The Empty Symbol That is Barrack Obama

Barrack Obama

**NB: As soon as you finish the post please read the comments where I go into further detail that will avoid a lot of misunderstanding**

Today I was having a discussion with a couple of senior African ladies and their point was a little something like this:

“Barrack Obama is great for Africa, especially Kenyans! He will show black people all over the world that whatever we set our minds to we can achieve: Hell we can even be the president of the United States if we want to be.”

I am sure that a lot of people share these sentiments. They think of Barrack Obama as a powerful symbol of what is possible and what we can achieve as Africans.

In my opinion this is highly flawed thinking for a number of reasons.

We Have Nothing Left to Prove

Tiger Woods, Serena Williams, Kwame Nkrumah, the Mau Mau, Martin Luther King, Steve Biko, Oprah Winfrey, Richard D Parsons and many others are among the high profile people who have shown that Africans and people with super-melanin-skin can easily dominate and excel, even in areas where they previously didn’t or even when there are seemingly insurmountable odds. This is not to mention the millions upon millions of black people who have come before us and had all sorts of achievements in sports, arts, science, medicine, philosophy…..Name it, and there is an African who did it and did it exceptionally well. And even with it’s very high AIDS rate, Botswana is one of the more prosperous nations on Earth and so we even have countries that run pretty well.

In short, ladies and gentlemen we have nothing left to prove. If you need another Ellen John Sirleaf, another Oprah Winfrey or another Barrack Obama at this stage of your African life, then the problem isn’t with the lack of role models. The problem is with you and your unwillingness to dig deep and find them.

Ellen John Sirleaf

We are Not In Control of the Symbol

At the core though, the deepest problem is that we have absolutely no control or say, as African people,over Barrack Obama and his life. We did not fund his campaign: white corporate America did that. We are not the ones who are in control of the propaganda and the image of Barrack Obama that is presented to the world: the American corporate-political power base is in charge of that. Most importantly, we are not in control of his actions. A lot of American corporations and banks are investing in Obama right now and should he sit on the seat in the White House, they’ll expect their investment to pay dividends.

Is this really the type of man that we should put on a pedestal to display to all the young people of Africa? A man over whom we have no control, no say and has never and will probably never act in our interests or those of our children.

Stop Being a Grouch, Let Barrack Be the Symbol that Africans Need

I know there are a few of you who are probably thinking, “You know what, I don’t care. I will support Barrack and what he stands for. As African people we are beaten down every day of our existence and we need someone like Barrack to lift our spirits. After all, in Africa we don’t have heroes.”

Oh really? Is it that we don’t have heroes or that we simply do not value them or cherish them the same way the West does. Could it be that the difference between a JohnF Kennedy and a Tom Mboya isn’t their significance to society but rather the way they are presented to their respective societies.

Wangari Maathai

Magnification Principle

If there is one thing that I absolutely love and adore and respect about the West, it’s how they celebrate their past and the icons that shaped their past. Here in Australia, there are museums and centres that have been built all over the place to celebrate the ongoing history of a nation that is less than a few hundred years old. They have tourist centers where you get tours of the areas where the Aussies first landed. There are movies,books, short films and papers written about great Australians such as Ned Kelly. This constant over the top celebration is something I have observed in almost all Western countries.

Where the heck is our Mau Mau museum? Where is the government funded movie about the life and times of Robert Ouko and even Desmond Tutu for Pete’s sake? (Exclude the ones made by non-Africans, though they are fabulous).

We Have Had, We Have and We Will Continue to Have Heroes

The fact of the matter is this: We have had, we do have and we will forever have heroes. Whenever there is a challenge or an obstacle and someone acts against it in spite of their fear, that’s a hero. Wangari Maathai is a hero: that woman has gotten more taunting and abuse than even I could ever hope to handle. The people in the Kenyan countryside who are taking people into their homes and communities with no regard for tribe are heroes.

The only question is, as the situation in Kenya dies down, will we take a moment to celebrate and cherish these heroes? Will we write books about their courage? Will we create museums in their honour? Will we tell our children stories about their heroism? Or will we just go back to business as usual complaining about the lack of leadership and role models in Kenya.

If we are not willing to learn from Africans who do the right things well, then what gives us the right to absorb an icon who isn’t even ours. I think if I could sum up my point in one sentence it would be:

Desmond Tutu

If you want to earn the right to prop up Barrack Obama on a pedestal, then first celebrate, cherish and elevate the icons and heroes in your own backyard.”

If we don’t do this, we will fall for anyone who gives us as Africans any form of hope or uplift, no matter who they are and how empty their effects will be on our lives. Got something to say about this Post? Leave a comment below!

Be blessed and bless others,

Mwangi

Update on 4th March 2008: An example of someone phenomenal who we should be celebrating and I had never heard of until today is Magdalene Odundo. Check her out at the Mshairi blog.

Update on 29th March 2008: Another great person that may have died quite a while ago but definitely should have a movie or a book made about him is David Munyakei. Learn more about him in the Thinker’s Room blog.

