Read between the lines of President Obama’s message to Kenyans.

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Kenyans are pleasantly surprised that their most celebrated kinsman the President of the United
States Barack Obama finally broke the silence on his take on the coming elections in Kenya. In a
carefully worded two and half minute Youtube address, the President outlined that the US does
not endorse any candidates and respects the will of the people of Kenya in choosing their leaders
during the coming polls on March 4th. In his characteristic diplomatic yet subtle forceful style he
reiterated the United States Government’s commitment to fostering a strong alliance with Kenya
and called on Kenyans to be peaceful and cognizant of the rule of law during the elections.
Superficially, the message seemed obvious, direct and to the point.

Like everyone else I was initially elated but unlike most and having worked within his
presidential campaign I know to read between the lines of every word this master politician
and skillful diplomat says. The genius of President Obama is his ability to communicate his
vision, thoughts and intentions without sounding threatening. He is also a leader who is acutely
aware of the power and timing of his words and presence. On this occasion I questioned whether
his motive was to exhort Kenyans, whether he was using the bully pulpit to put questionable
presidential candidates on notice or whether he was using his foreign policy philosophy of “soft
power” to stave off a potentially volatile election reminiscent of the bungled 2007 election.
Perhaps, he was going on record to counter the common misconception that he has a bias for
Prime Minister Raila Odinga’s CORD alliance because of their common ethnic background.
What folks seemed to have missed is that the message was loaded with conditional political
promises and overtures that isolated a particular candidature without giving any endorsements
and conversely without making any veiled threats. The saying goes that an accused is innocent
until proven otherwise hence one cannot make judgments. The saying also goes that the guilty
are afraid hence one can only make the observation that those the message may have been
directed to quickly responded. In a hastily convened press conference shortly after the video
message was released, the Jubilee Alliance presidential candidates gave a rejoinder to President
Obama’s message thanking him for reiterating his neutrality. As though they had the authority to
question it all along.

Now the million dollar question is whether Deputy Prime Minister Uhuru Kenyatta and
Honorable William Ruto were responding out of trepidation of being put on notice as unfit
leaders given their ICC woes or out of overconfidence of a decisive election victory because of
what political pundit Mutahi Ngunyi called the “Tyranny of Numbers”? Was President Obama
speaking as a big brother intent on saving Kenyans from themselves and protecting them from
the Hague bound duo who have successfully tied their personal criminal fate to the destiny of
Kenya or in concession to an obvious triumph by the Jubilee Alliance in which case the world
will be forced to deal with the intrigue of an Uhuru/Ruto presidency? Your guess is as good as
mine but the President of the United States does not take two and half minutes out of the worlds

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pressing problems exactly a month to the election unless it is a priority. Kenya’s fate lies in the
answer to this question and while it is still a mystery, the answer will be determined at the ballot
box this Election Day.

The message that was resoundingly clear in President Obama’s White House address to the
people of Kenya was that we must conduct these coming elections peacefully and with civility.
Disputes in such a contentious elections are inevitable but how we resolve them will determine
whether we have learnt from the lessons of our past and who we will be into posterity. There
is a broad recognition that this being the first election under a new constitutional dispensation
is crucial. Evidently, March 4th and will be possibly one of the most important days for Kenya.
It will either go in history as a day when we rose to the occasion and embarked on a new era
of prosperity, the rule of law and ethnic tolerance or a day when we squandered our future. On
Election Day as President Obama succinctly put it, vote not just as a member of a tribe, but as a
citizen of great and proud nation.

(Biographical sketch: Nathan Wangusi is a former Organizer on the Obama campaign and a
PhD Candidate at the University of Florida in Gainesville, Florida who comments on topical
issues.)

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