Thursday, November 06, 2008

Obama Day

I’m sitting at my desk at 4pm, on a Thursday in Kijabe staring out the window at the beautiful Upper Rift Valley stretched out before me as I write. The clean African air is blowing through the window on a gentle breeze. The distant sound of Kenyan young men playing football (soccer) and Kenyan young women cheering them on is providing a pleasant soundtrack to this serene moment. Today is a special day. The world seems calmer and the future looks brighter. Despite all that is wrong in the world and in Kenya, peace and positivity appears to be on the horizon. Why? Because today is Obama Day in Kenya.

In general, I have observed that Kenyans know how to celebrate and express joy, but today the energy in the air is more electric than ever before. Today was declared a national holiday by the president of Kenya in honor of Barak Obama’s victory in the American presidential election. So people are celebrating an unanticipated midweek break from work and routine, but more than that, they are celebrating an adopted Kenyan son who has risen to the highest office in the world, and all of Kenya is unanimous that his election victory is good news.

On the face of it, I’m not sure why Kenya is so jubilant regarding Obama’s victory. Perhaps, it’s merely pride in a man who is half Kenyan doing well on the world stage. Perhaps, they believe that Kenya will benefit from some preferential treatment by the president of the most powerful nation in the world. While these reasons may be part of the excitement, I think Kenya’s excitement is merely a reflection of the excitement of the world at large.
People around the world are surprisingly well-informed about American politics, and for good reason. America’s influence on the circumstances of the world is clear. American policy is the single largest influence on geo-politics. Even domestic problems in America can trigger global changes, as made obvious by our banking crisis creating world wide economic ripples.
So it is understandable that the world was following this election so closely. In the eyes of the world, this election was pivotal in repairing the worlds problems, from global warming/climate change, to economic depression, and of course to conflict around the world including Iraq and Afghanistan. In the US, Obama only had a few point lead in the popular vote over McCain, but he is wildly popular abroad. Obama has captured the imagination of people around the world, and for some reason, they believe he is the man who can make the world a better place. But in particular, for people who have historically been most pessimistic about politics, young people, poor people, and non-whites, he has inspired optimism and interest never seen before. And no place is it more palpable than here in Kenya where Obama has near 100% approval.

I have read his book, The Audacity of Hope, and Obama does inspire his readers with his creativity and commitment to rise above party politics to meet the needs of everyman. He believes that politics and government can “work”. He believes that consistent leadership from Washington can restore America’s faith in the political and civic mechanism. I confess that his optimism is contagious, as upon completing the book earlier this year, I was filled with hope that his political vision might come to fruition. Of course, we have a few months before we find out whether he can accomplish any of the goals he has set forth, and the problems seem massive that he is inheriting from the current administration. But on today, in Kenya on November 6th, 2008, I am celebrating Obama day. I am enjoying a moment of reflection, and praying that the man can withstand the trials and tribulations of the hardest job in the world. Praying that he can make government “work” again. And praying that he is right when he says: “yes, we can”.

An American living in Kenya supporting a Kenyan living in America,

"It took a lot of blood, sweat and tears to get to where we are today, but we have just begun. Today we begin in earnest the work of making sure that the world we leave our children is just a little bit better than the one we inhabit today." 
~Barack Obama


At Wed Nov 12, 03:10:00 PM, Blogger Cherise said...

You are correct, Obama's optimism is contagious. The symbolism alone makes me and I am sure a lot of others strive to be and do better. It was so wonderful to see the world celebrate what the majority of America feels is a long awaited welcome change.


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