Barack Obama's letter to the people of Kenya

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Letter to the people of Kenya  (2008) 
by Barack Obama
7 November 2008
Dear Kenyans,

I am grateful for your unwavering support during my entire presidential campaigns, which reached its peak with my victory.

During the campaigns, I consistently and fondly spoke of my Kenyan roots. I am an American citizen and, on January 20, 2009, I will be America’s 44th president.

As a son of a Kenyan father, I know that Section 90 of your constitution bestows upon me automatic citizenship. In the fullness of time, who knows, Michelle and I may decide to come and retire in the land of my father.

I know that most, if not all, Kenyans expect me to have a magic wand to your problems and aspirations.

To avoid future misunderstandings, we need to agree at the outset on my limitations. And I am making candid confessions only because of my paternal heritage and the special place you hold in my life.

I was elected by 64 million Americans, comprising nearly 53 per cent of the voters. Few presidents have passed the 50 per cent mark — not even the great Abraham Lincoln who came from my state of Illinois.

Such a clear mandate means that Americans voted for me because they believed in my campaign promises. I promised that my priorities would be to fix our education and public health sectors, manage fuel prices and arrest or kill Osama bin Laden.

My country is the richest in the world, but you will find it unbelievable that 46 million Americans cannot access proper healthcare as they lack medical insurance.

Medical insurance in America is privately funded. We do not have government hospitals as you do in your country. My key priority is to resolve this uninsured large portion of the population.

In education, I am proud that American universities are the best in the world. However, a crisis is brewing in high schools as we are losing our competitive edge in maths and the sciences to other developed countries. Unless we fix this anomaly now, we risk losing our innovation and research leadership in the future. I will not allow this to happen under my watch.

The USA is addicted to oil, and every American consumes about 8,000 litres a year. No other country uses as much oil. Increased oil prices thus affect every American without exception.

Other than working with our key suppliers to stabilise the prices, I promised Americans during my campaigns that I would work on new and innovative sources of energy.

The same day that you declared a public holiday in my honour, I got my first presidential daily briefings which will last as long as I am America’s president. These briefings let me into esoteric knowledge of the challenges facing our country that no American has access to other than the top heads of the various intelligence agencies. I will share with you the broad outlines.

America as the pre-eminent democracy, military and economic power in the world faces unique challenges which we are demanded of to resolve or lead the way.

Since the attack on our country on September 11, 2001, we know that Islamic terrorism is our existential threat. My predecessor authorised the attacks in Iraq and Afghanistan to neutralise this threat.

Though these wars are still on and at times look like we are in a quagmire, I promised an honourable exit, but subject to the threat having been removed. My first major task in January will be to approve our defence budget which is about us$600 billion.

Also, part of our foreign policy is to ensure the safety and secure borders of Israel, safe routes of our oil supplies and commitment to our bilateral and multi-lateral allies. Kenya has always been our friend, and these ties shall now be strengthened by my heritage.

Our relationship could be imperilled should your foreign policy be at odds with ours. We will never dictate your foreign policy as you are a sovereign state, but our relationship is dependent on your choices.

Before I forget, there is the issue of visas and immigration to America. I know that most Kenyans, including the hundreds of thousands who live or study in America, are now expecting preferential treatment.

The US citizenship and immigration services are an independent federal department that deals with issues of visa, immigration and citizenship. I have no control over it completely.

The department has assured me that only Sarah, my grandmother, and Auma, my sister, may get preferential treatment. All my other relatives and other Kenyans have to follow the rules. I’m sorry.

When it comes to funding your projects, my hands are even more tied. Our domestic and global spending is approved by Congress. In our annual budget, we always allocate billions of dollars to countries like Egypt and Israel for strategic reasons. Recently, we gave billions to Georgia to rebuild itself after it was invaded by Russia.

Kenya may benefit if it makes certain strategic decisions. We are looking for a base in Africa to build our AfriCom headquarters, and Lamu is one of the likely locations.

In the event that you accept our request, we will make Lamu a deep-sea port and build a railway line from there to Ethiopia, our other strategic ally in the region. The choice again I say is yours.

As for visiting Kenya, it will depend on what my policy advisers say. My relatives will even find it hard now to reach me as my security and programme are in the hands of federal bureaucracy.

But I urge you to instill transparency and accountability in your public systems, more so in the electoral process, political leadership and public appointments.