Barack Obama’s election as Americas’ 44th president elevated him as the first Africa American, or Kenyan American, to occupy the White House. However, the streak of Kenyan connection to the White House did not start with Obama, and by the look of things, it will not end with the man who references himself growing up, as a skinny kid with a funny name.
Arguably, the first time American had to go an election staring at the threat of terrorism was in 2000 election. George Bush for the Grand Old Party (GOP) and Al Gore for the Democratic Party, had to anchor their policies to an anti-terrorism narrative. This is because two year prior, in 1998, powerful bombs exploding simultaneously destroyed U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, killing 301 people and injuring more than 5,000.
When George Bush was re-elected in 2004, he appointed a press secretary who, according to pundits, helped better his approval ratings that were at an all-time low following his invasion of Iraq under the pretext of finding weapons of mass destruction. No sooner than Tony Snow became the White House press secretary than President Bush’s approval ratings started creeping up.
Snow was revered for his disarming charm; soft-spoken yet assertive, self-deprecating yet serious, intelligent but not condescending. He was the perfect pitchman for a president facing an unpopular war and his toughest midterm election.
What is well documented about Snow is that he got his charm while working as a teacher in Nyeri, Kenya.
In the 2016 election cycle, Kenya is arguably the ‘connector’ country which some of the candidates are referencing to, or who will face questions in the campaigns based on remarks made about Kenya, or by a Kenyan about them.
For example, just before Hillary Clinton’s appearance at the Senate for Secretary of State- confirmation proceedings, the New York Times asked 10 influential global personalities to each list three question they would pose to the Senator. One of the people New York Times talked to was Kenyan Wangari Maathai, and these were her 3 questions.
- The chances of peace between Israel and Gaza seem more remote than ever. Many of the Palestinians in Gaza are impoverished refugees and the overcrowded Gaza Strip has few resources. The two-state solution offers little hope for these people; that is one reason Gaza has historically tended to support radical Palestinian parties like Hamas. How will you make the two-state solution popular among the people of Gaza?
- Which is worse for the United States, an Iran with nuclear weapons or a military confrontation between the United States and Iran?
- The Atlantic was the center of world politics in the 20th century. The rise of Asia means that the Pacific is likely to play that role in the 21st, and developing countries in many parts of the world are likely to enjoy rising influence and power. But European countries are still grossly overrepresented on the Security Council and enjoy disproportionate influence in the Group of 8, the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. How will you alter American foreign policy, reform international institutions and reconfigure the State Department to adjust to new realities — without damaging relations with our European friends and allies?
It is conceivable that these 3 questions, framed by a Kenyan, may still come back to haunt Hillary Clinton as the contest for the Democratic Party ticket heats up.
In her book “Hard Choices,” Hillary Clinton notes the following about Kenya and her feelings about President Uhuru Kenyatta are apparent:
“Despite the good feelings in the hall, the mood outside was complex and uncertain. The paroxysm of violence that followed the controversial December 2007 elections led to an uneasy alliance between former opponents president Mwai Kibaki and Prime Minister Raila Amolo Odinga (a newly created position). Their government included a deputy prime minister, Uhuru Kenyatta, who would later be elected President himself DESPITE being indicted for the violence by the International Criminal Court.”
On the Republican Side, Ben Carson, in an interview with the Hugh Hewitt radio last year, posited that his ancestors are from the Kenya, Tanzania region…
Ted Cruz, during the Republican Town Hall debate in South Carolina, when asked what experience his wife would bring to the office of first lady, the Texas Senator looked up to her wife’s experience as a missionary in Kenya, as one important component that made her all-rounded.
It is game-time in America. And one factor that is influencing some of the stands taken by a few candidates, is the Kenyan connection!