53 Comments

  • By Mike, February 16, 2008 @ 4:32 am

    OK Mwangi. Thank you for your very meaningful and enlightening post. If ever there was an empty post eloquently written just to fill up the spaces in the blogsphere…

    I will take your advice and ignore the stirrings in my soul that are evoked every time I listen to the man, because as you say, Serena Williams should already do that for me. I will pretend I don’t relate to his message of change and a new direction for this country, his appeal as a uniter in an age where cynicism and bitter partisanship has dominated the politics, because as you put it, he is a come-lately. If I understand you correctly I should not harken like the millions of Americans of diverse backgrounds and divers races who harken to Barack’s promise that yes, we can, because corporations and not us control him. Hmm… Interesting logic.

    No thanks. If believing in Obama and what he stands for makes my thinking flawed, I am proud of it and I’m in good company. Mr Mwangi, I have my opinion as to why you take this position vis a vis Obama. And my decision to support Obama is easier still.

  • By Mwangi, February 16, 2008 @ 4:38 am

    Thanks for sharing man, at least your honest. Actually to be honest in my post, I tried as much as possible to not get into his politics or the American political system because that’s not what the post was about.
    My point is this: What Barrack represents, what he stands for, it’s not change, it’s nothing new. It’s something that’s been there all along. We as African people-myself included-just haven’t been willing to celebrate and cherish it.
    If Obama improves the American political situation and if he does have the effects that you are talking about in your comments, I am behind him 110%.
    This post isn’t about him, it’s about us, and how much we take each other for granted. I hope it’s a bit more clear.

  • By che guevarra, February 16, 2008 @ 4:44 am

    yes, another gikuyu chauvinist we understand where u r coming from. may be we cherish martha karua am sure u will be happy

  • By Mike, February 16, 2008 @ 5:22 am

    Sir,

    Allow me to add my two cents to your argument. I think you have a valid point here. just to be clear, I am very happy and proud for Obama. It is my absolute conviction that he should be the next president of the USA. I think this will be a great victory for black people everywhere. He will certainly be a symbol hope and a beacon of achievement for generations to come.

    That said, I think we as indiginous Africans or Kenyans have a misconception about our expectations for Obama. For some reason we tend to think that once Obama becomes the next president of the US, our political and economic expectations will come to fruition. What we don’t seem to understand is that first and foremost, Obama is not a Kenyan. He is an American. His outlook on a diverse range of issues is American. He is not any different from any other American vying for presidency. Consequently, the greatest possibility is that nothing much will change in African lives just because Obama is the president of the US.

    By not being open to this reality, we are setting ourselves up for heartbreak. Being that his father is from Kenya, he might have sympathies for his motherland or Africa in general. However, I seriously doubt that he will devote any more time than he has to on African issues while overlooking the more pressing obligations of his office – America and its wellbeing.

  • By John, February 16, 2008 @ 7:28 am

    Yet another Obama-basher who really doesn’t have much of substance to say. We should dislike him because there are other people who deserve to be liked? That is a watery argument if I have ever heard one. Next you’ll be saying things like we shouldn’t eat today because we ate yesterday and will probably eat tomorrow. Call him an ‘empty symbol’, but at the end of the day he has changes thousands of lives, whether or not he wins, just by renewing the desire each of us has to believe in something great, something greater than ourselves.

  • By TS, February 16, 2008 @ 8:59 am

    If you must write an article, at least get your facts right. Obama is being funded by the people and not corporate America as you claim. The success of his fundraising has been a large number of individual donors giving small amounts , from $25 to $200.

    Your point of celebrating heroes is welcome. But some of your examples such as Mau Mau are not real heroes. Mau Mau has been given a larger than life role in history. Mau Mau did not fight for independence or win independence for Kenya or Kenyans. Mau Mau was beaten, down and out by 1950-2. Independence did not come till a decade later. In reality Mau Mau was a rag tag terrorist organisation fighting for land and nothing else. They would have been glad if the British stayed, but gave them their land. Mind you the land in question is central province only. If they killed 60 people 59 of them were Kikuyus and only 1 was British or white. Who should honour the Mau Mau for such a dismal record. May be the Britrish. Any idea that Mau Mau won independence is a laughable hoax

  • By Ngina, February 16, 2008 @ 9:28 am

    What is wrong with kikuyus? Dont let your hatred for Raila spill over to Obama. In America there are no tribes it is a matter of ideology. I hate to remind that Obama was not put on this earth to make you feel better about yourself. He has achieved great things in his short life and that is what should be celebrated and commended.Maybe I misunderstood you but the title of your article says it all.

  • By me, February 16, 2008 @ 10:47 am

    what have you achieved yourself?
    can you do what he does?
    achievers never criticize other achievers only people like you , I wished you kept your opinions to yourself

  • By hussein, February 16, 2008 @ 11:11 am

    mwangi good article you have valid points.Obama is universal hero cause if he succeed in replacing dictator bush that would be something worth waiting for.I support obama.In fact suprisingly you never mentioned Dedan kimathi a true african heroe.I remember seeing his pictures in local photo studio which was owned by a kikuyu gentleman he displayed his pictures in shop window.That was the first time i knew about dedan kimathi, even in our history book there is no mention of him why?? strange isn’t i think wrong people came to power after independence cause the followed colonial goverment in every aspect.something about a man lying wounded while colonial askaris surrounded him fearless and brave dedan kimathi is one of kenya unsung heroes.

