Not long ago, Western journalists tracked down Barack Obama's youngest half-brother, George, aged 26, who lives on less than a dollar a month in a Nairobi slum. "If anyone says something about my surname, I say we are not related," he said. "I am ashamed." Kenyans as a whole are divided. Obama is an easily recognisable Luo name, which means that Prime Minister Raila Odinga's supporters love Obama, but the dominant Kikuyu, for the same reason, supported Hillary Clinton.
For all that, Kenyans, Nigerians and many other Africans gave a warm welcome to the news that its prodigal son had won, just as Ireland did for JFK and Clinton. But Africa is not just a complicated but in many cases a defeated place and it will not readily identify with the new US president, the very picture of "can do" confidence, born of a personal success story as dramatic as any in American history. After all, one has to remember - no matter how united behind him they were in the end - how slow black Americans were to rally to his cause because they felt he was no child of slavery, no angry protest politician. That was, in essence, what the whole showdown with the Rev Jeremiah Wright was about.
Africans are far more familiar with the Jeremiah Wrights and Mich-elle Obamas than with people like Michelle's husband. When black American radicals - Marcus Garvey, Stokely Carmichael, Eldridge Cleaver, Malcolm X - fled the US, it was to Africa they came, trying to fuse their anger with the same bitter notes of African anti-imperialism.
Africans understood that drama, expected tragedy and martyrdom to follow and if someone like Cleaver went back to the US trying to make a living out of selling Black Panther golf bags, he just got written off. Far better a hopeless, delusional visionary like Garvey or Malcolm X than someone just trying to make his life work.
On the whole, Africans understood three sorts of black Americans: political martyrs, sell-outs and those ambivalent pin-ups who became celebrities through sport or entertainment. On the other hand, visiting black Americans who dared claim to have played a major part in ending apartheid - Jesse Jackson, Leon Sullivan and a host of lesser political Reverends - were quickly sent packing. How dare they suggest South Africans had not won their own freedom?
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