Acknowledging his African roots with pride
Tons of praises have been deservedly heaped on him. Countless number of pieces have been published and broadcast on the historic ascendency of Barack Obama, who is now the inaugurated first-elected African American President of the United States. Many praise his rhetorical eloquence and the fact that he's brilliant and a law graduate of the prestigious Harvard University.
Indeed Barack Obama, America's 44th President, has broken what seemed an impossible goal to reach, and made history that no other black American politician before him had made, thus deserving all the honour and praises he has been getting.
But wait a moment, Obama has reached thus far in this writer's profound believe not only because of the factors listed above, but because of his humble cknowledgement and appreciation of the roots from whence he come.
Let's face it, Obama, as with offsprings in many families, was one from a union of two diverse races, cultures, traditions, religions and economic standards. One end of that union—his father's black Kenyan East African roots---was for many years considered the less sophisticated or inferior race/culture in the US or the West to put it bluntly.
Given the fact that his mother and father had to part at some stage in their relationship and his dad later died in his native Kenya, that would have been a firm basis for a disconnect. But no, Barack Jr's cultivation of the realism in knowing who he is and what he is, has kept him en-tuned with the fact that no one can change the fact of history.
It's a reminder to us here in Africa and our black brothers and sisters in America, that Obama deserves the greatest honour, not only because of his great intelligence, his Harvard education, or his wealth; but because of his humble recognition of the fact that he has a native Kenyan African root, in addition to the fact that he had a root in his beloveth mother and grandmother's white American root.
Obama is a true hero because he publically acknowledges his history or roots. He's a hero because he has the common sense (that not all book-educated intellectuals have), that you can change the course of where you are and the future, but you can't change the fact of history. Simply put, it is a stark reality.
How many of us despise our root and heritage, despise our parents only because we see them as impoverished, illiterate and less sophisticated? How many of us badmouth our countries and the black African continent only because we find ourselves holders of the coveted American Green Card or holders of all the academic degrees. Though Obama wasn't born on the continent, his public acknowledgement of his African native root should make some African-born emigrants and many of our full-fledged black American brothers and sisters ashamed of themselves.
Even as he delivered his inaugural address at the Capital in Washington, Obama reflected on his roots and spoke of the great future ahead, as he entered the White House:
“And so to all other peoples and governments who are watching today, from the grandest capitals to the small village where my father was born: Know that America is a friend of each nation and every man, woman and child who seek a future of peace and dignity, and that we are ready to lead once more.”
Countless numbers of Africans have today lost touch with their roots—physically, mentally, emotionally, financially, socially. Thousands of them have been away from their native homeland for decades without either to pay a visit even once, invest in the productive sector to provide employment or even speak well about some of the many good things on this potentially rich continent. And for some, even a phone call is a novelty.
Going through Obama's eye-feasting book, Dreams from my Father, following his activities as US Senator, his Democratic Primary and elections sojourn and his historic January 20, 2009 inauguration, any true African is left with no other conclusion but to say he deserves the greatest honour for publically honouring his African ancestry. Many black Americans unfortunately crave to trace their root in Africa, while there are millions of others before Obama rose to the occasion, were indifferent about proudly and publically acknowledging their African root.
I had an interesting experience to sit in a number of conversations with black Americans and hold one-on-one chats with them during my one year study stay in the US prior to 911and after September 11 (2001-2002), when I saw this first hand. Some of them were so cynical about the place called Africa and many of them thought Africa was a single country. Many mistook Libya in North Africa for my native Liberia in West Africa. What really beat my imagination was that many of the blacks did not know Liberia, Africa's first republic to declare itself independent in 1847 by freed black slaves returning from America. Someone remarked then, “it's a case of lost identity.”
His Dreams from my Father book is just one clear example of the pride he takes in acknowledging and appreciating his African root, as well as the emotional connect. And that emotional connect is what I think the continent stands to benefit from most, now that Barack Obama, this brand of African American politician, has taken seat in that hugely powerful Oval Office in the White House in Washington. There is a man in the world's most powerful political office with a soft spot in his heart for Africa.
This is what Joseph Odindo, Editor of Kenya's Daily Nation newspaper said in a phone interview I had with him for my West Africa radio news show on the day of Obama's inauguration:
“People have realized that, really for the greatest value Obama's achievement is inspiring a whole race, inspiring a whole people. That is the greatest benefit. Really the whole point is, you can do it. Yes you can. I don't think it's any expectation of material benefits…I think if there is every reason to hope that if ever there was a dire situation in Africa, he would be more sympathetic than other leaders have been in the past.”
Obama's emotional connect, public acknowledgement and recognition of his Kenya/African heritage are indeed reasons why Africans here and across the world massively celebrated both when he swept the polls and when he was inaugurated. The fact that he kept in touch with his Grandmother and other relatives throughout his sojourn in living the American dream is a clear testimony to the pride he has for his African, and then African-American identity. There were three concrete scenarios that have moved me over time about the Obama story, inspiring me to pen this piece.
His pilgrimage to Kenya while serving as US Senator few years ago sent a strong message that 'I'm proud of who I am, what I am, where I am and where I come from.'
Secondly the great symbolism, as Obama's Grandmother in Kisumu danced and rejoiced with his big photograph in her living room during his election victory in November. One could see that she was genuinely proud of a grandson, whom she had emotional attachment to, thus the spontaneous over-pouring of jubilation. One thing I know about our African elders, they may be impoverished but they are proud people, who know when someone cares. Then a moving interview I listened to with Obama's Aunt in Kenya on the day the Presidential election results were announced, when she told the BBC Network Africa that their grandson, brother and nephew—President-elect Barack Obama had phoned the family in Kenya and chatted for several minutes after winning the election.
That meant he cared, at such a crucial moment when the whole world wanted the attention of one man. When I watched the Kenya Boys Choir performing on CNN during Obama's inauguration, I was filled with emotion when I heard it was the only international group invited to perform at that historic occasion. Yes, another manifestation of the Kenya/Africa-Obama emotional connect. And I'm sure the splendid performance and the excellent choreography of the boys choir all made President Barack Huessin Obama, Jr. even more proud of his African roots.
Finally, what lessons can Africa, America and the world learn from these exceptional qualities of a man who is so relaxed in celebrating multiracialism and multilateralism in our world, when people tried to play the racial card—whether Obama was black enough or more white than black—he simply said he considered himself mutt. The fact that he was able to defeat the racist argument and reach out to a huge number of voters on all sides of the aisles has strengthened the multiracialism argument. The ice is broken, although it has not yet melted to create a sea of full racial equality and harmony, but things will never be the same again.
Africa must learn from the Obama experience that the days of playing the ethnic/sectional cards in politics from Kenya to Nigeria and Chad are over. Kenyans and Nigerians must judge candidates based on what Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said “the content of their character” not because they are Luos or Kikuyus or Yorubas or Hausas, for example.
May Obama's mighty surge to the American White House shamed the devil of racism and ethnicity with volcanic reverberations, thus killing the ethnicity cancer eating away the fabric of African politics.
By Frank Sainworla, Jr. (Liberian Journalist) [E-mail: [email protected] ]
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