  • By Mwangi, February 16, 2008 @ 12:37 pm

    Hey everybody thank you for sharing. I am responding to a lot of people at once so apologies if it may be a bit incoherent. If there is something you don’t get PLEASE DON’T ASSUME, ask for clarifications. As an overall point though the main thing I would have to say is this post has very little to do with Barrack’s politics or even Barrack’s effects on America. It’s about how Africans perceive Barrack Obama and how we treat the heroes in our own backyards.
    @ che: The ladies who I was arguing with regarding Obama were Kikuyu and Taita and this may surprise you but almost all the Kikuyus I know support Obama, even the old timers. Obama has been taken as a continent wide symbol not neccesarily I tribal one as far as I can see.
    Mike: I agree with you 100%. The reason I speak of Obama as an empty symbol is exactly because of what you described. We are not in much control of his policy making and propaganda. For all we know he might be the next Kwame Nkrumah or as many people would put it, the next Mwai Kibaki – someone who people believe in as a symbol of something that he probably never believed in.
    John: I admire you and all Obama supporters passion for the man. I must say that this post when it’s all said and done is not about Obama, Obama just happened to be around. It’s about us and how little we appreciate ourselves. I thought the same thing when Ellen John came into power. From what I understand about Mrs. Sirleaf she is an American trained puppet-ruler. Everything I said about Obama, you can replace with the name Ellen John Sirleaf or sadly even Jomo Kenyatta who to a large extent really betrayed his country and the true heroes of our emancipation.
    TS: You have a point. To a large extent as per my understanding as well, Mau Mau were in it predominantly to get their land back. TS whoever you see as the heroe of our independence of 1963, don’t you think we should dedicate movies, museums, books and bedtime stories to him. As for the fundraising, from my research, you are right, he has raised a lot from individual donations but that doesn’t change a fact that about 20% of his funding is from the banking sector and that a large number of his backers are in corporate America. The banking sector when they fund him are investing with their interests at heart whereas when the American people give him their $25 -$200 donations (which I understand amount to 20% of his campaign funding) they are not giving it to him with strings like the banks and corporate America.
    Ngina: You did misunderstand me. This post was not about Obama’s politics or even Obama’s effects on American society. It was about how we in Africa have turned Obama into a heroe and how we don’t celebrate our own heroes. Again, a lot of Barrack supporters are Kiuk, Luo etc etc.
    me: Thanks for lighting the fire under my butt man. You are right. In order to earn that right I really should work on building myself up as a person so I can speak from a place of authority. I intend on doing that. Thanks
    Hussein: I agree. I am sure the story of his life is at least worth putting in a book.

  • By Mike, February 16, 2008 @ 3:31 pm

    Mwangi,

    Thanks for clarifying your post. I would profer that if you have to clarify your intentions, then perhaps those of us who missed the forest for the trees did so for a reason. Your argument for the need for Kenyans and Africans to celebrate their heroes is a very valid and laudable one. We certainly need to learn from them, honor them, and teach our children of them. My point is that your argument is true enough and strong enough as to be able to stand on its own merit. It does not require an accompaniment that, to some, denigrates Obama, to support it. Thanks for sharing your thoughts and for showing grace under fire! :-)

  • By Mwangi, February 16, 2008 @ 6:05 pm

    Thanks for that Mike :D . You definitely have a point about the point having merit on its own, I guess the inclusion of Mr. Obama was because that’s who we were talking about. Plus, I wouldn’t have you as a reader if I never mentioned Obama :D

  • By Nerimae, February 18, 2008 @ 9:38 am

    Mwangi
    I have to say I love your way of writing and how you express yourself, I especially loved the piece on women and you being lovestruck, very refreshing to see that you have understood how we function atleast halfway.
    That being said, I have to say I completely disagree with you, I agree that we need to celebrate our heroes but pulling Obama into this almost insinuates that he is not one of us. He does have Kenyan blood running through his veins, I understand that he is American but that doesnt mean that his Kenyan heritage is thus null and void, if thats the case all these kids born to Kenyan Parents in the US, should we disown them since they are American? And another point is as suggested, please do your research, Obama himself has said that he does not accept money from special interest groups. Having said that, please belive in the hope machine, the only thing standing between Obama and the Democratic nomination is super delegates, Hillary might as well start firing her staff to avoid further waste of money she lent to herself. Yes we can!!

  • By Mwangi, February 18, 2008 @ 11:27 pm

    Thank you for the kind words Nerimae. One place that I will quickly admit that I did very superficial research was on how Obama is funded. I checked two websites and compared it with what I read in the Huffington Post and in other reports on campaign funding that I read during the last elections. As I said before, if Obama will truly bring what people are hoping he will bring, I am behind him 100%.

  • By Victor O, February 22, 2008 @ 6:24 am

    Surely you hatters out there, please dont turn this wonderful piece of write-up that Mwangi has posted into your narrow ethno-centric mindset.

    Mwangi, thanks for the pieace. Indeed, we need not look only at Obama to prove ourselves to the world, because, we have a galaxy of valiant role models! Spot on!

