Kinyili: Kenya’s bittersweet model

The air was palpitating with exhilaration. Tears unashamedly ran down the faces of all those gathered. We hugged and hollered, cheered and cried, laughed and loved. The announcement of the first black president of the United States of America was a moment few believed would be seen in our lifetime. Americans all across the nation gathered to celebrate history. In the midst of all this celebration, the Kenyan government declared Thursday, Nov. 6, 2008 a public holiday to celebrate the victory of Kenya’s son.

It is hard to remain ecstatic after this announcement. The jubilation evident in Kenyans because of the victory of a man whose father was birthed in the same land is understandable. Yet it leaves me deeply troubled. Most Kenyans celebrating this victory will never get the chance to step on the ground that their Kenyan son will govern. Most of the Kenyans celebrating this victory will have very little in their immediate realities altered by this revelation. Yet they dance.

The distant relation to the president-elect of the United States was enough to bring business to a halt in the market along the shores of Lake Victoria to allow the locals a chance to “vote” for the president-elect, an election he won with a landslide majority. While these actions may seem absurd if not amusing to most of you, the actions of these Kenyans deeply sadden me.

The results of the 2002 elections in Kenya filled Kenyans with deep, abiding hope. We believed that the tyranny and torture evident in the reign of the former president were behind us, and our forecast promised progress and prosperity.

The results of the 2007 elections dashed every bit of hope that remained. Kenyans hacked each other to death. We raped our mothers and sisters, killed our children and destroyed our homes. Propelled by hate-filled propaganda, we turned into hired assassins for those who filled our august parliamentary offices. The physical and psychological harm we inflicted on each other was devastating. Yet the deepest wounds delivered are those that killed our hope. The crest of hope riding on the election results of 2002 was destroyed and we were left clutching the tattered remnants of a dream for a whole Kenya.

The memory of the violence at the beginning of the year is raw and unresolved. All attempts to find and prosecute the perpetrators of the violence are stalled by political gimmicks as the expected finger-pointing and deprecating name-calling begins. Victims of the violence who were chased from their homes remain homeless, existing on the mercy of benevolent family and neighbors. Nonetheless, the celebration began last week and continues across the nation highlights the resilience and strength of the Kenyan people.

My people have faced some of the greatest challenges of the human race — rising prevalence rates of HIV/AIDS and debilitating poverty and staggering illiteracy among them — yet each day presents a new chance to overcome. And without fail, we will overcome.

What Kenya lacks are leaders who understand the Kenyan vision, who can harness the Kenyan strength and who can lead us in heralding our triumphant future. In the absence of these leaders, we find ourselves turning to a man whose father was birthed on our soil. Young Kenyan children tell themselves that if a man who shares our birthplace can rise to the highest office in the land, then we too can work to raise our nation to the highest heights. We find the visionary leadership we lack in our own homegrown leaders in our Kenyan son, Barack Obama.

These words should shame our political leadership. The self-evident absence of a leader whose deepest love is for the nation and not for personal gain should break the proud sauntering of our august politicians. While some may have wondered if there was a fatal flaw in the Kenyan people that prevented our achievement of greatness, Obama’s triumph unequivocally silences them.

The victory of the son of Kenya provides hope and a model of visionary leadership. Yet if all the homegrown politicians insist on offering such mediocre leadership, then the hopes of the Kenyan people will never be realized.

The dancing on Kenyan streets because of our son’s victory is the cry for honorable leaders. We want to dance because, as a nation, we have overcome HIV/AIDS. We want to celebrate because, as a nation, we have conquered poverty. We want tears of joy to run unashamedly down our cheeks because every Kenyan has the opportunity to become who they want to be. We want to declare a public holiday in our nation because of the victory of Our nation. We want to hold each other as the hope of a nation is birthed in our hearts and in our sight.

Happy Kinyili is a 2007 graduate of Timothy Dwight College and second-year student at the Yale Divinity School.

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