He is supposed to be Kenya’s great hope. The man who could turn this country around, restoring peace and democracy. A role model for all aspiring politicians. But as Barack Obama’s run for the Democratic nomination heads towards its most crucial phase, there has been barely a mention of his campaign in the Kenyan papers. Well, there’s been a bit… but nothing like the Obama mania that has accompanied his every previous step up the political ladder.
The reason is pretty obvious. Kenyans have a political crisis that is consuming most of their energy for the time being.
But that wasn’t enough to stop dozens of reporters and photographers from the international media trooping up to the Obama family farmstead a couple of weeks ago for Super Tuesday. In fact things there became so busy that Said Obama had to start taking bookings so that Granny Obama didn’t become exhausted.
With her neat turn of phrase and broad smile, the 86-year-old has become something of a media darling. Just one problem. Sarah Hussein Obama is not Barack Obama’s grandmother. Step-grandmother or half-granny or adoptive gran, yes. But she’s not actually a blood relation. But why let that get in the way of a good story?
It’s just one of a number of myths that have grown up around Obama’s roots (and I use “grown up” slightly euphemistically). He’s not the son of a goatherd. He’s the son of a Harvard-educated economist who rose to prominence after independence, but ended up drunk, penniless and bitter. Friends saw Barack Obama Sr beat his third wife and warned him not to drive while drunk. It was a car accident that killed him.
Does any of this matter? Well, it would be nice if presidential candidates chose not to gloss over awkward personal histories. If Obama’s book, Dreams from my Father, is supposed to be about how the shadow of his absent father shaped a large part of his life then it would have been nice to have had the truth. But then again, how many people write memoirs without judicious use of selective memory?
So I guess my beef is as much with journalists who seem to think that African stories don’t merit the same sort of attention to detail as stories elsewhere. So she’s not his real grandmother. And Obama Sr was a goatherd only when he was a kid – much as you and I were paperboys or whatever. Well, it’s Africa. No-one will ever know, seems to be the refrain. And I just wonder whether Barack Obama isn’t guilty of the same thing.