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Uhuru, Obama pointed the direction we should take

By David Oginde | August 2nd 2015

That Kenya has been at the peak of its moments of glory cannot be disputed. Apart from the sterling performances in the traditional sports arena, we welcomed home two key diaspora children of the soil — Oscar Award winner, Lupita Nyong’o and the President of the United States, Barack Obama. Lupita returned home a few weeks back after a sterling performance in the film industry where she continues to shine.

Her life is an incarnation of her message: Every dream is valid. Likewise, Obama’s rise to the most powerful office in the world has shown that, no matter the circumstance of one’s birth, God’s favour, a clear purpose, and dogged hope can work in concert to propel one beyond their imagination.

This was the oft repeated massage during President Obama’s visit — that we are masters of our own destiny. Various entrepreneurs confirmed so at the Global Entrepreneurship Summit. It was the pitch in Obama’s message to Kenyan leaders at State House. He expounded the same for Kenyans gathered at Kasarani stadium; and passionately delivered the same to Africa Union leaders in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

Though put in many words and loaded with epithets, Obama’s message distilled to: Kenya, and indeed all of Africa, has all the requisite for achieving her dreams. America and the international community can only be catalysts and partners. But according to the POTUS, the journey to that dream calls for principled and visionary leadership, disciplined and prudent economic management, and the highest regard for human dignity anchored on the respect for the laws of the land. Unless these critical pillars are held steady, we will totter on to a sure collapse.

Like a son who returns home from a long sojourn in the city, only to find parents and siblings headed south, Obama seemed to be caught in a dilemma — the struggle between maintaining the honour and respect of a visitor, and the passionate desire to speak the truth to his home country and continent. As he was later to reveal at the AU gathering, he did not see himself as a mere merchant, like those interested only in carving out business deals with Africa while turning a blind eye to all that ails the continent. Instead, his desire was to see the land of his fathers rise to take up its place of honour in the community of nations.

President Obama, therefore, repeatedly called on our leaders to rise above petty politics and chart a clear course for Kenya and Africa. He neither hid his disdain for political myopia, that sees people only through ethnic prism, nor did he gloss over endemic corruption. Furthermore, speaking to the opposition, his message was clear; what is good for the goose must also be good for the gander. But, he seemed to have spared the boldest challenge yet for African leaders who hang on to power in disregard to their national constitutions, even at the cost of their people’s lives.

What was so admirable about Obama’s speech and conduct was his demonstrated principled and courageous leadership — the ability to stand for what he believes and articulate it with passion and charisma. Yet, like a son long lost in the city, it appears Obama was not in touch with the culture and traditions of his people. Brought up in a different context, he had embraced values that, though he felt strongly about, were simply out of sync with our African beliefs and practices. And so it was his brother’s turn to guide him.

President Kenyatta was equally caught in a dilemma — between playing the amiable host on one hand and defending our values on the other. The President wisely but unequivocally pitched for our cherished values and refused to be drawn into endorsing homosexuality as his guest proposed. Considering that his was no ordinary guest, but the most powerful man in the world, it was a moment of pride for Kenyans as their President demonstrated high level wisdom, courage, and truly principled leadership.

Ezra Taft Benson was proved right in saying, “He who kneels before God can stand before any man.” And indeed, whether by default or by design, that contentious item never featured again in subsequent discourse — neither at Kasarani nor in Addis.

In a nation, and indeed continent, where governments and civil society are beholden to donors; where sycophancy and expediency rule supreme, the two leaders demonstrated admirable commitment to their values and principles.

President Kenyatta, in particular, has shown that succumbing to orders from above can only be an excuse for compromising values and breaching policies. He showed that it is far better to stand and die for your convictions than to bow and live in compromise.

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