Obama’s mind was fixed on the political wrangling in Kenya.
Watching him speak in Cairo, I could see a man who had chosen the Egyptian platform to address his Kenyan cousins. Apart from slowing down the reform agenda, the continuing conflict between PNU and ODM has profoundly undermined the delivery of service. It is probably because of this hopeless situation that Obama beseeched leaders to put the interests of their people above those of their parties. Besides calling for a fresh start between the US and Muslims, Obama noted time had come to end the cycle of suspicion and discord between Christians and Muslims, Arabs and Jews. Arguing there was so much fear and mistrust in the Middle East, the US President observed those who were bound by the past would never move forward.
On the eve of Obama’s speech, two opposing factions — representing the Government — were feuding in Geneva. The matter, which took the two to Switzerland, concerns a damning report prepared by the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights, Prof Philip Alston. Not only did Alston accuse the police of carrying out extra-judicial killings, he also described AG Amos Wako and Police Commissioner Hussein Ali as personifying impunity.
Wrong side of history
Despite enormous evidence that the Alston report was credible, sections of the Grand Coalition Government dismissed it. While the PNU wing flew into Geneva to question the veracity of the report by defending institutions and practices, which have largely undermined our country’s status in the civilised world, ODM dispatched a delegation to support Alston’s findings.
Although the two factions eventually agreed to present to the UN Human Rights Council a response, which struck a middle ground, their initial disharmony had damaged Kenya’s reputation. Controlled by greed and selfish interests, our political leaders have failed to appreciate that quarrelling in a foreign country was not and should never be part of their mandate. In his Acceptance Speech, last November, the US President observed those who ruled without the consent of the people were on the wrong side of history.
The message of hope, which Obama has taken to the Middle East, shows his commitment to make the world a better place to live in. Even if the current leadership has failed to appreciate the ideals of Kenya’s most expensive export — Obama — it should realise change is inevitable.
Instead of sulking about Obama, the Kenyan leadership should, without reservations, undertake urgent reforms that will, in turn, facilitate a systematic onslaught on poverty, unemployment, impunity, corruption and tribalism.
Dr Kisiang’ani teaches History and Political Studies at Kenyatta University: [email protected]