Reining in the sudden bubbling of emotion, the man turned the globe clockwise as he traced a line from Nairobi, Kenya, to Anchorage, Alaska, symbolically re-enacting, in spirit, his late father’s flight in what Kenyan historians call ‘Mboya Student Airlifts,’ and the Americans call ‘Kennedy Airlifts.’ He stopped in a reverential pose, remembering that he was a product of the airlifts, and that both of his parents never lived long enough to witness his history-making triumph.
Turning the globe anticlockwise, he traced a line from Anchorage, Alaska to Omaha, Nebraska, his political home base, then onward to Washington, D.C., the seat of world power, and stopped. Lowering his head, the man volunteered a silent prayer “Lord, give me the wisdom to know Your will; give me the power to execute Your will; give me the courage to stand with the weak and poor; give me the voice to speak against evil; Lord, protect me from my desires; Lord protect me from my friends.”
That the words “Your will” had come from his mouth surprised him—a man not known for much religious fervor. Even if he had any guilt on his tongue, the words IN GOD WE TRUST that greeted his eyes from a polished brass plaque before him—reminding him that he was the President of the United States of America—assuaged him.
Standing up, he picked up a second ball and executed another scoring throw, inhaled deeply, and then said in an emotion-filled whisper, “I’m one damned lucky black man.” Again, the man known for his cold detachment while under pressure betrayed another teardrop. The frequent welling up of emotion that morning surprised him. It was unlike him, the man who joked that among his Luo people, men don’t shed tears at funerals; they don’t wail either, they sing war songs instead.
Any observer watching that morning would have taken the seven-feet-tall man to be a volunteering-basketball superstar grading mediocre sophomore essays in a middle school. But this was President Hank Hassan Ajwang’, a black man from Alaska, the first black President of the United States of America. Ajwang’ was on his first full day at work in the Oval Office.
The man had watched him that morning. Ziki, the White House Chief of Staff, had wished to see the president, but had retreated on realizing that his charge was in a prayerful mood. Something about the scene had bothered him: the president was tense, even using the globe as a prayer-aid. As Ziki retreated to his office, he gave the man he now served as White House Chief of Staff a knowing bye on sanity. Ziki rationalized that even the unflappable Ajwang’ had the right to feel overwhelmed by the challenges promised by the Presidency of the United States of America.
There had been challenges along the way: the toil of a two-year campaign, and the unusual odds that had marked Ajwang’s candidacy.
Ziki, who had served as Hassan Ajwang’s Communications Director during the campaigns, understood the broiling public scrutiny his boss had endured, and he knew the toil in emotions the up-and-downs of the campaigns had exerted on his man. Then there were the toxic myths and innuendos to have visited his candidate under the glare of the insatiable 24/7 instant news cycle, fired by the intrusive electronic mass communication media of the day.
Retreating back to his office, Ziki rambled in his heart, “Give the man a break; he was the unlikely candidate, who beat all the adversities put on his path, to become the President of the United States of America. Let him pray in whatever way, in whatever language, and for as long as he likes, on this first day at work. He needs it before he confronts the mounting uncertainty in the world. If he breaks a glass window in the Oval Office with an angry basketball, the taxpayers can pay.”
Sure, President Hank Hassan Ajwang’ had come to power in a world at war, and during a period of worldwide hunger. He took his oath as the leader of a world under great economic distress worldwide.
In Kenya, the land of his late father, hunger stalked mothers and their children as cornmeal disappeared from the shelves—thanks to a mushrooming cabal of virtual briefcase millers overnight—and whenever cornmeal was found, it was more expensive than meat. In Zimbabwe, political leaders still held the people hostage, as mothers scavenged for wild roots and herbs to feed their emaciated babies. In the Middle East, Gaza was a city under rubble and rot, thanks to an on-and-off battle between two cousins fighting for land. In Congo, Darfur, and Somalia, women and children hadn’t known peace in generations, as women continued to bear their sons in chaos, some of whom married amid chaos and died amid chaos. In Rome, Paris, Berlin, Hong Kong, Tokyo, New York, Moscow, and London, the stock markets had collapsed, turning royalty and millionaires into paupers, overnight.
Yet the world had welcomed Ajwang’s Presidency in fetes and balls because in him desperate mothers saw the hope of their infants, and millionaires saw the security of their gold and diamonds; the world celebrated his triumph because it was as historical as it was improbable.
