From Kenya With Love

Barack Obama’s win is good for my Kenyan soul. This morning, my husband said he noticed that there was more ounce in my bounce. I too was surprised at how refreshed I felt, considering I'd clocked a mere three hours of sleep after a momentous 2008 election night.

Just as fresh on my mind this morning, is that last night I was quite okay with our oldest daughter's emotional comment that she was finally proud to call herself an American.

Aside from a momentary tinge of guilt that we had probably succeeded in robbing her and her siblings of an allegiance to the American flag (more on that later), I felt more strongly the overwhelmingly redeeming quality of Barack Obama’s victory.

At last, the distortions that have made up the fabric of American socio-cultural relations would exist no more. Finally, the suffocating guilt that bleeds into relationships and chokes them into premature death would be eradicated as time went by.

Indeed, our children can now brandish their U.S. passports, because Americans pledged to walk with Obama, they knocked on doors for Obama, they voted for and with Obama, and have promised to fundamentally change the country.

Back to the heritage and allegiance issue. For years, I’ve been fine with our children pledging allegiance to the flag of the United States of America in school and such. They were born here after all. In addition, I’ve trusted that as immigrant parents from Kenya and Nigeria respectively, my husband and I have distilled the essence of all that is special in our heritage and poured it into their souls.

In our household we constantly raise questions like:

Do you know what Utu (Kiswahili) is? Then we engage in long and historical explanations.

It’s the embodiment of you. It captures where you come from, where your parents come from, your intangible source of strength. The God in you. Your Chi (Ibo).

We remind them that they come straight from a line of African freedom fighters, pioneers, trailblazers, educators and this heritage is not to be diluted by their birthplace, America. And then, during summer vacations, we have sent them to Africa to spend time with their grandparents, to see for themselves where mom and dad come from.

Have we succeeded in instilling a veritable sense of Utu in them? Life has yet to truly test our beautiful ones, a daughter (23 years of age) and two sons (18 and 10 years of age). But, so far, so good.

Barack Obama’s win is good for the continent of Africa.

Kenyan politics and their style of governance will benefit greatly if they are willing to learn from this victory.

Consider this.

Forty-five years ago Mwai Kibaki of Kenya was a member of the newly independent Kenya Cabinet and John F. Kennedy was running for President of the United States of America. Obama was two years old.

Forty-five years later, President Mwai Kibaki is the joint leader of Kenya’s coalition government and Barack Obama holds the post that John F. Kennedy was running for then.

In forty-five years, the United States has had the following presidents: Lyndon Johnson, Jimmy Carter, Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton, George Bush Sr. and George W. Bush.

In Kenya, the same old boys who are as old as dirt are holding onto power and trying to tell Kenyans they can create and execute development models that work! They need to cultivate a new generation of community organizers who care about the nation.

Then, there are my hating Kenyan friends, immigrants, now citizens of the USA who swore to me that they would not, could not, vote for Barack Obama because his father was of the Luo tribe. What possessed them to inject hateful Kenyan tribalism at this moment in history?

It's just galling, but I'll tackle that topic next time.

For now, Cheers! On the occasion of the election of Barack Obama as President of the United States.

From a Kenyan with Love,

Mama Shujaa.

Copyright © Hana Njau-Okolo 2008. All Rights Reserved.


  1. Wow! What a lovely premise--to examine the election of an American president through the eyes of a Kenyan. I love your voice, and can't wait to hear and more importantly, LEARN from you. I think Obama's historic win encourages us to open our eyes and consider different perspectives. It's something our family tries its best to do, but how refreshing to know that there are many more families like ours that will do the same? And that there are people like you who will help us keep our eyes open--help us stay awake. Congratulations on your new blog!

  2. Great pieces and really fine reads Hana, keep it going; looking forward to many more good reads….

    My sumni mbili (Swahili for .02 cents)……..

