Friday, February 20, 2009

Malcolm X, Barack Obama & Oginga Odinga

Malcolm X, Barack Obama & Oginga Odinga

By Norman (Otis) Richmond

El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz (Malcolm X) was assassinated 44 years ago, on February 21, 1965, because of his attempt to internationalize the African American struggle for self-determination.

Malcolm would have been 84 years old on May 19, 2009. Africans in New York City have made a pilgrimage to Malcolm's gravesite every year since February 21, 1966. While it is unlikely that U.S. President Barack Obama will acknowledge Malcolm’s joining the ancestors, people from Cape Town to Nova Scotia and Brazil to Brixton definitely will.

Unlike other U.S. presidents, President Obama knows who Malcolm was and what he stands for. Like many males with African roots President Obama was moved by Malcolm’s life story. A cursory reading of his autobiography, Dreams from My Father will prove this point.

President Obama is truly an African American; parts of his roots are with the Luo people in East Africa. The Luo are an ethnic group in Kenya, Eastern Uganda, and Northern Tanzania. The Luo are the third largest ethnic group (13%) in Kenya, after the Kikuyu (20%) and the Luhya (17%). The Luo and the Kikuyu inherited the bulk of political power in the first years following Kenya's independence in 1963.

When Malcolm visited African in 1964 he visited Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania. It was during that trip that he met with Kenyan President Jomo Kenyatta, Uganda’s president Dr. Milton Obote, President Julius K. Nyerere and Muhammad Babu of Tanzania. Babu, Malcolm and Leroi Jones (now Amiri Baraka) held a meeting during this period in New York City. Malcolm talked about meeting President Kenyatta, Malcolm however, was also aware of Kenya ’s Oginga Odinga.

When Malcolm was killed in 1965 Kenyatta was still in power and Odinga and Kenyatta were still comrades. Jaramogi Ajuma Oginga Odinga (1911 –January 20, 1994) was a Luo Chief, who became a prominent figure in Kenya's struggle for independence.

He later served as Kenya's first Vice-President, and a member of Kenya African National Union (KANU) and thereafter as opposition leader. Odinga's son Raila Odinga is the current Prime Minister, and another son, Oburu Odinga, is Assistant Minister for Finance in the 2008 Grand Coalition government. Odinga was Vice President of Kenya in 1964-66, but in 1969, he was placed under house arrest, due to his opposition to the KANU government.

Odinga had an impact on human rights groups in the United States. While he was in the U.S., the State Department took him on a tour of America. The last stop was Atlanta, self-described as “The City Too Busy to Hate.” Odinga was housed at one of Atlanta’s two non segregated hotels.

When the activists of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) heard about Odinga’s visit, they decided to “pull his coat” and provide him with information that would be neglected by the State Department. They visited Odinga’s hotel room and shared stories and songs of the human-rights movement to acquaint this African visitor with how the United States treated her African population.

He responded, “Uhuru,” the Swahili word for “freedom.” Following their visit to Odinga the SNCC delegation went to the Toddle House restaurant near the hotel. They sat in to protest the restaurant’s “whites only” policy, and 17 were arrested.

”Immediately after these events, Knoxville’s Matthew Jones, a SNCC worker, wrote a song, “Oginga Odinga of Kenya,” telling this story. Odinga described the racial situation in America as “very pitiful.” Soon the Toddle House restaurants chose to desegregate,” recalled Jones in an interview.

“Oginga Odinga of Kenya,” became one of Malcolm’s favorite songs. Malcolm and the legendary human rights leader Fannie Hamer of the Mississippi Democratic Freedom Party shared the platform at a church in Harlem. The Freedom Singers of SNCC performed various songs, including “Oginda Odinga of Kenya.”

One of the reasons over ninety percent of the African population in the United States gave their support to President Obama and not Senator Hilary Clinton was his opposition to the war in Iraq. Africans in American have always been in the vanguard of opposing imperialist wars. The great Nevis–born, African Caribbean leader Cyril Briggs who helped found the African Blood Brotherhood in 1919 was fired from his job at the New York Amsterdam News for speaking against World War I.

Contrary to popular belief, it was Malcolm, not Martin Luther King, who first opposed the war in Vietnam. Malcolm was the first African American leader of national prominence in the 1960s to condemn the war. He was later joined by organizations like the Revolutionary Action Movement (RAM) and the SNCC, The Black Panther Party, the League of Revolutionary Black Workers and the Republic of New Africa.

This was in the tradition of David Walker, Henry Highland Garnet, Martin R. Delaney, Bishop Henry McNeil Turner, W.E.B. Du Bois, Marcus Garvey Cyril Briggs, Claudia Jones, Ella Baker and Paul Robeson.

Malcolm continued this anti-imperialist tradition. He continued in the anti-imperialist tradition and to link the struggles of African people worldwide. King always maintained that,“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere”. He came out against the Vietnam War after his famous April 4, 1967 speech at Riverside Church in New York City.

What direction will President Obama take on international affair? Will or will he not send troops to Afghanistan? What stand will he take on the U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM)? Which tradition will he follow? Will he take an anti-imperialist stance like Malcolm and Odinga or will he follow in the footsteps of his fellow American presidents? Time will tell.

Norman Richmond can be contacted

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