  • By Mwangi, February 22, 2008 @ 6:29 am

    Thanks for defending me like that Victor, I really appreciate that. You really got to the essence of what I was trying to say.

  • By Nerimae, February 22, 2008 @ 10:32 am

    Mwangi I wasnt attacking you, I agree that we need to celebrate our heroes both past and present. We as Kenyans need to know more about Dr. Robert Ouko, Tom Mboya, Waangari Maathai or even our first President Jomo Kenyatta, we really dont know much about him other than he is our first President. My query is you cant turn around and penalize Obama and say we cant celebrate him until/unless we have celebrated our other leaders. Its not his fault that there wasnt a hero/sheroe system in place before him. My point is this is a matter of either or, we can celebrate all of them Obama included, use this as an opportunity to do so.
    And I dont think I put my point across well, I dont support Obama because he is of Kenyan heritage, I support him because I actually believe in what he says, the Kenyan thing comes second. And thats what was Hillary biggest mistake. She assumed that just because we are women, we will support her first then look at her agenda second. She assumed that since her husband is popular in the African American community, they will support her first then look at the agenda. She assumed that since no one knew of Obama till recently, they will support her. She assumed that Obama was a rookie thus she didnt need to strategize. Her biggest mistake in my opinion was letting her husband Bill Clinton campaign for her instead of letting the former President of the US campaign for her, Big mistake!!! Look at what fairy tale speech got them to. Anyways my point is Obama is not an empty symbol, and we are not on his corner to prove anything to the world. Obama is first and foremost an American who will have a pile of issues to deal with once he’s sworn in, I douubt if he will give Kenya any special time even if he wanted to, I am fully aware of this and I know he is smart enough not to pigeonhole himself into being dubbed the African instead of the American President. My support for him doesnt come with strings attached, au contraire I hope he gives Kenya / Africa the standard minimum attention so that he can cater to his country, USA. Hope I didnt contradict myself too much.

  • By Mwangi, February 22, 2008 @ 8:30 pm

    Nerimae:I think your point came across just fine. The rule I proposed about us not celebrating Obama as an African hero until we celebrate our own was meant to raise our standards and especially get us thinking about how much greatness we have and have had within our shores that we really take for granted. I think starting from such a high standard definitely expands our thinking to a level we wouldn’t have otherwise.
    I think you expressed yourself pretty clearly initially, but thank you for the clarifications. Now it’s me who hopes he has expressed himself clearly.

  • By bussie, March 6, 2008 @ 2:04 am

    Africans should not expect change in Africa just because Obama has become president. support him yes if you must, because he gives hope to other people of colour on many levels. but let us not forget that Obama has not lived in Africa as most of us have and does not understand the struggles of an African.. he is American.Being born in Africa does not mean his commitment lies with Africa, we have to realise that Obama is linked to most worlds, African, American and Asian so lets not base our support on Obama because we hope things will be changed in Africa by him.

  • By Mwangi, March 6, 2008 @ 2:45 am

    Couldn’t agree more bussie. The wonderful thing about the discussion taking place in the African community is that very few people – no one I have heard of – base their support of Obama on the idea that somehow he will improve things in Africa because he is a half black. I think this would be investing our hopes in the wrong place. Thanks for stopping by!

  • By Caustic Blonde, March 13, 2008 @ 4:57 pm

    I couldn’t finish reading this entry, it is scary how you say,”A man over whom we have no control, no say and has never and will probably never act in our interests or those of our children.” Forgive me if I seem rude (because I do not mean to be), but comments like this agitate me. Why should you have control? The man is trying to get the Democratic nomination for the president of The United States not Kenya. It is not just in this blog or blogs from Kenyans, but I notice blogs from all over the world seem so concerned about whom Americans will chose as president. There sentiments seem to be the same as your comment, “A man over whom we have no control.” Americans are the ones who are truly concerned with the welfare of America so why should anyone but the American people have control over who is president?

  • By Caustic Blonde, March 13, 2008 @ 5:00 pm

    I hate typos, it should have been choose, not chose.

  • By Mwangi, March 13, 2008 @ 8:50 pm

    The reason that we care so much about who is president of the United States and not so much about who is president of Fiji or Ukraine is because America basically controls the entire world in a number of ways:
    1) Culturally – The world is slowly but surely becoming more Americanized and this translates into every facet of our existence. If Barrack Obama becomes president, this will definitely have an effect on the perception of black people throughout the world.
    2) Diplomatically – Outside of the US its pretty common knowledge that whenever the US doesn’t like what’s going on in a particular country-whether the policies, the administration or the violence that took place in our country Kenya for example – the US, whether its legal or not, does something about it to ensure that things get back to serving US interests.

    In short, when Americans go to the polls, in this globalized world, they are voting for the president of the entire world and putting into power a man who can just as easily bring about American Universal Health Care as he can end the violence in Kenya (If you have a look at how our leaders came to an agreement, a lot of it was due to US, EU and oddly enough German pressure)

    Hope this clarifies a few things.

  • By Caustic Blonde, March 13, 2008 @ 9:14 pm

    So let me understand, the main reason Africans want Obama to be the President is because this will boost the image of black men around the world?

