25 July 2008

Candidate Obama, World Citizen

I have a problem with the idea of world citizenship. I understand that the heady times of repairing the grievous damage done to the world by President Bush and saving the planet from climate change are upon us. (Wait…I thought “change” was what we were “hoping” for?) But under the veneer of imagined “unity” that world citizenship promises is a mess of contrived homogeneity. And yet that was the cart of apples on sale yesterday in Berlin.

Yesterday, the long-awaited Barack Obama oratory occurred. It was, we are told, a happening. He introduced himself, preposterously, “not as a candidate”. His speech was made “as a citizen”, as if it is remotely believable for a run-of-the-mill citizen to stage such an event. But no ordinary citizen is he. Candidate Obama declared that he is “a fellow citizen of the world.”

Since he made the claim while not speaking as a candidate, some things may be guessed at. It is plausible to believe that he would consider US and “world” citizenship to be roughly equal. It is plausible to think that Candidate Obama believes that we should all be “citizen[s] of the world.” It may even be that Candidate Obama sees himself as a leader of the “citizen[s] of the world.”

Indeed, being a “world citizen” is the buoy at the start and end of the speech. Candidate Obama claimed to the “people of the world - this is our moment. This is our time.” The list of what it is time for is a bit lengthy to cover here, but it is safe to assume that the things it is time for are all duties of “world citizenship”.

One might think it necessary to ignore all of the national identities plugged in Candidate Obama’s speech to fully advance the “world citizen” idea. A self-envisioned leader of world citizenry should not have noted national identities from across the globe. It is important that Candidate Obama catalogs so many nationalities in his Berlin speech; surely he must understand that the idea of “world citizen” it likely to be a distant second to one’s national identity if not simply rejected outright. Yet the “world citizen” is still there. Why?

Reading between the lines, it appears that “world citizen” is code for unity, another mantra of the Obama campaign. Candidate Obama longs for unity; he pines for unity. When presenting himself with a global audience, he seeks global unity. He even retroactively imposes unity where there was none, where there could be none.

When Candidate Obama said, “People of the world - look at Berlin, where a wall came down, a continent came together, and history proved that there is no challenge too great for a world that stands as one”, he implies that the Cold War ended because of unity!

But in the global city-state which Candidate Obama seemingly felt he was addressing, little things like that matter. What matters is his vision of unity. In the US, unity is sold as “change and hope” – two empty rhetorical terms which are also quite tolerable outside of politics. Eventually, folks will wonder what “change and hope” really mean; Candidate Obama hopes the first Tuesday in November will pass before then. Outside the US, it appears that unity has taken on the fa├žade of “global citizen”. And who would lead the global city-state, the masses of global citizens? Funny…I think Candidate Obama already has his answer to that question.


Anonymous said...

Nicely done. Agreed. Not quite ready to renounce my U.S. citizenship

Rachel Oduka said...

“It was six men of Hindustan,
To Learning much inclined…”

The words of John Godfrey Saxe's poem resonated deeply in my mind as I mused over what was happening. Senator Obama had just been declared President-elect in the most historic election in the world! I sat quietly watching the big screen at Heathrow Airport, waiting for my connection. Inside I couldn’t help but feel what I believed many people were feeling at the time – a deep inexpressible sense of elation and gratitude at just being alive to witness this day. A son of my tribe, indeed a Luo man had made it to the White House! Somehow it made up for the election they stole from us when they rigged out another Luo son, Raila Amolo Odinga now Prime Minister, in the Kenyan elections held in December last year. Tears streamed freely down my cheeks. An abrupt movement to my left caused me to pause and look. Two white men had come in hopping and panting madly, seemingly wishing to fly if only the space allowed. “ What has happened? Have they announced? Has he won? Is he our President? ”; Rapid fire of urgent questioning to no one in particular. They had just jetted in from a plane and could hardly contain their anxiety. “Obama has won”, I volunteered helpfully, hoping that was the answer they sought.

The ululation that followed would have broken what may have remained of Hillary’s ceiling. Screams of “ Chicago! Yeah! Obama! Obama! Chicago! Yeaaaaaaaaah!” amid clapping, dancing, and shuffling of their feet in that delightful way that only white boys seem to be able to do so well followed, echoing the joy of everyone around. But something else besides the delightful dance struck me. I was transfixed. Chicago? I had to ask. As soon as they sat down, I did. “Well”, they said, “he comes from Chicago! He is ours! Our man is President…. how cool is that”! ; Then more dancing and clapping.

