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Raila factor in Obama contest

Story by KEVIN J KELLEY
Publication Date: 5/18/2008
SUNDAY NATION Correspondent in NEW YORK

Right-wing activists in the United States are attempting to use Senator Barack
Obama’s Kenyan links to discredit him.

The activists, most of them conseervative Christians, claim that Mr Obama is a
relative of Prime Minister Raila Odinga, whom they describe as a “socialist who
plans to introduce Sharia Law in Kenya”.

Mr Obama is leading his party’s presidential nominations and is almost certain to
win against Senator Hillary Clinton.

He also stands a good chance against Senator John McCain of the rival Republican
Party, thus making history as the first non-white to become a US president.

For the past two decades, American presidential campaigns have been conducted with
every aspect of a candidate’s life placed under the microscope.

Analysts expect the Republicans to scour Mr Obama’s Kenyan links to find anything
that they can use against him.

Some of the most widely circulated allegations originated last month in a chain e-
mail from Celeste Davis, an American Christian missionary who, together with her
husband Loren Davis, claims to have worked in Kenya for 12 years.

The Davises allege that Senator Obama donated nearly $1 million (approximately
Ksh61 million) to the Orange Democratic Movement’s campaign last year. “Obama and
Raila speak daily,” the Davises add, claiming that the two men are cousins.

Bizarre and discredited

Mr Odinga’s spokesman, Mr Salim Lone, dismissed the allegations as bizarre and
discredited.

“These are bizarre accusations that lack credibility. The allegations that the
Prime Minister has socialist and pro-Mulism leanings were discussed and
discredited in the last campaign,” he said.

“This is the work of right-wing activists who are trying to puncture holes in
Senator Barack Obama’s campaign for the White House by attempting to resurrect
allegations that were discredited in Kenya during the campaign,” he said.

Nairobi-based political scientist, Tom Wolf, an American, said that the Internet
smear campaign against Mr Obama was an act of desperation.

“It just shows how desperate the Republicans are that Obama is viewed as a serious
threat that they would have to use such irrelevant campaign tactics. If the
Americans were worried, would they be so close to him? You recall that someone
tried to use the Somali robes to discredit him,” he said.

If the Cold War were still on and communism were still alive, and Raila had spent
a weekend with some communist leader like Fidel Castro, he said, it would be much
more of an issue.

“But if you criticise Obama because he is related to a Kenyan leader who arrived
at a compromise over the disputed election to save his nation, how would that hurt
him?” Mr Wolf asked.

Mr Lone described the e-mail campaign as one of the last gasp efforts by right-
wing activists in the US to dent Senator Obama’s campaign to become the Democratic
Party’s standard bearer in the race to the White House.

Mr Lone, however, claimed that Mr Odinga and Senator Obama were related by blood
and came from the same clan.

“It is true that the Prime Minister and the senator are related. Senator Obama
comes from a family and clan to which the Prime Minister’s mother belongs, and
they are cousins,” he said.

In the American sense, a cousin is the child of your parents’ siblings. But in Luo
culture, the members of your father’s or mother’s clans are your cousins.

A clan would typically have hundreds of thousands of members, and the relationship
is more social than biological.

Mr Obama is the son of Barack Obama Sr of Nyangoma-Kogelo, Siaya, and Ann Dunham
of Wichita, Kansas.

He was raised by his maternal grandparents. In October last year, Mrs Lynne
Cheney, wife of US Vice-President Dick Cheney, announced that she had discovered,
while researching a book on their family, that Mr Cheney and Mr Obama were blood
relatives.

They were eighth cousins, she said, with a common ancestor, a 17th-century
immigrant from France.

The Illinois senator is acknowledged as perhaps the most charismatic American
politician since John F Kennedy.

December election

Mr Davis and his wife, noting Mr Odinga’s contention that the December 27
presidential voting was rigged, said in their message, “As we watch Obama rise in
the US we are sure that whatever happens, he will use the same tactic, crying
rigged election if he doesn’t win and possibly cause a race war in America.”

