musings on travel, international living, development aid, politics, turkey (the country more than the meat) and anything else that comes to mind...

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Obama Ruined Kenya

Those were the exact words of our increasingly belligerent cab driver on the Kenyan coast last weekend; probably the most ridiculous of what was an hour-long ride full of ridiculous comments that has inspired me not just to discuss the idiocy of said driver, but also the very real (and unrealistic) expectations the world has for Barack Obama.

In other (somewhat related) news... last weekend was, in one word, amazing! A beautiful house on the beach with 14 of my closest current and past Juba friends playing ultimate frisbee against other teams from East Africa. And to top it all off, the upstart "Juba Oil Barrens" (pun intended) got second place in the FEAST tournament!

Alas, the wonderful weekend had to end and it was on the ride back to the Mombasa airport from our small slice of heaven in Tiwi that we met Mike the Driver.

Mike started off by arriving 30 minutes late to pick us up. Par for the course I guess. He asked where we were from and, in our not-fully-awake-and-possibly-still-a-bit-under-the-influence state we told him generally that we were from the US (only half true for me but at the time I wasn't concerned about details). Big mistake.

After laughing and saying that he liked America, Mike started on an anti-Obama rant that was as confusing as it was ridiculous, littered with statements like "we have 100 students per classroom and Obama hasn't done anything to help" and "there are no health centers outside Nairobi and it's Obama's fault" and "look how bad this road is - what has Obama done to fix it?" and (my favorite) "Obama ruined Kenya"!

Don't blame Obama for your problems was all I could muster with thinly veiled disgust in response to the last one as we finally neared the airport. I'd kept my cool for nearly the entire hour and I was nearing my breaking point.

But Mike's ridiculousness does bring up at least a couple points.

Firstly, as a wise woman pointed out to me afterwards, Kenyan culture greatly values service to your community and honor to your forefathers. Obama's father was Kenyan, therefore Obama himself is Kenyan and thus has an obligation to serve his community. He is Kenya's father now, despite the fact that he is, oh by the way, President of the (decidedly not Kenyan) United States of America. The fact that he hasn't talked much at all about Kenya (much less traveled there) is not understood by people like Mike as something that is politically sensitive in the US (I didn't even dare bring up our own birthers lest I start some sort of international crazy person convention). To Mike, these American political nuances are nothing more than Obama ignoring his roots and not taking care of his community. Unacceptable.

Secondly, the whole world (including those who voted for him in 2008) had exceedingly high expectations for an Obama presidency. To his discredit, the man did nothing to downplay them during the campaign, essentially setting himself up for failure at some level.

Back when the readership of this blog was approximately one person (to be fair it hasn't come all that far since then...), I endorsed Barack Obama, also expressing some concern:
I worry that he will be unable to overcome Washington, DC, a tough city full of vindictive and power-hungry people, waiting for the opportunity to smile to your face then stab you in the back. I doubt it's much different in other capital cities of the world; the center of politics is also undoubtedly the center of malpractice. Those with power often fear losing it more than using it effectively to make everything around them better. Such is my fear for Obama. He is so fresh, so inspiring, so un-jaded by it all... I hope he never looses that honest look and the ability to to rally those around him much like another young president did at the height of the Cold War.
Well, four years and health care, slow economic recovery, tea party, etc. later, Obama has had trouble living up to the lofty goals everyone (including him) set for his presidency. At some level this is not surprising. No one could have lived up to that kind of hype. But it's undeniable that he himself is a divisive figure, whether by his own fault or not (I won't go there... yet). The grand Obama experiment where everyone comes together from all backgrounds, political persuasions, etc. and sings a 1930s African-American spiritual together while holding hands... well... let's just say we're not there.

(Speaking of crazy people...) Now that Santorum has finally decided to wake up and smell the coffee, the pressure is finally back on Obama. It's up to him to prove to voters that the dream is still alive and that progress is still possible. Should he win, he's likely to face an increasingly polarized Congress in his next fours years, so Barry, don't rely on the opposition to throw you any bones. He has to prove to us that, despite the animosity, something can be accomplished. This will be a delicate exercise in managing expectations while still garnering excitement for the future. No easy task in today's America.

As Mike was dropping us off he wisely backed off the rhetoric and asked if we'd be back in Mombasa anytime soon...?

Unfortunately, that's not likely Mike.

"Well, if you do you can just ask for Mike at the airport and I'll give you a ride" says the worst cab driver in history.

Hmm. We'll go ahead and add that to the list of things that won't be happening. Ever.