Today is National Obama Day here in Kenya. No, seriously. To celebrate the election of a man who has visited this country only three times, a man whose only connection to Kenya is a father he never really knew, Kenya’s president Mwai Kibaki announced a public holiday.
Obama is Kenya’s biggest celebrity. Everything from schools to new-born babies have been named after him. His face is slapped on the back of countless Nairobi matatus.
There was a real sense of national pride here about his victory. The local papers have been covering every cough and spit of the 22-month campaign, mainly on the front pages, and all of them devoted reams of coverage to his victory today.
But that has been soured a little by the government’s over-the-top reaction.
Here’s Cold Tusker:
Election day in the USA was a working day for most Americans. There are no official holidays for any of the post-election days. So if the USA marks the historic occasion with a ‘working day’ why do Kenyans have a ‘holiday’?
And here’s Ory Okolloh, better known as Kenyan Pundit:
I hope the irony of our corrupt and selfish politicians declaring a public holiday to celebrate the virtues of Obama and his campaign is not lost on us as Kenyans.
And here’s the question that no Kenyan politician wants to consider: Could Obama have been elected president of Kenya if he was born here instead? The answer is almost certainly ‘no’.
Firstly, he is far too young. When Raila Odinga was running against Kibaki last December he portrayed himself as a young politician. Raila is 63. Obama would be told to shut up and wait in line. Considering how few MPs are in their 40s or younger he might have even struggled to get himself elected to parliament.
Secondly, he is a Luo. Politicians from Luo-land have a funny habit of losing elections in dodgy circumstances or getting shot. Either way, they don’t get to be president. The first time I heard someone joke that a Luo would become president of the US before a Luo would become president of Kenya I found it funny. Today it sounds rather depressing.
Maybe it will happen soon. Obama’s own tribal background does not affect his popularity here. Yes, Luos are more enthusiastic about Obama than anyone else but he is worshipped by Kenyans of all stripes. Writing in today’s Independent, Murithi Mutiga, an editor at the Daily Nation, said:
…many hope his (Obama’s) lasting legacy in Kenya will be a realisation that one’s ethnic identity should not be the primary factor in deciding one’s eligibility to lead.
There is one more lesson to be learned from America’s election. As we saw in Kenya at the start of the year, and again in Zimbabwe a little later, too few African leaders appear to be comfortable with the concept of losing a democratic election.
The gracious concession speech by John McCain should also be studied by African leaders
America’s political system has shown itself more principled and robust than many could have imagined. It challenges Africa’s leaders to take democracy and human rights with the same seriousness.