Just then, the news on the big screen turned to events unfolding in my beloved motherland, Kenya. President Kibaki had declared a two-day national holiday in honor of our newly crowned son. In effect, it would actually be a four-day holiday since, after the two days, a weekend would follow. Kenyans generally have a holiday every weekend of the year as most corporate offices shut down on Friday at 5.00pm. Pictures of bulls and chickens being chased for slaughter as droves of people thronged the streets singing songs in praise of Obama followed on the screen. Few watching would understand what they were saying. Stephen Colbert would later refer to it as “praise in metric”. But all would know their meaning just by looking at their faces and the excited rhythmic movements of their bodies. “Our son is President of the United States”!

“Meanwhile in Japan, a town now famous for its name since the US primaries begun this year, a town called Obama was up in flames of excitement and joy untold…” The BBC anchor went on, displaying scenes from all around the world of people who believed they had had a stake in the US election and their stake had won.

“And so these men of Hindustan disputed loud and long,
Each in his own opinion exceeding stiff and strong.
Though each was partly in the right and all were in the wrong.”

How true for Elephant Obama, I thought.

I begun my own analysis of why virtually everyone would believe Obama was more theirs than any other peoples’. Lets see…He was born in Hawaii. No doubt the Hawaiians believe their son is well and truly in White House. They have good reason. After all, behind every baby birth there is an umbilical cord and afterbirth buried at the place of that birth. For baby Obama, that place is, indisputably…Hawaii! Officials there would willingly dig them out for anyone challenging the authenticity of his birth certificate, I would imagine. For good measure, his maternal grandfather who served in World War II is buried there!

Now to Japan: for starters, Obama is their name. They even have a town sharing this name with him. It would seem they honored the future advent of a World King and Hope long before Americans even knew they would produce him! It is rumored that during the primaries, whenever Obama won over Hillary, a public holiday was declared the next day in the town. If this is true, they actually had five public holidays in February alone? Wow! Nonetheless, true or not true, Obama is theirs.

When Obama was about five or six years old, his mother moved with him to Indonesia to live with her new husband Lolo Soetoro. At one point the Internet was abuzz with speculation that he may have been classified as an Indonesian citizen for a few years during his childhood. (http://www.worldnetdaily.com/index.php?pageId=72656). Indeed as a kid in school, he was registered as Barry Soetoro, after his Indonesian stepfather adopted him. Make what you can out of this. Just don’t try telling Indonesians that he is not their son!

His wife, Michelle Obama, is thought to have descended from slaves brought into the South from West Africa. The Nigerians even started an Obama Nigeria Initiatives (http://www.obamanigeria.org/) to celebrate “the black man and democracy”. Enough said.

What about England? FactCheck maintains that for a short while after he was born, Obama was a British citizen by the virtue of his father being a citizen of UKC – United Kingdom Colony (http://www.factcheck.org/askfactcheck/does_barack_obama_have_kenyan_citizenship.html). Still others will argue that Obama's mother, Ann Dunham, was of primarily English and Irish descent, with a bit of Cherokee thrown in. I recently read that someone had traced Obama’s white roots to medieval England and Scotland (their kings no less!) and found his mother was an ancestor of the Duchess of Windsor! (http://www.eurweb.com/story/eur41393.cfm). I will not be surprised to find there are people in England taking this connection very seriously. As for the French, royal England has always been tainted with French blood so one way or another, if he is English then he is very much French…I think.

But the Europeans, traditionally conservative by nature, are not fighting loudly enough to claim their winded ownership. The fact that they gave him record wall-bursting audiences wherever he appeared during his tour a few months ago replete with weeping, nay almost worshipping masses in their hundreds of thousands, (remember the Berlin rally?) quite says enough about their stand. At the time, he was still fighting for the democratic nomination and it would be long before he would win that and go on to become America’s president-elect. They had already recognized and acknowledged him as the world leader. He is definitely their son.

So lets get back to the people with more robustly outlined linkage.

