President Barack Obama is no ordinary man.
The measure of his greatness is often clouded by the incessant contestation of American party and race politics.
In the boiler room of politics, his great personal strengths — a calm thoughtfulness and tendency to debate rationally — have been dismissed as indecision and professorial aloofness.
But even in the fog of the moral relativism of his country, he has seen with unwavering clarity the issues which are important for his people and he has pursued them with great success.
At 46, he capped a lifetime of firsts by becoming the president of a country that finds it far easier to put its black men in jail than in high office.
He was the son of a Kenyan student and the daughter of Irish immigrants. His 43 predecessors were mostly White, Anglo-Saxon Protestant Males.
Getting himself elected to the most powerful office on earth, beating many wealthier, more powerful, better experienced and ultimately less gifted candidates with a singular sense of entitlement — Senator John McCain, Hillary Clinton, Mitt Romney, among others — announced to the rest of the world, though not necessarily to America, that here was a man armed with a little more than just a speech.
When he became president in 2008, he found a country in the teeth of the worst economic crunch since the Great Depression in the 1930s.
He has turned that economy around. In 2008, the housing sector in the US was in chaos with people losing their jobs and homes, banks on the verge of collapse for lending to customers who couldn’t afford to pay.
Today in many states, developers can’t find enough workers for construction projects; such is the health of the previously toxic industry.
Internationally, America was disliked even by its closest allies because of its tendency to exercise its enormous economic and military power aggressively and with little regard for others.
In 2009, barely a year into office, Mr Obama was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts in “strengthening international diplomacy and cooperation” between people.
“Obama must be given credit for being a very diplomatic president, in contrast with some of his predecessors,” Dr Ochieng Kamudhayi of the Centre for Public Policy and Competitiveness at the Strathmore Business School told the Nation. “There has been limited participation of US troops in wars and he has been more collaborative than previous leaders on issues of an international nature.”
In dealing with the financial crisis, Mr Obama continued with support for ailing financial institutions and extended help to the auto industry, notably General Motors.
He helped state governments to stop them laying off workers, to help them give tax cuts and invest in infrastructure.
Today, the American economy is in recovery, many of the financial institutions which were given public money have paid it back and the auto industry is doing just fine.
The financial crisis in the US was felt around the world as some of the US subsidiaries also cut jobs to stay afloat. The crunch informed Mr Obama’s subsequent programmes for entrepreneurship, part of the reason he will be visiting Nairobi on Friday.
The initiatives include the Global Entrepreneurship Summit (GES), the President’s Ambassadors of Global Entrepreneurship, the Young African Leaders Initiative, the African Women’s Entrepreneurship Programme and the USAid’s Global Development Lab.
President Obama’s aim is to have leading young women entrepreneurs drive a campaign to raise at least $5 billion (Sh500 billion).
“President Obama’s policy towards the youth was evident from the start. He was more focused on meeting with the youth from Africa, even more than the African Heads of State,” said Mr Elkana Odembo, Kenya’s former ambassador to Washington. “I think he feels such programmes would be the best bet to ensure a sustained economic growth not just for Africa but for the world in general.”
GES is now supported by leading American firms, NGOs and various countries.
Mr Obama took over a country that had bluntly told the world: You are either with us, or against us. America was fighting two wars, one in Afghanistan and another in Iraq, the latter over weapons of mass destruction that never were. He ended both wars as he had promised he would. It remains to be seen whether any of them had achieved the intended purpose.
In 2009, Mr Obama became the first US President to chair a UN Security Council when it debated on tighter controls to stop states from engaging in nuclear arms races.
The unanimous resolution, though non-binding, provided for states with nuclear weapons to disarm as well as ratify a treaty that bans testing of such weapons. In addition, there were stronger safeguards to stop the spread of such weapons.
“Obama has helped restore the confidence in multilateral institutions which had been weakened by the doctrine of pre-emptive actions by top powers,” argues Prof Peter Kagwanja, who the heads foreign policy think-tank, African Policy Institute, based in Nairobi.
A year into Mr Obama’s first term in office, Iran — one of Washington’s least popular nations — accepted an invitation for one-on-one talks with the US.
US policy change towards Iran was witnessed when the State department granted a visa to the then Iranian Foreign Minister, Mr Manouchehr Mottaki, to visit Washington. Talks between Iran and the five permanent members of the UN Security Council (the US, the UK, France, Russia and China) plus Germany (P5+1) have gone on until last week when a deal was reached.
On Monday this week, the UN Security Council endorsed the agreement which is set to relieve Iran of economic sanctions in exchange for an agreeable reduction in uranium-enrichment.
President Obama’s first trip to the Muslim world is remembered because of his powerful speech in Cairo. He told his audience then that the US, while pursuing terrorists, was not targeting Muslims.
The Muslim world had been suspicious America’s war on terror.
Mr Obama had, on his second day at work as President, reversed some of the Bush-era policies on counter-terrorism, including signing executive orders to close the Guantanamo Bay prison, removal of coercive interrogation of suspects and closure of secret prisons.
During his time, the US counter-terrorism measures have been mainly through use of technology and support of allies, as opposed to direct and costly combat.
For example, in Somalia, his administration has used drones to target key Al-Shabaab masterminds. The US has spent more than $600 million (Sh60 billion) in support of regional security forces in Kenya, Uganda and Somalia.
Yet critics argue this disengaged model has caused more terror groups to come up.