    Here’s what we said to our kids (9yr/10yr old) –on election night. You can allow yourself to get swept away and celebrate the historical occurrence of your birthplace America. You have to give tribute to what a great country, what an exceptional night, what a win. However, don’t get swept away with the extraordinary expectations you see placed on this one man. The impractical standards that he is being held to. Don’t get swept away by the hype as you are well aware you have seen Africans in leadership. This is one of the main areas where Africa was ahead of America. You have grown up and lived in a country where the majority of the leaders are African. You saw history in the making when President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf was sworn in and became Africas first elected female head of state/ President. These are leaders with different shades brown, who look just as striking and bold as you. You can grow up or even start now and question these leaders’ skills, ideologues, accountability and even study their tactics. You can take it a step further and review the tribal wars and corruption that have plagued mother Africa for centuries.

    You can point the finger against many an African leader example -- Thabo Mbeki who’s famous speech brought chills to many when he prounounced “ I am an African, I owe by being to the hills and the valleys, the mountains and the glades, the rivers, the deserts, the trees, the flowers, the seas and the ever-changing seasons that define the face of Africa…..My body has frozen in our frosts and thawed in the warmth of our sunshine and melted in the heat of the midday sun. The crack and the rumble of the summer thunders, lashed by startling lightening, have been a cause both of trembling and of hope.The fragrances of nature have been as pleasant to us as the sight of the wild blooms of the citizens of the veld.
    The dramatic shapes of the…..and so the speech to the ANC goes.

    His shortfall … many other leaders Mbeki refused to adhere to the warning of the severe attack of the HIV/AIDS crisis and going back to the 90’s many stats showed that by 2010 more children would be dying of HIV/AIDS in South Africa than new babies being born there. This same finger can be directed at many more leaders who were embarrassingly ignorant about the causes and spread of this pandemic that has wiped out and put a full stop on so many lives. You can at the same time applaud Yoweri Museveni (Ugandan President) who understood the HIV calamity and created what was at one time touted the greatest social vaccination”. In the early 90’s or late 80’s and started Uganda’s ABC program to educate folks about the dangers of this disease. It dealt with the root cause ‘changing patterns and behavior”. The premise of the ABC program was the emphasis on abstinence and marital fidelity first. He understood that the real issue in Africa was not caused by the ‘condom shortfall’. He did not deny usage, he just did not put it as the #1 method of prevention. The approach was to attack the risky destructive behavior by launching a national campaign to communicate and discourage the # 1 cause –“reckless adult games”. Abstinence, Being faithful to your partner, and using Condoms as a last resort- if you did not do the first two. It was a success. Folks practiced abstinence. Teens, men and women both reduced the # of partners they were messing with. The initial focus was on the youth telling them to delay or hold off on adult games until they were older or married. After the youth came the married then single couples. K, I took this too far and got away here…I'm coming back

    For me—another of many fantastic world lessons from this win, is that and you can still run a nasty dynamic political campaign, continue be associates and learn from America. What you ask? the greatest thing about this country is that you can have whatever view you want, without fear of consequence.

    The key thing to remember is all the things that Barak Obama represents globally ---
    MLK said “Excellence is the best deterrent to” and I improvise “to any ethnic, racial, cultural discrimination, prejudice, bias, favouritism, bigotry and overall narrow-mindedness’. Folks who blame their lives upon their circumstance “I can’t because I am this or that—i.e ‘raised by a single parent, can’t be with a strong woman great-great great grandfather was a slave therefore I am still furious at the ______ and the many becauses or excuses we’ve all heard x a million.

    Yes it can and did happen nonetheless, it’s time to engage in a different topic of conversation that does not resort to skin colour. How do we start this ? Perhaps at the very beginning and not asking ourselves when reading an article or when you hear yet another crime committed ‘what color was he/she’. Or when a person sings a song and they are assumed to be a difference colour or race because they sounded like they were. Changing your mind so that the first words spoken from your lips are not what colour was…..instead find another way to think and ask the question.

    To our kids….whatever they decide to do and be it’s clear that “do something” and “can’t never could “ prevails.

    That the global arena has been set for them
    to elevate their dreams,
    believe march and listen to the beat of thier own drums,
    dance to this beat
    sing to this beat,
    run and fly to their very own beat…
    yes indeed our kids too, can fly.

  3. Denene: Thank you for the love and encouragement.

    Judy: Thank you reminding us of the many strides the continent has made.


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