Ajwang’s election to the office of President of the United States of America was as odd a chance as the sun rising from the west, to paraphrase a Luo dream. Here were the odds: Fact, six hundred years before, his Luo people had no permanent homeland; they were semi-nomadic clans fighting their way out of the Sudan southward along the shores of the River Nile, as they searched for the next suitable land and pasture for their cattle. Fact, six hundred years before, his American ancestors were still in Europe; six hundred years before, Columbus and other seafaring nuts, were not born yet. Fact, when Ajwang’s father left Kenya in late 1950s to study in the United States of America, the East African Nation was still a British Colony.
Fact: no black man before him ever held the seat in America—a majority-white country that had enslaved black generations before him.
So even in twenty-first-century America, Ajwang’s victory had busted long-held myths and attitudes on race and political leadership. That he won by a landslide meant that the electorate had seen him through a social prism that filtered off race, and left only the person and his word. His victory meant that the electorate had peeled and examined him, layer-by-layer, and reduced him in their minds to the essence of what man is, which is the quality and worth of his words.
That he was born in the faraway State of Alaska among people who played by their own rules of existence, was an extra hurdle he had to surmount in order to reach the hearts and souls of the majority mainland American electorate. Ajwang’s hurdle was the higher, given that his father was an alien, a Luo, born in Africa. In the minds of the pundits of his nation, he had too fresh an association with aliens to become the President of the United States of America.
When his pundits from the Caucasian side of his ancestry were through with analyzing him, new and unexpected hurdles would pop up on his political path—these were hurdles in apathy and doubts among his brethren of color. There were whispers of discomfort with his candidacy in churches, barbershops, and salons patronized by his brethren of color. Their concerns were of two types: First, was Hassan Ajwang’ like them at a human level? Was he black physically and mentally? Did he think like them? Did he suffer their pain, given that none in his known lineage ever experienced slavery as its subjects?
Second, was the political reality check: Would the young man from Omaha, Nebraska, lead the charge and bear the heavy burden to fulfill Dr. King’s Dream? That was the big question in every black person’s mind. They also had doubts about Ajwang’ because past politicians of color had tried and come far short in their courtship of the presidency. Was the relatively young, soft-spoken poet, and community activist, from Omaha, Nebraska, made of the tempered steel required for the tough fight ahead of him? These questions bothered every man and woman of color in barbershops and salons nationwide.
Ajwang’s brothers and sisters of color were also challenging him publicly to discard his intellectual nuance, and sharpen the edge of his poetry to the point where these brethren would say Amen at every stanza, even if he did so at the risk of alienating his white constituency.
In churches, barbershops, and salons in the land, Ajwang’s brethren of color had wondered aloud as to whether he would prevail in his presidential quest in a land in which subtle and obvious racial schisms still existed, and social integration was still a work in progress. They wondered aloud as to whether the soft-spoken poet and lawmaker from Omaha, with neither the fire-spitting tongue of a rap star nor the damning quotes of a religious preacher, was the man to deliver them to the shore yonder.
Ajwang’ would prove them wrong. The allure of his soft poetry would win where his brethren of color had demanded fiery rap rhymes. Ajwang’ would sit at the citadel of world power—a power on wings; a power greater than the one, which his fifteenth-century ancestor, namesake, and fellow dreamer, Ajwang’ the Dreamer, was shown.
Yes, Hank Hassan Ajwang’ was a damned lucky black man.
Just when President Ajwang’ started to wonder why the Chief of Staff hadn’t bothered him with the day’s public agenda, there was a knock on the door.
“Mr. President, do you’ve a moment?”
“Of course, Mr. Chief of Staff,” President Ajwang’ responded without any complaint for having been distracted from an interesting line of thought. "The First Lady of the United States of the United States is here to see you in her role as a public advocate for White House Staff.”
“What is amiss on Day One? Jeez! Ziki, hold her off a minute as I put on my jacket,” the president said before adding, “Tim, I want you to read this essay once every week for the next four years. Pass it around to all of my staff; it should act as a constant reminder of the improbability of our journey as an administration headed by one lucky black man kept sane in the hands of a wonderful First Lady, who happens to be black, too. Ziki, we promised the people gold and diamonds; the people expect nothing less!”