    I understand what you are saying about America having influence on the rest of the world, however you must understand I am American so I take America a bit more personal than the rest of the world. I will not vote for a presidential candidate just because he/she might be right for the rest of the world, he or she has to be right for America.

    American Universal Health Care <~~~If this is one of his main goals I will not vote for him. I already pay out over 40% of my income in taxes, there is no way I would gleefully pay more.

  • By Mwangi, March 13, 2008 @ 11:04 pm

    @ Caustic: The relationship between Americans, and even African Americans and Obama is quite different from the relationship that Africans, especially Kenyans and within Kenya, Luos (the tribe of Obama’s father) have with Obama. The reasons that Africans support him differ – some genuinely like him and his policies – but whenever I hear Africans talk about Obama, I get the very strong feeling that underlying it all in almost all Africans is exactly what you said: he will increase hope and faith black people have in themselves. You have to understand that a lot of Africans view themselves as less than, cursed and sub-human and I think Obama is just a shining beacon of hope that can even for a brief moment make African people feel as though they are full human beings who are equal in every way. Hence the reason I wrote the article, to address that idea.

  • By Ernest Maina, March 19, 2008 @ 5:13 pm

    Mwagi I think I Have a problem with your characterising Africans as thinking of themselves as sub-human and cursed. I think this works better when put in first person then it is an opinion. But as a generalization, you incur the burden of proof. I am an African. I am a Kenyan. I do no think that I am cursed or sub-human. What I know is Africa as a continent is underrepresented in many international fora where the top officials are “democratically” elected. This was true even for the United Nations until recently with Butros Ghali and Kofi Annan. But this historical lack of representation is not a problem of self esteem. It may have more to do with inability of the African Elite and Governments to work in unison to develop coherent strategies for selling African to the world and create institutions to implement them. Try to take a free ride on Obama’s back wont work, een if he becomes president.

    IMO The leaders that mismanage Governments have no problem with self esteem. To me what looks like lack of esteem or African pride to you is simply poverty, nothing to iong and dance about.

  • By Mwangi, March 19, 2008 @ 8:12 pm

    @Ernest: Thanks for stopping by. I must respectfully disagree. I think it is quite difficult for us as African people to be so under represented on the global stage and have such little power and live in such negative environments – due to poverty, corruption, government mismanagement etc- without it impacting on our views of ourselves not only as individuals but as groups. Surely in your lifetime you have heard the expression, “Africans are just (followed by a negative statement)” many times, I know I certainly have.
    In addition to that, I come from a much younger generation who a lot of the time IMO have a much higher perception of ourselves relative to other races as a result of the work of previous generations- decolonization, Afrocentrism, civil rights etc; I say this because it amazed me how people of my parents generation perceived themselves as less than the Australian people and had a certain level of fear of the white man when they arrived here.
    Apologies, as always my way of writing is disjointed. One last story is when my grandmother visited us in Oz: you cannot imagine her level of shock when she saw a white man cleaning our carpet at home.
    In short, I think psychology plays a huge role in what’s going on in Africa and is something that needs to be addressed as opposed to simply dealing with the material realities: we have a lot of rich, educated Africans but Africa as a whole doesn’t act like a continent that is much healthier and wiser does it?

  • By Ernest Maina, March 20, 2008 @ 1:24 pm

    Mwangi, Thanks for your quick response. Sorry that a few typos escaped notice in my previous text. The last six lines should read:

    ” Trying to take a free ride on Obama’s back wont work, even if he becomes president.

    IMO The leaders that mismanage Governments have no problem with self esteem. To me what looks like lack of esteem or African pride to you is simply poverty, nothing to sing and dance about.”

    Now here is my reply:

    I too had a Dad who use to say things would be better if we were still colonised. This was his was of expressing his tiring over scandal after scandal from the string of leaders while gabage lay uncollected in the streets. His attitude was one of dispair. He longed for governance institutions that just worked, noone had told him what to do when the didnt.

    At the time, I would respond by letting him know that if Kenya was all white we would still need prisons and the like since there would still be corrupt individuals. Looking back I think I should have asked him to take his greivances further. Find out who was concerned and ask why they were not doing their Job. Or at the very least, organise people at the local level to find out what they could do to make the problem nore visible. The problem my Dad had then was dispair.

    So I agree with you on the attitude of Older Africans. I have seen that side of my Dad that experienced colonializm first hand but forgot the humiliation, lack of freedom of opportunity, movement, association etc of the colonial era when faced with inept leadership that was ones own.

    But I disagree with the premise that this is lack of self esteem. We had inherited a disfunctional democracy that was upgraded from a system of government that allowed a few white men to rule over a population that may have been a thousand times larger. So we inherited what I would call “a big stick and a tiny carrot “. Leadership structure that has a lot of instruments for coersion but very little checks and balances. With time our leaders realized just how lucky they were and the party began ….

    What the colonialists left out was checks within the government, Checks in the constitution, and a continual process of voter education that let us know that governance works not because leaders are good hearted, but that they are held into account and even convicted when rules are broken. Civil society is one of the bigger accountability feedback loops that are a recent development. One wonder how things even worked at all before.

