After the jubilation that greeted the election of Barack Obama as the 44th President of the United States of America, it feels churlish to be cynical about what this means for Kenya and her relationship with the United States. From Kogelo to Kilifi, Kenyans celebrated as though the entire nation would be invited to Inauguration Day on Nevertheless, a couple of comments have left me bemused.
First, to The African Executive, where Njei Moses Timah looks forward to a new era of multilateral diplomacy:
We need an America that will assume leadership to tackle pressing challenges that threaten humankind like global warming and not an America that is perceived to be manipulated by greedy big business to take a stance against what is right for the majority of humanity.
Honey, I’ve got news for you. I read Obama’s policies and he actually seems rather protectionist. I’m not saying that he will be unwilling to engage in meaningful dialogue, just don’t expect any change from the doctrine of “America first.”
Meanwhile, Kenya’s hoteliers are hoping for a tourism bonanza with Obama’s election, according to spokeswoman Lucy Karume:
We hoteliers in the country sincerely congratulate Senator Obama for
winning the US presidential poll. His victory will assist in the
revival of tourism industry as our country has gained a positive image
That’s nice, dear. Shame about a global financial system in crisis and the parlous state of the US economy being two of the biggest reasons the man was voted into office. I’m sure all those Americans who are doing their best to hold on to their homes and jobs will be only too happy to drop everything for a trip to Kogelo. There are enough hotels in Kogelo, right?
This is not to criticise the optimism of the above comments, or their authors. I do, however, believe that a sense of proportion is necessary. Barack Obama has been elected by the American people as their president, and no matter how much we non-Americans would like to think otherwise, his main priority is to represent the best interests of the United States.
Barack Obama’s first priorities when he takes office will be the American economy, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and the potential threat posed by hostile regimes in countries such as Russia and Iran. Diplomacy with Kenya will most likely be conducted by the State Department. While seeing a half-Kenyan man ascend to what is arguably the most powerful position on the planet provides a vicarious thrill, we would do well to remind ourselves not to allow wishful thinking to triumph over realism.
[Image by Menfes Qeddus]