A conservative Internet commentator, Michael Gaynor, speculated earlier this month
that Senator Clinton’s campaign might play “the Kenya card” against Mr Obama.

Mr Gaynor says “the Kenya card” involves unspecified connections between the
Kenyan-American senator and “the radical Kenyan prime minister.”

An author who succeeded in smearing Democratic Senator John Kerry in the 2004 US
presidential race may also make negative use of Senator Obama’s Kenyan heritage.

A February 27 report by the McClatchy-Tribune News Service in the US says that
author Jerome Corsi intends to research “Obama’s connections to Kenyan opposition
leader Raila Odinga and Odinga’s ties to Muslim groups.”

Mr Corsi wrote Unfit for Command, a text effectively used by Republican Party
partisans seeking to discredit Senator Kerry’s service in the US military during
the Vietnam war.

Evidence assembled by Mr Kerry and his supporters showed that these charges were
either exaggerated or flatly false.

The Davises’ allegations concerning Senator Obama and Mr Odinga “are all kinds of
false,” states an online commentator for The New Republic, a respected US
political magazine.

But one effect of the response to the Davises’ lies by so prestigious a magazine
will be to call further attention to those lies.

Politifact, a political accuracy check maintained by two reputable and non-
partisan publications – The St Petersburg (Florida) Times and Congressional
Quarterly – published a detailed rebuttal of the Davises’ claims in a May 2
analysis by researcher Amy Hollyfield.

She quoted Mr Lone as saying: “This is absolutely ridiculous” in regard to the
Davises’ claim that a group associated with Senator Obama donated nearly $1
million (Sh62 million) to the ODM campaign. “Mr Obama did not donate a single cent
to Mr Odinga’s campaign,” Mr Lone told Politifact.

He said the group the Davises say gave the money to ODM does not exist, Politifact
reports, citing several US election campaign monitoring organisations, including
one sponsored by the US government.

Politifact also investigated the Davises’ claim that Mr Obama is a cousin of Mr
Odinga.

That assertion is based on a BBC interview in January in which Mr Odinga said,
“Barack Obama’s father is my maternal uncle.”

The BBC then asked, “You’re related to him?” Mr Odinga replied: “Yes, I am.”

The Obama campaign denies that the senator and Mr Odinga are cousins. And three
Kenya experts interviewed by Politifact also dismissed this claim, Ms Hollyfield
reports.

Normal sense

“To my knowledge, they are not first cousins in the normal sense,” Kenya election
expert Joel Barkan, a professor emeritus at the University of Iowa, told
Politifact.

“To my knowledge, there’s absolutely no relationship at all.”

Prof Barkan also took issue with the Davises’ characterisation of Mr Odinga as a
“socialist.”

Such a charge is intended to incite still-virulent anti-communist sentiments among
many Americans and to suggest that Senator Obama has a sinister, far-left agenda
that he is concealing from US voters.

“He’s a populist politician,” Prof Barkan says of Mr Odinga, “but he’s no
socialist.”

Because the Davises’ e-mail was written by missionaries long active in Kenya, “it
somehow carries more credence than your average blog posting — and it’s spreading
rapidly,” Politifact commented.

“But even with the credibility of a real author, the claims in this e-mail are as
baseless as anything you’ve read from an anonymous blogger.”

Speaking to the Sunday Nation Saturday, Mr Lone said Mr Odinga and Mr Obama enjoy
good relations.

However, Mr Lone was categorical that Senator Obama and the PM have never sat down
to discuss their ideological commitments owing to the fact they play politics in
different environments.

“Claims that the two have discussed their ideological commitments are completely
far-fetched. The senator has Kenyan roots, but he is an American first and
foremost,” he said. He further dismissed claims that Senator Obama, or groups
connected to him, contributed to Mr Odinga’s campaign kitty, stating that they
never received a cent from the Illinois senator.

Mr Davis and his wife claim to have preached among Muslims for 20 years, 12 of
them in Kenya.

Their ministry is said to be based in Meru.

The Sunday Nation’s efforts to track them or their Kenyan ministry down Saturday
were fruitless by the time of going to press.