    So when my Dad expressed dissapointment, all he was saying was that our institutions were broken and getting worse by yhe day. Thinks have improved since. He could see no way to force the government, city council etc to do the work they were supposed to do. Uncollected gabbage, broken roads etc were affecting the whole City so it was not a personal issue but no one seemed to care. I do not think he would have given his freedom away to be bussed from dirty shanty to a sparkling clean city every morning.

    I also agree that we the younger generation are more articulate. We are more exposed to information from everywhere and that makes it harder for us to inherit the stereotypes of our parents.

    But I still find that lot of what you call lack of self esteem more a problem of:
    a) Ignorance – lack of information including the lack means for informing onself
    b) Little or no experience with running or participating in community groups championing social issues. This makes it harder to speak up or do anything when faced with issues boardering injustice
    c) Poverty – That makes it seem that ALL your problems will go away if you made just a little more money.

  • By Mwangi, March 20, 2008 @ 10:43 pm

    Hey Ernest,
    I would never ever thought I would say this but I agree with you 100% though I still believe very strongly in what I said. Something you have done in a much better way than I ever could is discussed the specifics that are behind what is going on in Africa in wonderful detail:
    1) I agree that fundamentally we inherited “big stick, tiny carrot” institutions where checks and balances and civil participation were never meant to be part of the idea. This is one of the areas that I think that Kenyans, especially really excel- they are actually involved and stay ever knowledgeable and mindful of what government is doing and we have a lot of civil organization and participation. The problem I think that exists here, in Kenya anyway, I don’t know as much about the rest of Africa, is a lack of a collective vision and collective agenda and then action towards these. Instead we have very disjointed action and participation with people getting bogged down in minutia and discussion that ultimately doesn’t matter i.e. focusing on the small problems rather than working on building big solutions.

    What I was addressing in the post was much more abstract and a much more global phenomena that takes place in the minds of individual Africans i.e. this belief that we are “less than” which leads to distorted ideas such as:
    a) We are the cursed sons of Noah.
    b) African race can never come together to achieve anything meaningful – in spite of the great achievements of decolonization and civil rights worldwide.
    c) The skin is a burden and a yoke.
    I don’t know whether our leaders view themselves as such, but I definitely know that a lot of people that I have interacted with of a wide variety of ages,ask them self such questions in the quiet part of their mind, “Does being black mean I am cursed?” and the world doesn’t give much immediate evidence to the contrary.

    Thanks for bringing up very specific issues, your specificity is breathtaking and in fact should you ever wish to write a rebuttal post and want me to put it up on the site and link to it, feel free and I will gladly post it.
    At the end of the day, I am not a student of the political process as much as I am a student of the human mind and psychology.
    Don’t worry about the typos, I still understand you regardless

  • By F. Netter, May 3, 2008 @ 7:25 am

    Just like waves of immigrants who set foot on the shores of this great nation before, the 90s marked a new, subtle but noteworthy wave of african migrants. Most of us have completed our first degrees and are doing graduate work. With few mentors and limited direction, we have had to break glass ceilings and take on responsibilities never imagined before. Seeing Barack do what he is doing is refreshing and keeps most of us even more inspired. Just like Wangari Mathaai inspired me as a sophomore in college, Barack inspires me as a first year medical student.

  • By Mwangi, May 3, 2008 @ 7:32 am

    @F. Netter:I am glad you are able to keep such an even-handed balance view of figures like Barrack and figures like Wangari. Do you see my point though in saying that for the sake of future generations, at the very least, we should do all we can to ensure that home grown heroes are given as much face time in our own communities as a figure like Barrack has gotten all over the world?

  • By paul, May 8, 2008 @ 8:35 am

    As a concerned canadian citizen who is watching the race to the leadership of the free world our combined effort to remain free in a troubled world, I have a simple question. Where was Barrack or Barry Obama born?

  • By Mwangi, May 8, 2008 @ 5:00 pm

    @paul: I do believe he was born in the United States of America. Why?

  • By hussein, May 9, 2008 @ 5:29 am

    Barack obama was born in hawaii to be precise. It does not matter where you are born or what colour to be president of world superpower. Let justice prevail for mankind. For USA represent the best and worse in equal measure thanks to tinpot dictator from texas. Obama was born to beal the hatred he brewed by killing millions in iraq (babylonia) The world oldest state. Surely it time usa voted for intelect and remove violence people like bush.

  • By hussein, May 9, 2008 @ 5:33 am

    Correction meant heal not beal.

  • By Mwangi, May 24, 2008 @ 2:43 am

    @Hussein: Thank you very much

  • By Sean, May 28, 2008 @ 12:08 pm

    Mwangi,

    Sorry to be all over your site…you can kick me off if you want, haha! Even though I am a white American, I am obsessed lately with Africa and all things African, as I believe in my heart they are sacred to every human on this planet. I agree with you that Africans are way beyond needing to prove themselves to anyone. The one thing Africans have never tried to do is conciously prove their superiority, just their equality, even in the face of tremendous adversity and oppression, while continually rising to the top in everything they pursue anyway. That is something beautiful. I see your point, too, on one hand that Obama might not be the hope that he promises to be for African people of America and the World. I can tell you that everything he does even remotely connected to helping Africans and African-Americans will be scruitinized like nothing else in America, making everything he does in that regard 100 times more difficult than it would a white president. But then, history has also proven what happens when you underestimate an African American : ) I pray for the self-determination of all African people and an end to the strife that dominates the continent that gave birth to us all. Peace. One Love.

