Here are a few international stories that have caught my eye over the last few days. The first one gives a detailed background on Obama’s roots, including some of the reputed personality traits of the Luo’s that are evident in Obama. If you think that Bush was in Obama’s camp before the election, the second story may give you even more things to think about. Obama will be taking credit for a lot of the groundwork laid by Bush. The final story discusses some developments that might affect the future of Iraq that the reader might be unaware of.
From The East African, Kenya:
By DAVID KAIZA
Obama’s name is unavoidable anywhere, but when pronounced at Mpaaro, thereis an added urgency to its sound…
It is not altogether fanciful to say that, some 628 years ago, a time barely thought of now, the seeds of Obama’s ascendancy to the world stage were sown here.
Dates and facts are hard to pin down, details are much disputed. But it was here that a Luo man, perhaps one of Obama ancestors, changed for good the world of his time.
The scale was smaller, distances were not so great, but the assumption of power, in the year 1380, over the lands that now comprise Uganda by one Rukidi Isingoma-Mpuga Labongo, son of Olum, leader of the migrating Luo who entered Uganda from Sudan towards the last decades of the 14th century, set in motion cultural-political changes whose impact echoes in many of the conflicts still taking place in northern Uganda and the Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo.
For Andrea, as indeed for scholars and guardians of the traditions of Bunyoro-Kitara, the emergence of Obama was marked by a polish, drive and determination that had not been seen before in this part of the world.
“These were men of substance,” Andrea says of the Luo aristocracy that invaded and occupied Bunyoro. “They were very, very intelligent. They were generous. The people liked them.”
Historians speak of the “immense impact” that the Luo migration had on the societies they passed through.
Historian and Catholic priest, J.P. Crazzolara in his foundational study, The Lwoo (1950), writes hyperbolically, “They marched on and came upon people who trembled at their sudden appearance. The Lwoo were at sight the absolute arbiters of this population, who had no time left to think and try to repel such an unexpected mass of invaders.”
He describes them as an “irresistible, awful, marvellous people” that “spread (their) shadow” over the older areas of western and southern Uganda.
The displacement of former rulers and inhabitants by this “appearance” is said to be partly responsible for the ethnic pressures and traumas afflicting eastern Congo, for those who lost out in those years were never to regain their footing and continue to be landless, stateless peoples to this day.
Crazzolara’s heraldic language over-privileges Luo achievements, yet 2008, emerging as a hyperbolic year for Africans, is on a scale Obama’s Luo ancestors would never have dreamt of scaling on the plains of Sudan, Uganda and Kenya.
The year started on a bad, but well-publicised note. With the horribly botched Kenyan election, the word “Luo” started to circulate internationally.
Barrack Obama’s candidature would bring in the phrase “son of a Luo father.”
On a smaller scale, outside Kenya, President Yoweri Museveni, in the middle of a face-off with the kingdom of Buganda, sought to reduce the Kabaka’s standing by publicly stating that the latter was a Luo.
Much of the descriptions made of the Luo are stereotypes like those applied to any other ethnic group, but unlike other ethnic groups in the region, the Luo are spread across five countries, forming a continuous chain that runs 1,200km from Sudan to the southern shores of Lake Victoria.
Crozzolara’s contradictory label “awful and marvellous” points to a central Luo paradox: Their descendants’ occupation of Uganda’s thrones contrasts with the depths of their suffering in wars in northern Uganda, southern Sudan and southwestern Ethiopia. The pendulum of Luo history has swang dizzyingly from immense success to immense failure.
However, to traverse this 1,200km is to be overcome by the similarities in the physical, cultural and personal characteristics of the Dinka, Nuer, Anuak, Shilluk, Wau, Acholi, Lango, Alur, Padhola and Kenyan Luo.
The numerous elders along the trail keep track of their kith and kin.
It is an identity with real cohesive power that can break out in a visceral possessiveness on discovering each other.
It grips, whether felt at the entrance of a tomb in one country, or in victory jigs on the streets of Kisumu.
Spread across centuries and continents, similar descriptions are made of their leaders as “intelligent,” “socialist,” “generous,” “driven,” “aggressive…”
Indeed, putting aside for the moment the adjective-defying import of Obama’s achievement, the weird thing is that his oratorical skills, penchant for the extravagant and appeal to the crowd are right out of the standard caricature of a Luo politician.
Descriptions of Obama sound like a recycling of phrases used of men like the Odingas, Tom Mboya, Apollo Milton Obote, Kabalega and Labongo before him.
For East Africans, seeing Obama reduce crowds to tears is oddly reminiscent of Ugandan independence leader Obote, a man said to be devastating with a microphone.
Indeed, Obama, who rose to fame through his “mobilisation skills,” was himself literally the (accidental) product of the mobilisation skills of a man with whom he shares his ancestry, Tom Mboya. It was Mboya who sent Obama Sr to the US.
There are many barroom jokes in Nairobi now. The funnier one is that when McCain elected to deliver his nomination acceptance speech to a modest, indoor audience, and Obama went for a mammoth event, it was typical of the “outsized” egos of Luo politicians.
“When I see Obama, I see a typical Luo man,” says Kenyan anthropologist Othieno Aluoka.
