Dear readers, I am back after a two week hiatus. I saw lots of lions, smelled lots of hippos, drank lots of Tusker and had a few interesting conversations.
When I told my mother that I was going to Kenya, she thought for a moment and asked “Isn’t that where Obama is from?” “No mom, he’s from Hawaii. His dad was from Kenya”. “Yeah, OK fine. Send my regards. Tell them he’s my guy”.
As a tourist, I had little access to what could be considered the “real” Kenya as lived by its own people (but I, like most people, came primarily for the animals). Every time I tried to talk to someone about something other than animals and the local tribal dances, a wall of politeness and training stood in the way of any potentially sensitive discussion. The disconnect that exists there between visitors and the staff at the hotels I stayed at was no accident – it was designed to be that way.
One topic that consistently garnered a response was President Obama. I asked, in open-ended fashion, what do Kenyans think about Obama and what he represents for the country? None of the folks I spoke with were familiar with the whole birther movement. As far as they were concerned, he wasn’t born in Kenya but he’s still Kenyan. Here’s how three of those conversations went.
- We like him, but we don’t really follow US politics. We are happy that there is a Kenyan there, but people don’t think about it often.
- Like many people around the world, we were happy to see that the US elected a black man. This was a big moment in history, but we are a proud people and do not wish to give anyone credit for something they did not do. So we don’t like him any more because he is Kenyan.
- Of course we love him. He’s still taking care of his grandmother in the village. A son of Kenya is the most powerful man in the world. We want him to visit. Kenya is crazy for him. People say they don’t care too much about the American president, but then why do we suddenly name so many boys named Barack or even Obama (traditionally a surname)? It’s true that we don’t care too much about the everyday laws and taxes, but we want him to do well. It means a lot to us as a country
The third conversation lasted for a lot longer than the others. It was also more straight forward. It wasn’t interrupted by other clients asking for another drink. There were no managers lurking in the background. Maybe part of me got the answer I was expecting and, therefore, give more credence to this last conversation. The support for Obama in the first two conversations was definitely reserved – there was an eagerness to not give any undue credit.
Kenya, like any other place, contains a diversity of views. Something tells me though that while there is outright support and cautious support for the American President, there isn’t much opposition.