  • By Mwangi, May 28, 2008 @ 6:28 pm

    @Sean: No, I would never kick you out. You are a beacon of positivity on this site and that is always beyond welcome. My my my you do have a romantic image of us don’t you? I only wish that enough African girls and boys could see themselves the way you just described….Africa would be have quite a different emotional tone and frequency, a much higher one at that.

  • By Warren (Australia), June 4, 2008 @ 5:12 pm

    Sean: “I agree with you that Africans are way beyond needing to prove themselves to anyone. The one thing Africans have never tried to do is conciously prove their superiority, just their equality, even in the face of tremendous adversity and oppression, while continually rising to the top in everything they pursue anyway. That is something beautiful.”

    Excuse my naivety but isn’t Robert Mugabe an African? I think your comments might be a gross generalisation!

    Mwangi I have thoroughly enjoyed reading your’s and everyone else’s comments, as an Australian that has recently gotten rid of of their previous pro-Bush administration, I can wait to see someone with more reasoning than war being the answer in charge of America. Cheers,

  • By Mwangi, June 4, 2008 @ 5:20 pm

    @Warren: If you’d told me I’d be saying this when I was 14 I’d have told you to keep dreaming:
    “It’s good to get a visit from another person dwelling in the land down under.”
    It’s amazing how emotional an issue Robert Mugabe is and so to avoid opening a c an of worms that I don’t know much about I will steer clear of that one.
    My goodness, isn’t Rudd just doing a phenomenal job, and to think that prior to the election Mr. Howard actually had a shot.
    As for Obama, I can’t really say I understand what his policies will be….but they definitely look like they will be much more humane and egalitarian than what we’ve had from Bush and Co.
    Glad you enjoyed your stay at the site.

  • By Dawn, June 23, 2008 @ 5:23 am

    I have to say that I am terribly dissapointed in the choices that we as Americans are being presented with in the upcoming election. I am not the only one either many people who I know are of the opinion that there is no use in even voting. I really feel and i can hear the outcrys with this one !! That the main reason Obama got the nomination has nothing to do with his platform but rather the fact that he is black . Now i have been around a lot of black people in my time ( i grew up with a black stepmother) so there is no malice in my statement. But all you hear people talk about is ” yeah a black man thats what this country needs !! ” ok .. so what are the great qualifications that make him so special ? no one seems to answer I listen to Obama speak of change ,, what changes ? it always seems to be vague at best just what changes he is referring too. Also people seem to discredit or conviently forget that his mother was a white woman so that would make him biracial not just black also not only was his mother a white woman but it was this white woman and her white family that gave him the things in life that he needed to grow into adulthood.
    I am not going to just opt out of the voting process like so many people i know are doing due to their disgust at the choices but rather further educate myself. There are third party nominations so far I like what I have seen about the Green party’s possible candidate Cynthia McKinny I dont agree with her on everything but so far she seems a better choice than McCain or Obama .. oh did I mention she is a black WOMAN ? I personally want to make the most informed descion i can I may change my mind by the time if the election its quite possible but as long as i have done my part and my research and Im not voting merely because of someone color or gender. I feel that we are lucky to have the privelage to vote in this country and even if the election does see someone in the white house who I dont care for at least I have done my part and I have the right to bitch and moan. So many people complain about the president yet they didnt even take the 5 minutes to punch that button that might have made a difference dont sit and complain if you dont like something .. DO something about it !! ya dig ?

  • By Mwangi, June 23, 2008 @ 7:14 pm

    @Dawn: Yeah, it does seem that as per usual, people are getting too caught up in the image and the characters of the election vs the issues behind them. Before I watched the youtube video of Derrick Ashong – I have linked to it within the site if you look for his name – I had heard very little from his supporters about just why they support him.
    As for his racial identification, doesn’t America exist under the “one drop of black blood” makes you black rule. That’s what I gathered from what I have seen and heard.
    I know Cynthia and have heard a little bit about her and the work she’s done….I thought she was a Dem last time I checked.
    Personally I am of two opinions:
    a) As I said in the article: I don’t feel that Africans in America have anything left to prove….they have Oprah for Pete’s sake and so many people with black faces in positions of power that clearly we can deduce that ur race doesn’t intrinsically block you from power, your cultural and racial identification perhaps, but not a large amount of melanin.
    b) The political process, for those who care, begins after election day. Election time is for the most part symbolic when compared to the work that needs to be done and the impact that can be had between the two elections.
    Indeed, I don’t think we should complain about things unless we are a part of the solution.

  • By Gina, July 31, 2008 @ 1:59 am

    So, the democratic mutual admiration society, i.e. his highness, Barack Hussein Obama and his democratic cronies met behind closed doors … and, then upon leaving the meeting, graced us with glowing reviews of Obama’s humility and his inevitability to win in November. Then, for the umpteenth time, Obama told us how his 6 countries in 9 days photo op, proved how he is now a qualified expert in foreign policy. Then, he refused to acknowledge that the surge worked. Yes … I would call Obama a presumptuous arrogant empty suit, who is being packaged and agressively marketed to the American people. What a grand deception. I urge all Americans … if you really love this country, and you don’t want to see it turn into a third world country … make sure you … and everyone you know, vote for Senator John McCain in November!!!