From Inter Press Service News Agency, Italy
Analysis by Jim Lobe
WASHINGTON, Nov 10 (IPS) – While much of the world and many of his U.S. supporters are expecting a sharp break with his predecessor’s foreign policy after President-elect Barack Obama takes office Jan. 20, they may be surprised by the degree of continuity between the two administrations.
That continuity — which would be made more concrete if, as expected, Pentagon chief Robert Gates is asked to remain at his post — has less to do with Obama’s hesitation in following through on his more sweeping campaign promises than with the fact that President George W. Bush, has quietly — if grudgingly — moved key U.S. policies in directions that are largely compatible with Obama’s own intentions.
To be fair, however, that image — so richly earned during his first term when neo-conservatives and other hawks ruled the roost — is somewhat outdated. Chastened by the Iraq war and guided step by halting step by the foreign policy realists, notably Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Gates, and his top military commanders, who have come to dominate the last two years of his presidency, Bush has essentially — if not explicitly — laid the groundwork for Obama’s “new dawn”, especially with respect to key crisis areas that are certain to figure near the top of the new president’s agenda.
Despite loud protests and repeated efforts by hawks around Vice President Dick Cheney to deep-six the process, for example, Bush has stuck by Rice and her top Asia aide, Christopher Hill, in making the necessary concessions to keep the “Six-Party Talks” to de-nuclearise North Korea alive.
Similarly, Bush broke his own diplomatic embargo on Iran — along with Pyongyang, the last surviving member of the “Axis of Evil” — by sending a senior State Department official, Undersecretary of State William Burns, to sit down with his Iranian counterpart as part of a larger meeting including other permanent members of the U.N. Security Council and Germany last summer. Significantly, Burns will serve as the State Department’s chief liaison with Obama’s transition team.
The administration also appears close to announcing that it intends to set up an Interests Section in Tehran even before Obama takes office. Such a step will no doubt make it far less controversial for the new president to open comprehensive, high-level talks with Iran without conditions when he chooses to do so (possibly after Iran’s presidential elections in June so as to avoid boosting President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad chances of re-election).
And after effectively ignoring the Israeli-Palestinian conflict for nearly seven years, Bush finally re-launched peace talks at Annapolis last November. While those talks have made little progress and now, with Israeli elections scheduled for February, have no hope of reaching an accord by the time Bush leaves office, he will bequeath, as Rice, the effort’s most dogged booster, noted this weekend, a process that Obama can use to fulfill his promise to make a two-state solution an urgent priority.
Even on Iraq and Afghanistan, Bush has helped lay the groundwork for Obama’s plans to accelerate the withdrawal of combat troops from the former and rapidly deploying more to the latter, which the president-elect has long argued, unlike the incumbent, constitutes the “central front in the war on terror”. By acquiescing in a still-pending accord with the Iraqi government, Bush has also accepted a 2012 deadline for the withdrawal of all U.S. troops — not just its combat forces, which Obama has pledged to withdraw by mid-2010.
As for Russia, whose intervention in Georgia last August brought bilateral ties to their lowest ebb since the end of the Cold War, Bush, like Obama, has acted with relative restraint, particularly compared to the urgings of Obama’s Republican rival, Sen. John McCain.
And while his insistence on deploying missile-defence systems in central and eastern Europe is clearly more provocative than Obama’s cautious ambiguity on the subject, Bush has also moved in recent days both to address Moscow’s concerns and lay the basis for a new accord on sharply reducing U.S. and Russian nuclear arsenals, something that Obama is expected to make a high priority in the early days.
In other areas, Obama’s engagement strategy is likely to build on more positive achievements by Bush that have not received nearly as much attention as his “war-on-terror” debacles: most notably in East Asia, where, to the aggravation of the hawks, good ties with China have not only been preserved, but enhanced; India, where the new nuclear deal capped a rapidly growing strategic relationship; and much of Africa, where Bush’s five-year-old, 15-billion-dollar AIDS programme, strongly endorsed by Obama, is given credit not only for saving millions of lives, but also for making the region the most Bush-friendly by far, according to recent public opinion polls.
By Adam Morrow and Khaled Moussa al-Omrani
CAIRO, Nov 7 (IPS) – More than five years after the U.S.-led invasion and occupation of Iraq, Arab capitals are beginning to send ambassadors to Baghdad. But some Egyptian commentators question the timing of the move, which they attribute to pressure from Washington.
“Arab governments originally wanted a full withdrawal of foreign forces and a stable security environment before sending ambassadors,” Ahmed Thabet, political science professor at Cairo University, told IPS. “Yet the pending U.S.-Iraq security agreement promises to turn the current military occupation of Iraq into a constitutionally sanctioned one.”
Thabet (Ahmed Thabet, political science professor at Cairo University) went on to say that some Iraqis fear recent Arab diplomatic activity “could eventually lead to the replacement of foreign occupation troops with a pan-Arab peacekeeping force to police Iraq.”
Filed under: Current Politics Tagged: | Africa, AIDS, Barack Obama, China, Christopher Hill, Condoleezza Rice, Dick Cheney, George W. Bush, Georgia, Inter Press Service News Agency, Interests Section Tehran, Israeli-Palestinian conflict, John McCain, Luo tribe, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, North Korea, Robert Gates, Russia, The East African, William Burns