“Obama’s historic visit must sow the seeds of hope and aspiration in a land where politicians have fed citizens the rotten meat of corruption and the stale bread of ethnic bigotry. We must love and believe in this country again”. This is what I wrote in this column last week. And Obama delivered.
In his speech at Kasarani President Obama explained that corruption costs Kenyans about 250,000 jobs every year. He argued that politics of ethnicity is a failure of imagination. Obama made the youth believe again when he said that there is no barrier to what they can achieve and that they can build their future right here right now. And quoting Robert Kennedy he said, “It is a revolutionary world we live in and young people must lead”.
Obama, echoing President Kenyatta lauded the breathtaking progress that we have made in just one decade. Kenya, like other African countries Kenya is on the move. We have moved people out of poverty. Our GDP has surged. The income gap between countries like South Korea and us is closing. We enacted a new constitution, which demands more accountability from public servants and disdains a passive citizenry.
But challenges remain. The making of the Kenyan nation is still work in progress. Like I have warned in this column before, Obama cautioned that new laws could constrict the space for civil society, curtailing its capacity to partner with government in the noble but complex task of building a strong, inclusive and prosperous society. New laws could limit the capacity of civil society to hold citizens and the government accountable. New laws could preclude civil society from building social assets to counter radicalization, undermining effort to fight terrorism.
Obama like Kenyatta understands that fighting corruption must take more than strong laws, a long list and prosecution. Ending corruption will demand more from ordinary citizens and politicians. All of us must stop believing that to be corrupt is a legitimate badge of honor. We must rise up and say enough is enough. Citizens and politicians must say no to the bad habit and culture of corruption. But we must remind President Kenyatta that it will take rare resolve and courage to succeed where Mzee Kenyatta and two previous presidents failed.
President Obama spoke in uplifting terms, celebrating the achievements of Kenyan youth. He said Kenya’s future is hopeful because Richard Ruto Todosia founded Yes Youth Can, which stood up against ethnic incitement and helped bank the fires of ethnic hared in 2007. Kenya is poised for greatness because Josephine Kulea’s Samburu Girls Foundation has helped rescue thousands of girls from early marriage and repressive cultural practices. Kenya will continue to soar because technology entrepreneurs like Jamila Abbas are revolutionizing agriculture and putting money in the pockets of tens of thousands of smallholder farmers.
Thanks to President Obama, hundreds of millions of Africa’s marginalized women and girls have a friend. The girl who is passed over for school and inheritance has a powerful champion in Obama. The millions of young and ambitious girls who must get married to men they don't love because it is tradition have found an advocate in Obama. The millions of Kenyan women who want their constitutional right to hold at least one third of elected seats honored have an attorney who believes women can and must take their rightful place in political leadership. This right is constitutional and non-negotiable.
Obama has given voice to millions of decent Kenyans like Binyavanga Wainanina who feel the weight of executive discrimination because of who they choose to love. It is not right to imagine that important priorities like water and sanitation, maternal and child health and good roads would subjugate or overturn personal liberties, and justify discrimination. There is no legitimate or right form of discrimination.
The millions of youth who lack in self esteem because they have been told they are not from the right tribe or their last name is not politically correct now have a chance to dream big and aspire to be their very best because Obama calls on them to believe they can. Kenyan youth must fight for a country where they succeed on merit and not on account of their last name.
In the spirit of Harambee, we are in this together and it would be stupid to play with only half of team Kenya.