  • By Hussein Musa, July 31, 2008 @ 5:05 am

    Well Gina we understand your type also no one is perfect, Only is God is perfect and able to do anything. God has plan for everyone and has writen everything in tablet of destiny. So why should Obama look back in anger at people like you?
    Why ? Life goes on as usual. My question to you what has Obama done to justify you unwarranted hatred? Yes Barack has a muslim people in his family but he is Choose christianity and that is his choice my question why are you denying him his right to practice his faith mentioning his name. True forces of exremism do persih by their own sword. Barack destiny is to bring mankind together and remove oppressive rulers like Bush, Nur al Maliki(Iraq) and other tin pot dictator.

    Can you imagine Senator Mcain in power ? For me i cannot America has only one choice which is either vote for peace or violence. Barack is the only man who could make difference and it time everyone went out to vote for him.
    His European tour was widely adknowledge as a success. So eat your heart out.

  • By ezz, August 3, 2008 @ 5:09 pm

    Mwangi i like your style, your insights here are profound & i don’t think you should be apologizing for your views on Obama. You seem to be thinking straight where most people have been blinded by the media blitz on him, (Gina puts it very well about “being packaged and agressively marketed to the American people”, but i don’t agree with her about the third world bit, & voting McCain).
    Granted, Obama is a very talented and articulate speaker as opposed to Bush and the crop he’s running against. But i happen to think that IF the cartel that controls America decides to let Obama become president, it will be for sinister & not for benign or benevolent motives.
    First, he will not change anything that has already been decided especially on foreign policy, (which is where we come in).
    Secondly and towards the point, the US has embarked on some vicious aggressive moves against the world at large and what we are going to see emanating from those shores will be unprecedented in world history. A sampling to tickle your imagination:- a) 9/11 – some people still believe Osama did it, b) Invasion of Iraq – people have forgotten the non-existent WMD’s that were the excuse to start the debacle, c) Iran – try to understand through all the fuzz why the US wants to start a war there,… and i could go on and on.
    Finally & to my point; while unleashing all the planned terror, what a wonderful scapegoat – that black!

  • By Mwangi, August 4, 2008 @ 7:38 am

    @ezz: Thanks for backing up my opinions and this article. I think what I am ill equipped to do is discuss specific policies because there I have not focused my attention enough to have much insight. However, I definitely do stand by the basic premise of the post which has to do with African’s psychological and social relationship with Obama and the elements on which it is based.
    But I definitely find it sad, that even when Obama comes in, Afghanistan will still continue to be a target and that the aggressive, unilateral American way of aggression will not be put to a complete end.

  • By 3N, August 22, 2008 @ 4:23 am

    One more point on Obama’s impact on America & the world; he is going to have a tough time implementing the various drastic changes that his campaign promises.

    On politics alone the US establishment has such a stronghold on government and economy that if Obama was to defy them and begin a new day in America, he would most definitely be a one term President.

    I support him for the presidency (though I can’t vote) but I am waiting to judge him on his results, not on his promises.

  • By Mwangi, August 22, 2008 @ 6:18 am

    @3N: That there is a great point. What exactly is his relationship with the US establishment? Is it antagonistic? Collaborative? Is he going to succumb to their desires for the established order or will he be the one who guides them to a better place?

    And will he actually be one of the first ever politicians to live up to the hype? All important things to think about.

  • By Wanjiku Kiogothe, November 5, 2008 @ 10:25 pm

    Thanks for your views.Whatever way we see it,there is only one message that
    is so clear.That ones God wants to accomplish something in ones life,it doesn’t matter where you are born or the origin of your parents-Your destiny is shaped from the moment you are born.From this I believe God is continually defining the destiny of Africans-And Barrack Obama’s victory is
    just a beggining for us.God bless Barrack Obama.

  • By Mwangi, November 5, 2008 @ 10:44 pm

    @Wanjiku Kigothe: Thanks for leaving your comments and welcome to tDA. The latest articles are both on Mr. Obama and I guess are more positive in nature.
    I am going to say something that probably won’t go down well, but I believe that Barrack’s history has very little to do with providence. I think if the history of African folk has proven anything its that God has no will to do the work for us. He gives us the potential, free will and if we want to rise up its on us.
    Too often I get the feeling that we spend a lot of time praying and waiting on God instead of exercising our free will and trying to maximize the talents we were blessed with.
    My hope is though, that you will take your creed turn it into something beautiful and soon enough I will be able to interview you about something great you did.

  • By Plubfreseerly, February 15, 2009 @ 7:22 pm

    Hello.
    I’m new there
    Nice forum!

Other Links to this Post

  1. Just Words? There Is No Such Thing: The Power of Language » The Displaced African — February 27, 2008 @ 4:29 am

  2. The Displaced African » Blog Archive » 8 Things I Am Passionate About (The Mo Ma Meme) and Obama — June 10, 2008 @ 3:22 am

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