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Obama and Kenya: Contested Histories and the Politics of Belonging | Kate Luongo

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Kate Luongo, Associate Professor of History

Barack Obama’s political ascendancy has focused considerable global attention on the history of Kenya generally and the history of the Luo community particularly. From politicos populating the blogosphere and bookshelves in the U.S and Kenya, to tourists traipsing through Obama’s ancestral home, a variety of groups have mobilized new readings of Kenya’s past in service of their own ends.

Through narratives placing Obama into a simplified, sweeping narrative of anticolonial barbarism and postcolonial “tribal” violence, the story of the United States president’s nuanced relationship to Kenya has been lost amid stereotypical portrayals of Africa. At the same time, Kenyan state officials have aimed to weave Obama into the contested narrative of Kenyan nationhood.

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