“Mr. President, with due respect, the campaigns are over. It is time to govern, and you won’t run a country by listening to every rant off the blog.”
“Mr. Chief of Staff, I just gave you the First Presidential Order to execute; the year two-thousand-and-twelve is less than four years away.”
“Order received, Sir!”
“Tim, this one is easy to do: I need a real basketball net installed at that corner.”
“Mr. President, you want to trash the Oval Office?”
“Tim, do your job, which includes keeping the president sane.”
Just then, The First Lady of the United States strode into the Oval Office.
“Good morning, gentlemen!” said The First Lady of the United States.,p>“Tim, excuse us,” the president ordered his Chief of Staff.
“He beat me to your office, Mr. President?” said The First Lady of the United States.
“Well, he’s the Chief of Staff.”
“The power structure has to change in this place.”
“The roles are contained . . .”
“Sh . . . !”
“Why did you do that? There is a video feed from this office.”
“Have a good day, Mr. President. Some overworked White House Staffer won’t scoop The First Lady of the United States in this place. By the way, your good friend, the Chief of Staff, bribed the cameras,” Linda Ajwang’, The First Lady of the United States, said and left the oval office.
“Jeez! Who knew that the woman, who beat me up at my own game, and secured me within my own skin twenty years ago, would be the first black First Lady of the United States of America?” the president whispered to himself in reference to an event that had changed his life, and made him secure in his own black skin. Until then, he had been chasing after a nonexistent, metaphorical white woman, who only existed in his dreams. On that day two decades before in Omaha Central Park, Omaha, Nebraska, one clever black woman caught his wandering spirit and wouldn’t let go until she successfully had guided him into the house of power and pearls.
The new leader of the free world put the romantic thoughts behind him, and for the second time that morning, stared at the bust of his favorite past President, posted at a corner of his desk. After some five minutes of reflection on the life and times of his political idol, he whispered, “Abe, how were you able to balance your life as a President? How were you able to hold a national crisis in one hand and creativity in the other, and still follow the desires of your heart and the rigors of family life?”
Just then, two courting doves in beak-to-tail formation made two quick diving passes by his window, reminding the president of what is socially common among animal species, namely, language of communication, active relationships, play, and procreation.
A knock on the door, brought the president back to the present.
“Mr. President, The First Lady of the United States of the United States will be receiving her neighbors in a few minutes,” announced the president’s Personal Assistant.
“O tradition! I’ll be out in a minute, Sam!”
How did a black man from Alaska become the first black President of the United States of America at a time of great military and economic perils worldwide?
Hassan Ajwang’s story was part of a long tale, which had journeyed across the globe, traveled some tortuous six-hundred years, outlasted colonization and human bondage, and brought down many racial barriers.
Six hundred years ago in the Sudan, Ajwang’s black ancestors were nomadic people following the Nile, inching incrementally southward ahead of the encroachment of the Sahara against their livestock. Their flight south would be hastened by a new threat in a new religion and complicated by internal family conflicts.
Leading and guiding the flight south were men who rose to the occasion and acted when the challenges of their times demanded courage, and challenged personal honor, common wisdom, and established tradition. The mention of their names sent shivers down the spines of fellow men. Each would etch an indelible mark on their time, and leave permanent footprints for fellow men to follow.
Leading in the odyssey out of the old Sudan was a dreamer, a nomad, a man of the wild, a man of rare wisdom, a man named Ajwang or Ramogi. Ramogi (the wrestler) was a man guided by his dreams, a man of courage, who never blinked at danger, and the father of all Luo nations, from Sudan to Tanzania.
Hassan Ajwang’ would live the dreams of his famous Luo ancestor. Though Hassan Ajwang’ was born to meager resources, he would be schooled in the Athenian tradition, would volunteer in the service of the poor, but he now mingles and dines with the rich of his time; he’s a man for the times, who wields Spartan Power in his hands and debates doubters at the Citadel.
His Luo people call him The Ajwang’. In their minds, he’s the promise in their long and storied journey that dates back six centuries. They see in him their rendezvous with destiny, and a prophecy fulfilled, and not just a historical accident.
There was a dream and there were many dreamers.
Source: Joseph R. Alila's "THE LUO DREAMERS' ODYSSEY: From the Sudan to American Power."
ISBN 13: 9781441483119.