Far be it for me to condone the Kenyan government’s heavy-handed treatment of anti-Obama polemicist Jerome Corsi, news of which was splashed across the top of the Drudge Report this morning, and is still prominently displayed. It appears to this reporter, who has spent some time in the region, that Corsi’s deportation—if that is indeed what happened—appears to be an all-too-familiar case of an annoyed government overreacting in stereotypical fashion. On the other hand, no one should portray Corsi as a martyr for press freedom. What he was up to in Kenya wasn’t journalism. It was a dangerous political stunt.
First, some background. As a journalist, it takes a lot to get yourself kicked out of Kenya. It’s not Sweden, but it’s a country with a vibrant free press. There are various accreditations required to work there as a foreign correspondent, but if you’re a reporter on a brief visit, you can generally enter with a tourist visa and rest assured that no one will bother you. Despite the contention of the W.N.D. article that Corsi was there to mount an “investigation into Barack Obama’s connections in the country,” it seems that what primarily brought him to Kenya was a reception to publicize his book, The Obama Nation. According to Reuters, an invitation to the event, which was to be held at a Nairobi hotel, announced that Corsi would be exposing “Obama’s ‘deep secret ties’ to mafia-like groups in Kenya.”
Specifically, Corsi has been trying to link Obama to a Kenyan politician named Raila Odinga, a former presidential candidate. In past interviews—including one with me—Odinga has claimed a personal connection to the Democratic candidate’s father, and has reportedly even said he is distantly related to the Obama family. Corsi has sought to use this tenuous connection to link Obama to militant Islamists by claiming that Odinga (who is not a Muslim) may have undisclosed plans to institute to sharia law in Kenya, and—somewhat contradictorily—that Odinga is aligned with his country’s “extreme left wing.” Corsi’s allegations of sinister ties between the two politicians are all either false or grossly distorted, but they’ve been highly publicized in Kenyan newspapers. According to W.N.D., Corsi was going to expand on the book at his press conference, revealing Obama’s “connection to certain sectoral groups in Kenya and [a] subsequent plot to be executed in Kenya should Senator Obama win the American presidency.”
Here’s why Corsi’s antics were so incredibly irresponsible. A year ago, an election was held in Kenya. Odinga ran against the incumbent, President Mwai Kibaki. Kibaki was declared the winner of the election, under circumstances that outside observers declared highly suspicious. The contest between the two men revealed deep ethnic animosity between Kibaki’s tribe, the Kikuyu, and Odinga’s tribe, the Luo, who generally feel that they’ve been unfairly prevented from ruling the country. After the disputed vote, antagonists from both sides spilled into the streets with machetes. There were massacres. Hundreds of people died and many thousands were displaced from their homes. Eventually, after much arm-twisting, Kibaki and Odinga agreed to form a “unity” government. But the country is anything but unified, and many fear that violence could break out again. In warning of plots and secret mafias, Corsi is echoing the conspiratorial tribal rhetoric that helped to incite the killing.
It’s safe to assume that Corsi did not travel to Kenya to promote his book because he hoped to alert people there to the danger posed by a Obama presidency or, for that matter, because he hoped to sell many copies there. (Most Kenyans can’t afford hardcover books, for one thing, and a quarter of the population is illiterate.) What seems more likely is that the writer was hoping that bringing his book tour to Kenya would create a little exotic frisson and generate headlines back home, where The Obama Nation has fallen to number 26 on The New York Times‘ best-seller list. In handling the situation so ham-handedly, the Kenyan immigration authorities have given Corsi an attention-bump bigger than any he could have dreamed. Let’s hope that in the future, though, the author stays here in America, where his lies only endanger a deteriorating political culture, and not actual lives.