At first, he tells a touching anecdote that persuades me that he really does feel a tie to Kenya in a way that he never did anywhere else.
I was a young man and I was just a few years out of University. I had worked as a community organizer in low-income neighborhoods in Chicago. I was about to go to law school. And when I came here, in many ways I was a Westerner, I was an American, unfamiliar with my father and his birthplace, really disconnected from half of my heritage. And at that airport, as I was trying to find my luggage, there was a woman there who worked for the airlines, and she was helping fill out the forms, and she saw my name and she looked up and she asked if I was related to my father, who she had known. And that was the first time that my name meant something. (Applause.)So he is speaking to a people who are recognizably his people in a deep and special way. He talks about his family. He talks about the indignities the British heaped on him, such as referring to him as a "boy" when he was a grown man and a military veteran of the British King's African Rifles. He talks about how hard it was for his father to get admitted to any university, finally succeeding in Hawaii. He does not mention his own story, because of course they know it. He wants to use the shared history of suffering to make a point that aligns what he wants to say about Kenya with what he wants to say about his own life. And that is this:
For too long, I think that many looked to the outside for salvation and focused on somebody else being at fault for the problems of the continent. And as my sister said, ultimately we are each responsible for our own destiny.There's a lot to like in the address. Emphasis on the importance of the rule of law if Kenya is to succeed:
Here in Kenya, it's time to change habits, and decisively break that cycle. Because corruption holds back every aspect of economic and civil life. It’s an anchor that weighs you down and prevents you from achieving what you could. If you need to pay a bribe and hire somebody’s brother -- who’s not very good and doesn’t come to work -- in order to start a business, well, that’s going to create less jobs for everybody. If electricity is going to one neighborhood because they’re well-connected, and not another neighborhood, that’s going to limit development of the country as a whole. (Applause.) If someone in public office is taking a cut that they don't deserve, that’s taking away from those who are paying their fair share.Emphasis added.
So this is not just about changing one law -- although it's important to have laws on the books that are actually being enforced. It’s important that not only low-level corruption is punished, but folks at the top, if they are taking from the people, that has to be addressed as well. (Applause.) But it's not something that is just fixed by laws, or that any one person can fix. It requires a commitment by the entire nation -- leaders and citizens -- to change habits and to change culture. (Applause.)
Tough laws need to be on the books. And the good news is, your government is taking some important steps in the right direction. People who break the law and violate the public trust need to be prosecuted.
It sounds like a good plan, Mr. President. I'm all in favor of enforcing the rule of law on the powerful. The folks at the top need to be held responsible when they betray the public trust. You've still got a year or so to get started on it.