Sunday, October 12, 2008
HYMAN: Obama's Kenya ghosts
About 50 parishioners were locked into the Assemblies of God church before it was set ablaze. They were mostly women and children. Those who tried to flee were hacked to death by machete-wielding members of a mob numbering 2,000.
The 2008 New Year Day atrocity in the Kenyan village Eldoret, about 185 miles northwest of Nairobi, had all the markings of the Rwanda genocide of a decade earlier.
By mid-February 2008, more than 1,500 Kenyans were killed. Many were slain by machete-armed attackers. More than 500,000 were displaced by the religious strife. Villages lay in ruin. Many of the atrocities were perpetrated by Muslims against Christians.
The violence was led by supporters of Raila Odinga, the opposition leader who lost the Dec. 27, 2007, presidential election by more than 230,000 votes. Odinga supporters began the genocide hours after the final election results were announced Dec. 30. Mr. Odinga was a member of Parliament representing an area in western Kenya, heavily populated by the Luo tribe, and the birthplace of Barack Obama's father.
Mr. Odinga had the backing of Kenya's Muslim community heading into the election. For months he denied any ties to Muslim leaders, but fell silent when Sheik Abdullahi Abdi, chairman of the National Muslim Leaders Forum, appeared on Kenya television displaying a memorandum of understanding signed on Aug. 29, 2007, by Mr. Odinga and the Muslim leader. Mr. Odinga then denied his denials.
The details of the MOU were shocking. In return for Muslim backing, Mr. Odinga promised to impose a number of measures favored by Muslims if he were elected president. Among these were recognition of "Islam as the only true religion," Islamic leaders would have an "oversight role to monitor activities of ALL other religions [emphasis in original]," installation of Shariah courts in every jurisdiction, a ban on Christian preaching, replacement of the police commissioner who "allowed himself to be used by heathens and Zionists," adoption of a women's dress code, and bans on alcohol and pork.
This was not Mr. Odinga's first brush with notoriety. Like his father, Jaramogi Oginga Odinga, the main opposition leader in the 1960s and 1970s, Raila Odinga is a Marxist He graduated from East Germany's Magdeburg University in 1970 on a scholarship provided by the East German government. He named his oldest son after Fidel Castro.
Raila Odinga was implicated in the bloody coup attempt in 1982 against then-President Daniel Arap Moi, a close ally of the United States. Kenya has been one of the most stable democracies in Africa since the 1960s. The ethnic cleansing earlier this year was the worst violence in Kenya since that 1982 coup attempt.
Mr. Odinga spent eight years in prison. At the time, he denied guilt but later detailed he was a coup leader in his 2006 biography. Statue of limitations precluded further prosecution when the biography appeared.
Initially, Mr. Odinga was not the favored opposition candidate to stand in the 2007 election against President Mwai Kibaki, who was seeking his second term. However, he received a tremendous boost when Sen. Barack Obama arrived in Kenya in August 2006 to campaign on his behalf. Mr. Obama denies that supporting Mr. Odinga was the intention of his trip, but his actions and local media reports tell otherwise.
Mr. Odinga and Mr. Obama were nearly inseparable throughout Mr. Obama's six-day stay. The two traveled together throughout Kenya and Mr. Obama spoke on behalf of Mr. Odinga at numerous rallies. In contrast, Mr. Obama had only criticism for Kibaki. He lashed out against the Kenyan government shortly after meeting with the president on Aug. 25. "The [Kenyan] people have to suffer over corruption perpetrated by government officials," Mr. Obama announced.
"Kenyans are now yearning for change," he declared. The intent of Mr. Obama's remarks and actions was transparent to Kenyans - he was firmly behind Mr. Odinga.
Mr. Odinga and Mr. Obama had met several times before the 2006 trip. Reports indicate Mr. Odinga visited Mr. Obama during trips to the U.S. in 2004, 2005 and 2006. Mr. Obama sent his foreign policy adviser Mark Lippert to Kenya in early 2006 to coordinate his summer visit. Mr. Obama's August trip coincided with strategizing by Orange Democratic Movement leaders to defeat Mr. Kibaki in the upcoming elections. Mr. Odinga represented the ODM ticket in the presidential race.
Mr. Odinga and Mr. Obama's father were both from the Luo community, the second-largest tribe in Kenya, but their ties run much deeper. Mr. Odinga told a stunned BBC Radio interviewer the reason why he and Mr. Obama were staying in near daily telephone contact was because they were cousins. In a Jan. 8, 2008, interview, Mr. Odinga said Mr. Obama had called him twice the day before while campaigning in the New Hampshire primary before adding, "Barack Obama's father is my maternal uncle."
President Kibaki requested a meeting of all opposition leaders in early January in an effort to quell the violence. All agreed to attend except Mr. Odinga. A month later, Mr. Kibaki offered Mr. Odinga the role of prime minister, the de facto No. 2 in the Kenyan government, in return for an end to the attacks. Mr. Odinga was sworn in on April 17, 2008.
Mr. Obama's judgment is seriously called into question when he backs an official with troubling ties to Muslim extremists and whose supporters practice ethnic cleansing and genocide. It was Islamic extremists in Kenya who bombed the U.S. Embassy in 1998, killing more than 200 and injuring thousands. None of this has dissuaded Mr. Obama from maintaining disturbing loyalties.
Mark Hyman is an award-winning news commentator for Sinclair Broadcast Group Inc.