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Obama: Can we all grow up, please?

Nov 16, 2008 Leadership, Sunday Nation

Last week we all flew high on the Barack Obama victory in the US presidential race. This week, we need to make a hard landing. For the nonsense that is being spouted from all corners about what this win means for Kenya is not only irritating, but is now giving cause to worry.

If some are to be believed, we should expect our home-boy Barack to fly in at the head of a convoy of helicopters any day now, scattering dollars and Green Cards wherever he goes. All of Siaya and most of Nyanza should prepare to be flown to Barack’s inauguration ceremony as honoured guests, at the expense of the US government. US visa requirements should now be waived for all those who share even the most tenuous lineage with clan Obama.

That stuff is merely the yearning of yokels. But more educated voices are also entering the fray, suggesting that there will a great ‘Obama bonus’ for the Kenyan economy. The thinking here is that Americans will now fly here in the thousands, if not millions, because they wish to see the origins of their brave new leader. So boom times are here again for the tourist industry.

American investors will suddenly see Kenya in a new light, and will want to plough money into the country that gave birth to the father of their new president. And, obviously, there will a warming up of relations between Washington and Nairobi, so we can expect plenty more by way of aid and assistance.

If I didn’t feel like crying, I would be laughing. But this is no joke: it reveals the beggar mindset that has plagued this nation for decades. It also confirms that we are still wallowing in the ‘Our Big Man’ theory: the idea that development is dependent on getting your personal emperor into leadership, after which he will turn on the taps of largesse and goodwill for you and yours. This theory has no empirical basis; it has no history of success; it doesn’t even make logical sense. Yet it is what we believe in these parts.

This was confirmed by our first reaction to the Obama win: holiday! Kenyans, it seemed, needed to rest (again) after the rigours of the US election. They needed to enjoy themselves (again) after recording such a huge achievement as a people. They needed to get drunk (again) in order to express themselves fully. The American people did not need a holiday to vote; they did not need one to celebrate the result; and they will not need one when Obama is inaugurated.

We have been holidaying for a long time. We were in the holiday mood when our own election campaign was rumbling ominously, this time last year. We took an extended holiday in order to vote, combined with Christmas and the New Year. We carried on holidaying when our country pressed the spontaneous combustion button in the wake of our own presidential election fiasco, when it became impossible to travel or report to work. In fact, we have probably lost more working days in the past twelve months than ever before. So what’s the best thing to do? Have another holiday, because of an event that took place thousands of miles away!

Are there any economic advisors left in government these days? Are there any accountants who can add up? The only people who rejoice when a holiday is declared (apart from schoolchildren) are those with formal jobs that they hate. They are happy because their holiday is paid for by their employers. But for diligent workers it is a needless disruption; and for all the millions of people in self-employment or informally engaged on a daily wage, an unplanned holiday is a disaster as it means a day’s lost income, which they can ill afford.

For employers, struggling to come to terms with an awful year and the prospect of a global recession washing up on our shores any time now, a holiday is the last thing they would have voted for. Another day’s lost production, another day’s revenues thrown away, while costs maintain their upward spiral.

Can we all grow up, please? The man whose success we are extolling would never have declared a holiday, not in his homeland and not here. That is not part of his make-up. Barack Obama stands for hard work, dedication to a cause, and dogged determination in the face of adversity. He has said repeatedly that Kenya’s future lies in its competitiveness as a nation, not in childish antics and silly posturing.

If it has escaped our notice, the man has a global recession and two wars to deal with. He is going to be focused on his job, the toughest in the world. His work has only just begun, and he didn’t waste even an hour in rolling up his sleeves. But here in Kenya, we think we will develop by hanging on to his shirt-tails like children. His entire message is lost on us.

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