Sunday, November 28, 2010


Columnist Makau Mutua in his column, Abdikadir could do an Obama in Kenya .....

They say history is made by those who dare to dream. But, as William Shakespeare wrote in the Twelfth Night, “some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them”. Only one of those truisms applies to Mandera Central MP Abdikadir Hussein Mohamed. He was not born with a silver spoon in his mouth. Nor will he be served greatness on a silver platter. But my crystal ball tells me that the unlikely hero of the new Constitution is on the cusp of greatness.

There’s only one question – will Abdikadir seek the keys to the State House? If he does, I would advise opponents to watch out for a likely political tsunami. Abdikadir reminds me of a particular “skinny kid” with a funny name from Chicago. That “kid” was Senator Barack Hussein Obama. Perhaps it’s an accident that Abdikadir shares the same middle name with Mr Obama.Perhaps it’s not. But let’s set the record straight. Most people thought that Senator Obama had a snowball’s chance in hell of being elected American president.

However, he had the “audacity of hope”. Abdikadir may look like the “longest shot” for the State House today. But the country yearns for a new generation of leaders. That’s why I think Abdikadir could “pull an Obama” and shock people in 2012. Don’t ask me where I get these ideas. Only those who are intellectually challenged sit in the same spot. Year in and year out, Kenyans whine and moan about poor leadership. But they elect the same people every time. It’s time to think not only out of the box, but against it. I remember when it was “treason” to imagine the death of the president. Imagine that! Do you remember how long it took us to get a new Constitution? The idea was simply unthinkable in 1980. But hope springs eternal. You’ve got to imagine something before you can do it. You’ve got to play to win. Let’s not be prisoners of our own thoughts.

Why Abdikadir, you might ask? First, leaders are made, not born. Abdikadir has demonstrated that he’s special. He burst on the national political scene as the chair of the PSC, the body that forged the political consensus for the new Constitution. He worked hand in glove with chairman Nzamba Kitonga and the Committee of Experts to deliver a document for the ages. The two men expertly steered the process through political rapids and turbulent winds that would have shipwrecked ordinary mortals. When history is written, Abdikadir and Kitonga will be lauded for their wisdom. Cool under fire, they refused the bait of the charlatans. Abdikadir kept his eyes on the prize.

Remote village
Consider Abdikadir’s background, and you will know why most Kenyans would see themselves in him. Born in a remote village in the country’s northern frontier, he had no hope of one day leading Kenya. But, because of his smarts, he was admitted to the vaunted Alliance High School and then University of Nairobi. He received an advanced degree in law from Harvard Law School, where he walked the same halls that Mr Obama had graced. Not bad for a “kid” from one of the remotest places on earth. In 2007, he ran for Parliament on a Safina ticket and felled veteran legislator Billow Kerrow.

Abdikadir will chair the powerful parliamentary committee to oversee the implementation of the constitution. He is at the head of a class of youthful professionals from northern Kenya – or of Somali descent – that have brought a breath of fresh air to our national discourse. Fastidious to a fault, these young men and women are writing a new history for our country. Apart from Abdikadir, two others are standouts. 

The “elder” of the group is fellow Sunday Nation columnist Ahmednasir Abdullahi, also the publisher of the Nairobi Law Monthly. Mr Abdullahi speaks “truth to power” and his exploits in the annals of the struggle for reform are legion.

The other is Issak Hassan, the chairman of the Interim Independent Electoral Commission. Mr Hassan has shown the country how to run democratic elections.  My point is that we should expand our horizons and look for national leadership beyond the “usual” places. I know some will ask whether a Kenyan of Somali descent is electable given the ethnic dynamics – and prejudices – of our country. I do not deny this is an issue in the real world. But my answer is simple – get over it. Any qualified Kenyan is entitled to seek the presidency irrespective of their religion, race, colour, tribe, ethnicity, disability, creed, gender, sexual orientation and region of origin.

The two-thirds who approved the new Constitution emphatically say so. It would do Kenya a lot of good to elect a president who is not from any of the “Big Five” communities. I still remember the sceptical expressions of Americans when Senator Obama announced he would run.
But no one was snickering when he squarely beat Senator Hillary Clinton, the establishment candidate of the Democratic Party. By the time Mr Obama took on Senator John McCain, the Republican Party nominee, Americans had undergone a cathartic experience. They could imagine a black man in the White House. The rest, as they say, is history.

My question to the Kenyan Nation is simple: If Americans could imagine such a radical outcome, why can’t Kenyans? Are we so bigoted that we cannot judge Abdikadir by his character, instead of his biology? I hope not. Run, Abdikadir, run.

Makau Mutua is Dean and SUNY Distinguished Professor at the State University of New York at Buffalo Law School and Chair of the KHRC.