terça-feira, 10 de junho de 2008

Response to "African Myths and Obama Mania"

It’s worthwhile reading Dreams from My Father, and not only because it is a very well-written and engrossing book in which Obama tells the long, complex story of his Kenyan family, including how his father was abandoned by his biological mother and raised by Grandma Sarah.

Although it is an admittedly “novelized” autobiography - to maintain its focus - none of the facts mentioned below (his father's bitterness, drinking and wifebeating) are glossed over. But Obama also writes that his father might have achieved greatness if Jomo Kenyatta hadn’t decided to break him simply because he said tribal strife was holding Kenya back (and happened to be a Luo).

So far, there are no myths to be busted - except perhaps for those which the media and his opponents are laboriously and studiously creating.

Seriously, folks, the press has already pored over the book in search of lies and misrepresentations. All they've found have been literary devices. If there were any "smoking guns" they would have been smoked out a long time ago!

Here is the original blog entry to which I am responding:


African Myths and Obama Mania

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.

Mama SarahWith 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.

See my response/refutation at the beginning of this entry

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