Obama bonus is coming to Kenya

Friday November 7 2008

U.S. President-elect Barack Obama addresses

U.S. President-elect Barack Obama addresses the media during his first press conference following his election victory in Chicago. PHOTO/ REUTERS 

By OLIVER MATHENGE, SAMUEL SIRINGI and DAVID MUGONY

The Obama bonus is on its way — and it could mean greater prosperity for Kenya.

More Kenyan goods could sell in the United States and America may invest more in the country where Barack Obama traces his roots, Prime Minister Raila Odinga said on Friday.

The election of Mr Obama as US President would hopefully bring an influx of American tourists and mean our goods would find a ready market, Mr Odinga said.

Kenya could also hope to benefit from improved cooperation between the US and Africa, he said.

Direct investments

“What we want to see is the expansion of relationships in terms of trade and direct investments,” said Mr Odinga.

He added: “We want to see more of our products finding markets in the US and expect more direct investments by the Americans in the country.”

Mr Odinga said the election of Mr Obama, whose late father was from Siaya, was likely to improve cooperation between Kenya and the US in many avenues.

The Government expected that the Obama administration would put in place more pro-Africa policies than in the past. He added that the two governments would work together to enhance the fight against terrorism, especially in the Horn of Africa.

But Kenyans should not expect charity handouts from the United States simply because Mr Obama was to be the next US President, he went on.

“Kenyans know that Barack Obama is a US president and we therefore do not expect any kind of charity following his election,” said the Prime Minister.

He was speaking at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport in Nairobi after he arrived from a week-long conference in China.

Mr Odinga went on to say that the Obama win was a source for pride for all humanity because it had broken the racial barrier. He said that it had also proved that anyone could achieve anything if they were determined to do so.

The Prime Minister spoke out as it was revealed that he and other Kenyan leaders had played a small but crucial part in helping to propel Mr Obama to the White House.

President Kibaki and Mr Odinga were consistent in their support for the US President-elect ­­­— and the Prime Minister had personally helped to block a smear campaign planned by supporters of Mr Obama’s Republican rival, Senator John McCain.

The McCain camp’s plan was to portray Mr Obama as a candidate, “alien to the US and whose election would benefit Kenyans, and other foreigners, at the expense of Americans”.

First, Mr Odinga — who on Friday described Mr Obama’s win as “triumph of justice over propaganda”, took a deliberate decision to minimise any emphasis on his relationship with the one-term Illinois senator.

Although Mr Odinga has in the past stated he is related to Mr Obama, he chose not to comment on the US campaigns as they hotted up.

The anti-Obama campaigners had sought to link the senator with Mr Odinga, focussing on the Prime Minister’s determination to ensure the Muslim voice was heard in Kenya.

Republicans pointed to Mr Obama’s middle name, “Hussein”, as evidence that he was in fact a Muslim in an attempt to link him with the activities of Muslim extremists who had committed acts of terrorism.

They consistently tried to state that Mr Obama was supportive of Mr Odinga’s fair treatment of Muslims in Kenya last year, when he signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the religious leaders.

They also claimed Mr Odinga planned to introduce Sharia law, and by extension suggest that his links with Mr Obama meant the senator would do the same if elected US President.

The smear campaigners also claimed Mr Obama would reject the result of the US elections if he was declared to have lost, in a mirror of what happened in Kenya last January.

Aware that the smear campaigners were following his every move, Mr Odinga decided to stay away from the Democratic National Convention in August, to which he had been invited, and which endorsed Mr Obama as the Democratic Party candidate, setting the stage for him becoming the first black American president.

A Saturday Nation team at the convention learnt of an elaborate plot to blow Mr Odinga’s presence out of proportion, suggesting he was playing a key role in the Obama campaign.

Instead, Water minister Charity Ngilu went to Denver, where she stressed Kenya’s good relations with the US.

Mr Odinga yesterday agreed with the Saturday Nation’s disclosure that some Republicans were planning to capitalise on his presence.

He said: “That is why I did not go to the convention. I felt if I went they would try to use my presence to mud-sling Mr Obama.”

Further attempts to tarnish Mr Obama’s image among the Americans backfired when contentious author Jerome Corsi was invited to leave Kenya, even as he tried to launch at book in Nairobi which was a sustained attack on the Democrat’s candidate.

Mr Corsi, an author frequently criticised for the bias and factual inaccuracies in his writings, had attempted to link Mr Obama through Mr Odinga to both communism and radical Islam.

Mr Corsi had also planned to visit a Nairobi slum where Mr Obama’s half brother had been reported as living ion reduced circumstances, effectively raising the question of the candidate’s ability to care for his own relatives, even as he sought to lead the US.

The author said he planned to donate cash to Mr Obama’s half brother.

Mr Corsi’s book, The Obama Nation, features Kenya prominently, and portrays the Prime Minister as a close associate of the President elect, and as “a Muslim sympathiser with well-known communist political roots”.

Mr Corsi said in his book that Kenya would play a key part in his “account because “Barack Obama himself tells us that Kenya is an important part of who he is, even today.”

In the event Mr Corsi was found to have entered Kenya posing as a tourist and without the permit needed to work as an author launching a book. He was therefore invited to leave or face deportation.

Mr Odinga described the attempts to link Mr Obama to Islam when he is in fact a Christian as rubbish.

“What these people were trying to do is completely unfounded. They just wanted to smear Mr Obama’s name,” he added.