Firstly the Americans as a whole hold that he is American and that’s that. Then you go to Chicago and he is their Senator so they gave him to you first. However, the primarily all-white state of Iowa is credited with being the first to show America the way when it launched his “once unlikely bid” for the White House. Obama himself has publicly praised the state saying, “On the day of the Iowa caucus, my faith in the American people was vindicated and what you started here in Iowa has swept the nation,” (http://firstread.msnbc.msn.com/archive/2008/10/31/1623184.aspx). After that follows all the states that primarily voted for him both in the primaries and the election. To all these, he remains their man. However, Kansas where his mother was born and where he was later raised by his recently deceased maternal grandmother, maintains that is his home! He is a son of their soil. In the same vein, the African American population firmly maintain he is theirs. It seems the rest of the world agrees with them on this score. He is constantly referred to as the “first African American president of the United States”.

But the cake would have to be taken by Kenya.

First of all, parts of the country, primarily Kogelo village where his father is a descendant of, and Kisumu the capital of the Luo tribe decided to hold mock US presidential elections in tandem with Uncle Sam’s citizens! (http://english.ntdtv.com/?c=154&a=5784). The argument was that since Obama was a Luo man running for president of the US, that effectively made Kenya a part of the US and so it must carry on with elections like any other state in the US! It was hillarious.

There were two large boxes clearly labelled John Mccain and Barack Obama respectively. Any would-be Mccain supporters were cheekily urged not to be afraid since this one would be freely and fairly counted by someone other than the distrusted Kivuitu. Samuel Kivuitu is the controversial boss of the Electoral Commission of Kenya to whom literally everyone blames for the 2007 elections fiasco. A polling booth was set up at the burnt Ukwala supermarket and voters trooped in as early as 6.30am to cast their ballot. A record voter turnout that would have been the envy of a real election was registered.Voters were promptly issued with slips torn that had been off school exercise books. The instructions were simple. One had to clearly write in the names of their preffered candidate before placing into the box of their choice. At precisely 6pm voting closed and everyone gathered round a tv screen for a nightlong vigil of waiting for both their results and those from the “other American states”. Victory screams rent the air when the “Kenyan” results were announced with a not unexpected Obama majority, as did they each time a state in America was called for Obama.

But voting aside, Kenya itself, much like the United States as explained above, has its own divisions over where he truly belongs. Specifically, the Luo tribe to which he unarguably belongs is divided almost right down the middle with two villages from opposite sides of Lake victoria pitted against each other. While the people of Kogelo rightly maintain he is a son of Alego Kogelo, Luos from Kanyadhiang’ Kendu Bay say his paternal great grandfather, Obama, moved to their shores from Alego and settled in Kendu Bay. The area he settled in was renamed Kendu Bay Kogelo reminiscent of Alego Kogelo. Indeed they recently cemented his grave there.(Cementing of a grave is a significant function in the luo community, usually reserved for a person of perceived importance within the context of their family or even the larger community and is usually accompanied by elaborate ceremony during which numerous bulls, goats and chicken are slaughtered in a merrymaking feast). Moreover, they maintain, both his great grandfather and his grandfather, along with their extended relatives (brothers and cousins) are on record as having married women from various parts of Kendu Bay but especially from the Kanyadhiang area. Therefore he has more than a good measure in quarts of Kendu Bay blood coursing through his veins. Try beating that!

John Stewart summed it up most aptly when he said, “It was as if the whole world had won the Superbowl!”

Nations aside, on an individual level claims of Obama linkages abound. Generally everyone here agrees he is a Kenyan from Luoland so we (Kenyans) all naturally feel a part of him – hence the two public holidays by presidential decree. As a matter of fact, nearly all luos will document direct ancestral linkage of their lineage to Obama no matter how distant or convoluted the relationship may sound to the listener. Raila Amolo Odinga himself has claimed a sort of relation based on his mother coming from a village next to Obama’s ancestral home in Alego Kogelo. Barack Obama has referred to Raila Odinga as his Uncle. Others though have not been so lucky as to have him acknowledge the authenticity of their claims. Still, it hasn’t stopped any of us.

At last my flight was called. I picked my heavy hand luggage and rushed out. It would be a long way to Terminal 3 from Terminal 1 but nothing would make me late for my flight to America where he, Barack Obama, who is my second cousin third removed (Don’t ask!) through a relation of his grandfather’s (Onyango Hussein Obama) brother by marriage to my Great Aunt, the late Apiyo Osuru from Kanyadhiang, Kendu Bay, and whose late father my brother Barry Marsden Obama is named after, was now President-elect of the United States of America!

Anonymous said...

i like the piece of work. Very inspiring to read.Burubama

Anonymous said...

Very inspiring article!
nicely written. keep up good work!

Bob M. said...

Thanks for the positive feedback.
Bob - aka Flapjack