Wednesday, 26 June 2013

Why Obama has skipped Kenya in his Africa tour

Kenyans are deeply – psychologically – wounded that US President Barack Obama doesn’t give a damn about Kenya. But they are wrong – he’s actually very concerned about Kenya. That’s why he won’t stop in Nairobi – or Kogelo, his dad’s ancestral home – on his African jaunt next week.
He’ll snub Kenya but cozy up to Senegal, Tanzania and South Africa. He’ll “fly over Kogelo” on his way to Dar-es-Salaam. Ouch. Don’t let Kenyans tell you that doesn’t hurt. That snake-like hissing sound you hear is of Jubilee bloviators.
They are in complete denial – in la la land. But methinks their self-induced coma – more like a stupor – can’t last forever. Very soon reality will set in. I won’t say I told you so.
In his book, Dreams from My Father, Mr Obama professed great love and affection for Kenya. Some of the most gripping vignettes and tales come from his encounters with relatives and other folks in Nyanza. His insights on Kenya are tantalising and utterly seductive. It’s one of the best books I’ve read. Mr Obama last visited Kenya again as a US Senator.
But – and this is huge – he’s clearly vowed never to set foot in Kenya as long as the state is superintended by men of “questionable character and integrity”. Don’t shoot me – just take the whipping and ponder the implications of Mr Obama’s snub. It matters a whole bunch. Don’t just accept it – and “move on”.
The twisted narrative of the March 4 elections is that the vote was anti-West. Some half-baked academics have argued that the long suffering “little people” of Kenya finally poked Goliath in the eye. By gosh – they did so by “electing” a duo indicted for crimes against humanity. They did so to prove that – get this – Kenya was a sovereign state. What’s more, they wanted to underscore that Kenyans won’t kowtow to “white men” in Europe and America.
One can imagine hordes of Kenyans baying for the white man’s blood. And shouting – never again shall we be colonised! Except this is a false narrative. None of it is true – that’s not how the election went down.
The March 4 election was nothing but a return to the primeval – the primordial tribal de minimis. That’s the true meaning of the so-called “tyranny of numbers”. Herd the tribe together and whip it up into an irrational frenzy using bogeymen to “thumb” your opponent. That was one half of Jubilee’s basic campaign strategy.
But we know – even if we are willfully ignorant – that’s why Kenya almost descended to civil war after the 2007 elections. It was the mayhem – murder, looting, pillage, and rape – that landed Jubilee leaders Uhuru Kenyatta and William Ruto at The Hague. Let me tell you something – this is what President Obama sees when Kenya crosses his mind. That image is seared in his memory.
My crystal ball tells me President Obama won’t come to Kenya so long as Mr Kenyatta and Mr Ruto are in charge. He refused to visit Kenya after former President Mwai Kibaki was re-elected. That’s because he viewed Mr Kibaki’s election as illegitimate.
Mr Obama seems viscerally – and intellectually – revolted by leaders who would use any means necessary to capture – and retain – power. Former assistant secretary of State for Africa Johnnie Carson warned that “choices have consequences”. Mr Obama is simply giving Mr Carson’s truism a nod.
He’s sending a message by visiting Senegal, Tanzania and South Africa. All three have set the pace for democracy in Africa. To him, Kenya must be worse than a laggard.
I’ve heard some Jubilee ideologues say Kenya doesn’t need America or Europe because China and the East will step into the breach. This is plain silly. You can’t swap one master for another and call that progress. Besides, Kenyans are “ideologically Western”. The pivot to China is a remote phantom.
The cultural barriers are too huge. India and Japan are easier cases, but they can’t quench the Eurocentric thirst of the Kenyan elite. Others in the Jubilee camp see Mr Obama as a “Luo” who favoured Cord leader Raila Odinga in the election. They feel that Mr Obama’s snub of Kenya is “tribal” and driven by pique that Mr Odinga lost. This is simply asinine. It’s ignorant and uninformed.
I call it psychological projection – where one “psychically expels” their negative thoughts onto others. They believe Mr Obama must be an irredeemable tribalist because they are themselves consumed by tribalism. It’s irrational and can’t explain Mr Kenyatta’s – and Kenya’s – isolation internationally.
It certainly can’t explain why British PM David Cameron denied Mr Kenyatta a photo-op in London. No democratic leader wants to be photographed with someone charged with crimes against humanity.
Former British PM Tony Blair is still haunted by those photos of him with the late Muammar Gaddafi. Mr Obama doesn’t need similar pictures on his resume. Nor can Kenya go mano-a-mano with America. What gives – will the Jubilee regime adopt a “laager” mentality? There aren’t good options.
Mr Obama’s snub of Kenya adds salt to the wound of his visit to Tanzania. It’s not gone unnoticed that President Jakaya Kikwete has been received several times at the White House by Mr Obama. Tanzania is now poised to replace Kenya as the indispensable state in East Africa.
That’s the signal Mr Obama is sending by camping in Dar. Expect investors to skip over Kenya and flock to Tanzania. I warned that Tanzania would be the biggest beneficiary if Kenya “elected” ICC indictees. Mr Obama has proved me right.
Makau Mutua is Dean and SUNY Distinguished Professor at SUNY Buffalo Law School and Chair of the KHRC. Twitter @makaumutua.

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