BOSTON MARATHON

Boston bombing reverberates in Kenya

 
 
Rita Jeptoo of Kenya crosses the finish line to win the women's division of the 117th Boston Marathon on April 15.
Rita Jeptoo of Kenya crosses the finish line to win the women's division of the 117th Boston Marathon on April 15.
Jim Rogash / Getty Images

ashiundu@miamiherald.com

Every year when the global athletic family troops to the United States for the Boston Marathon, Kenyans keep their eyes and ears on world media to see how their world-beating athletes perform in the race.

This year, the good news came in first. The marathon champion in the women’s race was Rita Jeptoo. No news really, because, a Kenyan is always expected to win the marathon. Another Kenyan, Sharon Chebet, came in third. That was impressive for the Kenyan women.

The biggest upset for the Kenyans was when an Ethiopian, Lelisa Desisa, took the crown from the defending champion of the Boston Marathon, Wesley Korir, in the men’s race.

Although another Kenyan, Micah Kogo, came in second, the feeling was not the same. First, because Korir is an elected member of Kenya’s Parliament, and second because, losing to a neighbor on a global stage is always painful.

The saddest part in the race was the fatal explosion that occurred just as Kenyans were having mixed feelings about the win in the women’s race and the loss in the men’s race.

Kenya might be thousands of miles away — at least 16 hours by plane with a connecting flight in Europe now that there’s no direct flight from Nairobi to the United States — but the attachment that Kenyans have for this country is quite strong.

It is not just because President Barack Obama had a Kenyan father and still has relatives in Kenya. It is because, some Kenyans believe, Obama is actually a Kenyan, never mind that he is a U.S. citizen. They say, in their culture, the child belongs to the biological father.

So as the hashtag #PrayforBoston trended in the United States, it also trended in Kenya, though in Kenya six policemen had been killed by a terrorist group from Somalia and there was no hashtag or public mourning. Though that made some Kenyans, like me, very angry, I accepted that Kenyans were perhaps worried that their kinsman, the American president, was under attack, and therefore they had to show solidarity.

As a Kenyan in America for the first time, I keep a close eye on what goes on in Washington because I also have this sentimental connection with President Obama. It is actually not based on anything much, just the fact that his late father was Kenyan.

So when I heard that some criminal had sent a letter laced with deadly poison to President Obama at a time when he was busy trying to reassure his mourning country that all will be well, I was worried.

My anxiety grew when I saw that he had also lost a vote in the Senate to strengthen background checks for gun buyers. And when I woke up to news that a fertilizer factory had exploded in the town of West, Texas, killing at least 15 people, my heart sank.

For President Obama, or Cousin Barry, as we sometimes call him back in Kenya, it was a bad week, and for America, too, and the prayer is that he pulls through it all. He was remarkably sober and very forthright, and like his kinsmen, he faced the events before him head-on, and with a very reasoned and measured head.

It might sound weird that these seemingly unrelated events are being followed keenly in Kenya. Had it happened in Kenya, the U.S. government wouldn’t have hesitated issuing a security alert to its citizens all over the world to take extra caution when visiting Kenya.

The problem with such travel advisories against Kenya is that it hits our tourism very hard Tourists who would naturally flock to the country’s beautiful game parks and ethereal beaches stay away, and that means the country loses a lot of revenue, and jobs that would have been created in the hospitality industry.

Unfortunately, because of the socio-economic status of Kenya, we Kenyans cannot return the favor. But it is good for the people of the United States to know that the attack on the Boston Marathon did not sit well with the Kenyan athletic family.

Alphonce Shiundu reports on politics and legislative affairs for the Nation Media Group in Kenya. He is on a study tour at The Miami Herald as part of the Professional Fellows Program run by the International Center for Journalists and the U.S. Government’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs.

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