The imperfections of man
Chicago Tribune Editorial
Being Barack Obama means having to dampen expectations at every turn--here and everywhere he goes. Before he was even sworn in to the Senate he got questions about a presidential run in 2008. The question keeps coming up. He keeps denying he will run.
That's a burden most politicians would love to share. Obama doesn't chafe under it; he mostly carries it lightly and well. He is humble and self-deprecating but always aware of his star power.
On his sojourn to Africa this month, Obama is using that celebrity to the best possible advantage. Throughout the trip, he has dampened expectations about what he and the U.S. can do to help the continent. But it is in Kenya, the land of his father, that Obama's message of self-reliance has been most powerful.
In a country ravaged by HIV/AIDS, where the stigma still stings and many suffer in silence, Obama and his wife showed up at a tiny mobile clinic in Kisumu to be tested. The message could not have been clearer for Kenyans. Know the enemy and you can defeat the enemy. You can help yourselves.
Then, in a nationally televised speech in Nairobi, Obama pointed the finger for Kenya's failure to thrive at another disease plaguing the nation--corruption.
Insidious corruption, Obama told Kenyans, jeopardizes Kenya's hard-won independence and freedom. With eloquence that approached his soaring speech at the 2004 Democratic National Convention, Obama said that freedom is "being threatened by the imperfections of man, the allure of power over principle, the temptation to put selfish good over the public good."
Obama acknowledged that corruption is hardly restricted to Kenya. "My own city of Chicago has been home to some of the most corrupt local politics in American history, from patronage machine to questionable elections," he said.
But Kenya ranked 144 out of 158 nations in a recent Transparency International survey of official corruption. Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki was elected four years ago on a promise to root out the corruption that exploded during the 24-year reign of his predecessor, Daniel arap Moi. Now Kibaki's government faces its own corruption allegations.
Obama called the fight against corruption one of the "great struggles of our time."
"In the end," he said, "if the people cannot trust the government to do the job for which it exists--to protect them and to promote their common welfare--all else is lost." Then looking at the crowd before him, Obama said, "You will decide if your leaders will be held accountable, or if you will look the other way."
That's a powerful message for Kenya. It's one the senator could repeat when he comes home.