The Internet posting of a photograph of Democratic presidential primary frontrunner Sen. Barack Obama in what has been described as “Muslim” clothing during a visit to Kenya has drawn the typical political accusations and denials. But it’s also raised questions about Obama’s links to Kenya, which has Muslim neighbors on several fronts, and was home to Obama’s father.
One of the concerns being expressed regarding Obama’s ties involves his connections to Kenyan political opposition leader Raila Odinga, links documented through Obama’s attendance at public rallies where he spoke on behalf of Odinga.
That’s because Odinga admitted to Christian leaders in Kenya a Memorandum of Understanding circulating on the Internet is not fake, but a document Odinga signed with Muslim leaders in Kenya.
According to Jack Wheeler, the author of a newsletter titled To the Point, the Memorandum of Understanding allegedly contains a pledge by Odinga to make Kenya an Islamic state by re-writing the constitution of Kenya within six months after Odinga takes office as president, to recognize the Islamic sharia as the ruling law of the land.
Odinga’s Orange Democratic Movement is in opposition to President Mwai Kibaki, who is part of Kenya’s largest tribe, the Kikuyu, while Odinga is part of the second-largest tribe, the Luo.
In a disputed Dec. 27, 2007, election, Kibaki was named president but Odinga charged he was denied winning because of voter fraud, a claim that resulted in widespread fighting that killed more than 1,000 people.
Now Odinga is seeking a power-sharing arrangement in which he would be the prime minister in a government where Kibaki was president, with the two factions sharing 50-50 in the cabinet.
Former UN secretary general Kofi Annan has been mediating in the talks between Odinga and Kibaki.
There have been other reports of Obama’s connections. In January, Odinga told the BBC that Obama’s father was his maternal uncle, claiming Obama is his cousin.
But the same Reuters report alleged Obama was “deeply troubled” by the violence in Kenya since the disputed Dec. 27 polls, saying Obama telephoned Odinga in Kenya to express his concern.
The photograph in question was published on The Drudge Report. Obama campaign manager David Plouffe cited its publication in accusing the campaign of Sen. Hillary Clinton of “shameful offensive fear-mongering.”
The photo is authentic, taken in Kenya during Barack’s five-nation taxpayer-funded trip to Africa in August 2006, although the Obama camp denies the photo proves any connection between Obama and Islam.
The photograph was originally published by Han-Geeska Afrika Online on Sept. 1, 2006.
It shows Sheikh Mahmed Hassan dressing Obama as a Somali elder during Obama’s visit to Wajir, a rural area in northeastern Kenya near the borders with Somalia and Ethopia.
On Feb. 4 this year, the tabloid National Examiner had published the photo in an article which asserted Obama was wearing “Muslim attire” on a trip to the Kenya homeland of his father.
The Obama campaign then disavowed the National Examiner’s sensationalism, arguing that Obama was dressed in traditional tribal garb, not “Muslim attire,” much as President Bush or other U.S. leaders take on local clothing or traditional native costumes when meeting in foreign countries.
Somalia is almost entirely Sunni Muslim, so in that sense the Somali elder garb is also Islamic, but Obama has long denied being a Muslim, asserting that he is Christian, with membership in a Chicago church that focuses on its blackness and support for Africa.
In recent years, a number of Islamic attacks on Christian churches have been reported in Kenya, where the population of some 30 million is about 85 percent Christian and only
about 15 percent Muslim.
Islamic violence in Kenya broke out once again in the aftermath of the disputed Dec. 27 election.
As reported by the Australian in January, a crowd of some 2,000 Kenyans attacked Christians in Eldoret, a community about 300 kilometers west of Nairobi, where the Christians were being hunted down by machete-wielding assailants and hid inside pit latrines and fled for refuge to the community’s Assemblies of God Christian church.
The crowd set fire to the church, terrifying the hundreds of family members outside who listened to victims’ screams as flames engulfed them.
According to Red Cross witnesses, about 50 died in the attack.
Over the weekend, the Nation in Narobi reported President Bush had dispatched Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to Kenya with a stern message from the White House to both President Kibaki and Odinga that the violence in Kenya must stop and that Kibaki and Odinga must share political power to end the current political crisis.
According to the report, Rice was instructed to tell Kibaki and Odinga the international community was not ready to allow the violence in Kenya to spiral out of control into a Rwanda-like situation in which hundreds of thousands were killed in 100 days.
Rice further warned that should political instability take hold in Kenya, then terrorism would have found a new home.
Media wishing to interview the author of this article, please e-mail Tim Bueler.