Friday, October 31, 2008

Obama, Odinga And Politico

Politico has an article up on the "nastiest rumours" of the campaign. One of them is the Obama-Odinga story.

A third popular Obama "tip" has to do with Raila Odinga, the Kenyan prime minister and former opposition leader who claimed that Obama was a distant cousin. The reports surfaced after a political crisis in Kenya in which many international observers believed the vote was stolen from Odinga. As the international community rallied behind the opposition, Obama spoke to Odinga briefly on the telephone. The media has ignored stories about the relationship between the two men because there's no real evidence that one exists. But the story, which comes in many varieties, suggests that Obama campaigned for Odinga and funneled money to his campaign and that they're close allies. In a particularly resonant twist, the story also subjects Odinga to the same sort of rumor that afflicts Obama: that despite Odinga's professed Christian faith (the Kenyan prime minister is an Anglican), the two men are conspiring to institute Muslim law…in Kenya.

There's a minor problem with this conclusion- and that's that it is incorrect. Here's CBS on the Obama visit to Kenya, written in 2006.

There are signs of tension between Sen. Barack Obama and African leaders. On Monday, Obama stepped up his criticism of government corruption in Kenya.

But as CBS 2 Political Editor Mike Flannery reports, the government fired back, saying Obama is a stooge for an opposing political party.

At the University of Nairobi two hours later, the senator offered more pointed criticism, something he's done almost every day since arriving last week. After remaining largely silent, the government of President Mwai Kibaki is beginning to respond, suggesting that Obama may have fallen under the spell of opposition leader Raila Odinga.

A potential presidential candidate himself, Odinga's been at Obama's elbow here fairly often and is a member of the Obama family's Luo tribe.

"Sen. Obama has to look at critically about where he's receiving his advice from," said government spokesman Dr. Alfred Mutua. "Just because somebody, somewhere wants to run for president and is using Sen. Obama as his stooge, as his puppet to be able to get to where he wants to get to."

The article is, of course, accompanied by this photograph of Obama and Odinga appearing together-
Another report on the Obama visit notes-

Kibera loves Obama's outspoken anti-corruption crusade, as does most of Kenya. It's one reason he's getting a hero's welcome wherever he goes.

Another CBS report-

Barack Obama's forays into diplomacy have touched on Kenya, most recently on Monday when he spoke with Raila Odinga for about five minutes from New Hampshire, asking the opposition leader to meet directly with President Mwai Kibaki, said the U.S. politician's spokesman.

"He urged an end to violence and that Mr. Odinga sit down, without preconditions, with President Kibaki to resolve this issue peacefully," said the spokesman, Bill Burton.

On his last visit to Kenya, in August, Obama made a speech that was televised live in which he touched on themes not normally debated openly in Kenya, criticizing the high-level corruption and the tribal politics that have dominated the country since its 1963 independence from Britain. Both issues have played a role in the postelection violence.

As for the cousin point, it was Raila Odinga who made that claim to the BBC.

Finally there's the claim that Christian Odinga is conspiring with Muslims in Kenya, something Politico seems to dismiss out of hand. This is, of course, perfectly true. Odinga signed an agreement with Sheik Abdullahi Abdi, the leader of a Kenyan Muslim group. In return for his support, Odinga would institute policy changes favourable to Muslims in Kenya. The dispute which arises is not about the agreement between the two men but about the exact details of it. A document was published in Kenya speaking of installing Sharia law in Muslim-dominated areas of the country for example. Another document was later released after considerable pressure from the public. The demands in this document were not quite so extreme but its validity has been called into question.

A quick aside- the post-election violence committed by Odinga supporters targeted an awful lot of Christians and churches. No mosques were damaged. Also, Muslims in Kenya were also pushing for Sharia law back in 2005 too.

You can watch a TV report about the agreement- freely admitted to by Ahbdi. Note that Abdi's primary concern is the topic of rendition.

Finally we have the Washington Times report on the story. In it they note Obama's campaigning for Odinga (covered in local media) and also some interesting background on Odinga himself-

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.

Obama having close links with another Marxist? I guess that must be another of those distractions we keep hearing about- and not more evidence of a pattern of behaviour on Obama's part.

Now, can someone please explain to me how this story ended up in Politico's "worst rumours" section?

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