Harambee! Kenya celebrates their "Native Son"

Last night, for the majority of Americans of all backgrounds, especially for African-Americans and other minority groups, was an intensely moving one--one that, as Michael Sean Winters wrote, will take time to appreciate, digest and analyze.  But it was not simply a profound moment for Americans.  As Andrew Sullivan wrote a few months ago in a prescient article in Atlantic magazine, Barack Obama’s election is a clear sign to the rest of the world about our country:

"Consider this hypothetical. It’s November 2008. A young Pakistani Muslim is watching television and sees that this man--Barack Hussein Obama--is the new face of America. In one simple image, America’s soft power has been ratcheted up not a notch, but a logarithm. A brown-skinned man whose father was an African, who grew up in Indonesia and Hawaii, who attended a majority-Muslim school as a boy, is now the alleged enemy. If you wanted the crudest but most effective weapon against the demonization of America that fuels Islamist ideology, Obama’s face gets close. It proves them wrong about what America is in ways no words can. "

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Yes, it can.  And just above these words is a small bit of evidence.  For a few years during my Jesuit training I worked in the slums of Nairobi, including Kibera, one of the largest and poorest neighborhoods in the world.  So when someone sent me this video this morning from East Africa, I was transfixed: these are people from Kibera are cheering for their "native" son, Barack Obama, the son of a man from the Luo peoples, one of the indigenous ethnic groups in the country.  (Nearly 85% have names that begin with "O": Odhiambo, Okello, Ochieng...).  Listen carefully.  At one point a man shouts out the praise for the new president from the "Watu wa Kibera," that is, "People of Kibera!"  Today, as reported in The Daily Nation, is a national holiday in Kenya.

And below, the celebrations in Kisumu, near the homeland of Obama’s father:

There is a wonderful Swahili word "Harambee," the motto on the Kenyan coat of arms.  Loosely translated it means "working together for a common purpose."  It is often shouted out in political rallies and gatherings.  Let this election help us all to do just that.  Work together for a common purpose.  Harambee!

James Martin, SJ

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10 years 2 months ago
Wonderful to see the celebrations in Kenya, thank you. I do have a question to anyone who can answer. Are there any reports yet about what Obama's election means to all the people of Kenya, or is the joy mostly for Obama's family's tribe? I ask because of the recent violence between peoples in Kenya. We sponsor a boy of a different Kenyan tribe (Kikuyu) through CFCA, and I have not known whether to mention in letters to him anything about Obama, whose family were Luo. It will be interesting to see what Obama can do for Africa. At least we can be certain that he will not ignore the continent and its needs. Many people have been suggesting what the president-elect should do when he is in office, and I'll take my turn. I recommend that Obama seek out former Treas. Sec. Paul O'Neill for advice on building village wells in Africa. O'Neill came to believe this relatively inexpensive form of aid would alleviate hunger by helping people grow their own food (having water for irrigation) and preserve health (safe clean water.) Bush turned O'Neill down, and most of the foreign aid of his administration has been either funnelled through corporations, who take their cut, or tied to military purposes. I was quite persuaded by O'Neill's proposal, and hope the next president will act upon it. Of course Africa's problems are more complex, but water would be a great start, and a very cost-effective yet powerful evidence of goodwill to the continent. O'Neill's book describes this proposal for wells in Africa in a few brief pages in this book: http://www.amazon.com/Price-Loyalty-George-Education-ONeill/dp/0743255461/ref=pd_bbs_sr_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1226097422&sr=8-1

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