Feb 16, 2008 1:08 pm


Barak Obama campaigns as a leader who CAN bring about change by uniting the people. Of course, he cannot point to any specific achievement with the exception of garnering"believers." That is not for lack of trying. His father's homeland is disintegrating and this morning John Githongo, a Kenyan ex pat wrote an FT op-ed pleading with Obama to come to Kenya's aid:

There is a certain grim symmetry to the joke about the US getting an ethnic Luo president before Kenya does. The nearer Barack Obama (whose father was a Kenyan Luo) gets to the White House, the greater his potential impact as a mediator in his homeland. But the longer it takes, the more harm his countrymen will impose on themselves. As the proverb of his Luo kinfolk puts it: “When the village is on fire, its sons in the city must help put it out.”

In Kenya, a worst-case scenario is conceivable as the violence sustains weak leaders; that is why Africa cannot immediately help and nor can the Kikuyu-dominated middle class, save for a brave few speaking out under threat to their lives. Mr Obama has the “awe” factor to make a difference. . . .

In the US, Mr Obama is riding a favourable tide. At his other home his people are busy doing horrible things. He does not have to come himself. But he needs to engage with a ghost that is sweeping over his father’s grave leaving death and destruction in its wake.

Actually, it seems that Obama would have loved to demonstrate his supposed influence:

Obama, who was given a triumphant welcome when he visited Kenya in 2006, has repeatedly called on both leaders to set aside their differences in the face of spiraling violence.

"Kenya's hard-won democracy and precious national unity can be salvaged. Now is the time for all parties to renounce violence," he wrote in a commentary this month in the Daily Nation, Kenya's top newspaper.

Joe Klein reported that he has given the matter the good college try.

On January 1, two days before the Iowa caucuses, Obama left a message for Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. According to Robert Gibbs, Obama's Communications Director, Rice called back"as we were driving from Sioux City to Council Bluffs on January 1. They talked about the situation and Rice asked Obama to tape a Voice of America message calling for calm." Obama taped the message on January 2, after a rally in Davenport, Iowa. . . .

On January 3, the day of the caucuses, he had a conversation with Bishop Desmond Tutu, who had flown to Nairobi to see if he could begin negotiations with the factions. In the days since his Iowa victory, Obama has had near-daily conversations with the U.S. Ambassador in Kenya or with opposition leader Raila Odinga. As of late this afternoon, before his rally in Rochester, N.H., Obama was trying to reach Kenyan President Kibaki.

I haven't been able to talk to Obama directly about this--he is sort of busy right now--but it does seem noteworthy that, in the midst of the most amazing week of his life, Barack Obama has found the time to do a some diplomatic scut-work. I suspect we'll be seeing a lot of this sort of thing if he wins the nomination and is elected President.

If so, he and his believers will discover how ineffective such exhortations are. Moreover, many of his enthusiastic followers want or expect. Some argue that Obama must tame America for the continent of his ancestors while his fellow tribe members hope for something more specific:

The ethnic clashes have fueled Obama fever, with members of the Luo ethnic group rallying behind Obama, whose father was a Luo.

"Obama!" a group of Luo men shouted in unison, as they stood guard at a makeshift roadblock near the entrance of Kibera, Kenya's biggest shantytown outside Nairobi.

"We are supporting him here. We want him to win the election," said Mohammed Noor, 27.

"Did you know that Obama's father is also Luo?" he added.

Behind Noor, young men yelled,"Tell Obama we want guns!"

The grandson son of Sarah Hussein Obama may"insists on the freedom of a collective American Messiah who has come to mobilize all disillusioned children of American democracy to open up a new frontier in politics" but Kenya is unlikely to provide him with a stage to demonstrate his powers.

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