Obama’s Kenyan Roots

Granny Sarah and a calendar featuring her grandson as she celebrates Obama’s victory over Clinton

When Barack Obama burst on to the scene four years ago at the Democratic Convention in Boston he was defined as the American Dream made real. His speech focused on his African background and the goatherd father. It is a theme that has served the senator well since then, allowing him to build an image as the political outsider ready to shake up Washington.
A steady stream of reporters has made its way to the Obama homestead in rural western Kenya to meet the woman that Obama calls Granny Sarah. Voxes have been popped among the Luo population in Kisumu and a neverending supply of cousins, second cousins, uncles and aunts has emerged to give their views on the American primary system and the 3am phone call ad. Nothing has been too much trouble for the Obama family, keen to do what they can to help their famous son.
But with the Democrat nomination secured, could that be changing? In the US the notion of Obama’s foreigness has become one of the key weapons in the Republicans’ arsenal. Jerome Corsi’s book has rehashed unfavourable details about his Kenyan family and repeated inaccurate slurs. Obama’s patriotism – and that of his wife – has been an issue throughout. And a law suit in the US contends he cannot become president because his mother gave birth in the Kenyan port city of Mombasa.
All of this is nonsense. But it is playing into the idea that Obama is not “one of us”. For Obama his family story may have proved a winning formula among liberal Democrats. But could Obama’s Kenyan roots now be a hindrance as he tries to win over moderate Republicans and the blue-collar Democrats he failed to win during the primaries? It is certainly becoming more difficult to arrange interviews with his family here, who are increasingly aware that saying the wrong thing (or even the right thing) could have an impact in an election campaign thousands of miles away. Interview requests have to be submitted by email and are carefully screened.
I can’t really blame them. Granny Sarah is an old woman and no-one likes reporters turning up on their doorstep day in, day out. But I can’t help also wondering if Obama’s Kenyan story has outlived its usefulness.