On his last campaign trail while running for the second term in the Iowa State, US President Barack Obama emotionally gave a moving speech, which came to be known as Fired Up, Ready to Go.
The phrase as he then narrated, went back to the 2008 elections, originating from a woman from Iowa, whom Obama believes, delivered the State’s vote. He would mutter; Fired Up! And the crowd would roar back; Ready to go!
Watching him give the rousing public speech in Nairobi on Sunday, and later at the African Union headquarters in Addis Ababa, Obama not only was fired up, but he was on fire.
He took no prisoners in Kasarani, nor in Addis, bravely taking on leaders on their ‘stupidity’ for holding onto archaic cultures and laws that discriminate against women and other minority groups, and to African leaders, who have stolen public money but still want to hold on to power.
“How brave can he be, lecturing the big men of Africa?” people wondered about the man who 11 years ago, referred to himself as a skinny kid with a funny name.
You do not have to look far. His seminal book, The Audacity of Hope: Thoughts on Reclaiming the American Dream holds key to Obama’s soul, thought and his confidence.
And yes, he is a tough guy as he writes in the book, a stance only softened by his girls; “When it comes to my daughters, no one is buying my tough-guy routine...”
Even though published in 2006 when Obama was still the Illinois Senator, his Nairobi speech would seem as if it was drawn straight from the book. On its publication, it became number one best seller in the New York Times and Amazon.com, in the process making money that contributed to his presidential campaign. However, the book is not quoted as much as his first, Dreams from My Father.
This is the book that defined his 2008 presidential campaigns, showing that Obama’s speeches are not just lip service, but a philosophy of a man who, on growing up ‘removed from half of his heritage’, turned inward for introspection.
He was aided along the way by a good education, a seemingly good sense and a stand for equality, and a love of people -expounded by the warm hugs he gave in Kenya.
Writing in the prologue, Obama says that the book was born out of the need that America needed ‘a new kind of politics’. He adds that in the book are his modest, personal reflections on the values and ideals that led him to public life.
So when he writes; “I am angry about policies that consistently favour the wealthy and powerful over average Americans,” you replace Americans with Africans, and immediately view him with new lenses when he lectures the big men of Africa, who hold on to power, “and I insist that government has an important role in opening opportunity to all.”
Defining a legacy
This is a narrative that goes even back, during the famous Democratic National Convention in 2004, when he took pride in America where, when you have an idea, you can start your own business without paying a bribe; a state of affairs foreign to Africa, where Obama is defining a legacy by promoting youth entrepreneurship.
But the Audacity of Hope, a title that was inspired by one of the summons from his pastor, Jeremiah Wright, not only delves into politics but on the constitution, race and even faith and family.
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Wherein lies his stance on marriage, gay rights and the women emancipation. He writes that growing up, women, his mother and grandmother provided the ‘ballast’ in his life; his grandmother had a dogged practicality that kept the family afloat and his mother had a love and clarity of spirit that centred his world; “From them I would absorb the values that guide me to this day.” He also paints his wife Michelle as the rock of his family.
Obama is liberal in his thoughts on divorce, teen pregnancy to single parenthood. He believes that many conservative thoughts on say, providing birth control to young people, abortion services to women or legal recognition of same-sex unions does not inherently devalue the marital bond but is a common sense approach. He further says such decisions are personal not unless they raise significant harm to others.
Well, President Uhuru Kenyatta said some of such thoughts and deeds are not ‘Kenyan’, that our culture does not allow it; regardless, Obama’s fiery speech will be revisited time and again in Kenya, as the world diminishes to a village.