Barack Obama went back home the other day. That was at least the message of the Kenyan press when the junior senator from Illinois
visited the land of his father. Obama was on an African tour (with his wife and children)
, visiting Kenya and South Africa (among other places), and urging an end to corruption
(something no African leaders like to hear), democratic accountability, and environmental protection.
In Kenya he planted a tree
with Wangari Maathai
in Uhuru Park in downtown Nairobi and visited his father's people
(the Luos) in Kisimu. Although Obama explicitly said that Kenya had suffered from too much tribal politics, the Luos welcomed him as one of their own
. A Kenyan commentator compared Obama with the charismatic Luo
trades union leader Tom Mboya
, widely tipped for leadership in post-independence Kenya, whose assassination in 1969 presaged the slide into corruption and despotism that marked Kenya during the declining years of Jomo Kenyatta
and the rule of Daniel arap Moi
. The commentator ruefully noted that if Obama had
indeed been Kenyan, he would probably be dead by now as well. That's what Kenyans did to their most promising leaders
Of course, home for someone like Obama is moot. He was born of a Kenyan father and a Kansan mother. He grew up in Hawaii, and then in Indonesia, after his mother married again. Ironically, because he grew up in so many different places, he seems at home everywhere, and it is precisely because he is a child of several continents that he is particularly American.
What also joins Kenya and America is that this country, too, kills the brightest of its youthful leaders, and 1969 capped a bloody decade in America as well as Kenya. Obama's trip to Africa was a triumph, and presages well. Let's keep our fingers crossed that he lives to see the tree he planted with Wangari Maathai grow to maturity, and that the next time he comes back to see it, he does so as head of state.