By GEOFF EARLE Post Correspondent
February 29, 2008 -- WASHINGTON - Angry tribal elders in Kenya are calling on Hillary Rodham Clinton to "clear her name" over any involvement in publication of photos of Barack Obama wearing a turban and African garb on a trip to his ancestral homeland.
The leaders are planning a protest in their community today, and are turning up the heat on the US government over the incident. The photos appeared nationwide after they were published earlier this week on the Drudge Report Web site with a report that they had been circulated by Clinton staffers. Obama aides blasted the Clinton campaign for "shameful, offensive fear-mongering." The pictures show Obama wearing traditional Somalian garb on a 2006 visit to the Wajir region of Kenya, where his late father was born.
"The US government must apologize to us as a clan and the old man," Mohamed Ibrahim told Reuters, referring to a highly respected tribal elder who is also shown in the photos. "We have been offended, and we cannot afford to just watch and stay silent." He also said it was essential that Clinton "clear her name." …
"He [Hassan] was the right person to perform any such activity like dressing a visitor like Obama with traditional Somali clothes," Mukhtar Sheik Nur, another leader, told Reuters.
The elders said if they did not get an apology, they would demand the expulsion of US troops based near the town of Garissa in their region.
The serious issue is that we actually do have Marines in Garissa, which is on the road (such as it is) to Somalia, as this 2006 article "The Mystery Mission" details. We've been quietly building up our military presence in Kenya for a number of years to attack people within Somalia. We recently sponsored Ethiopia's invasion of Somalia.
Is all this a good idea or a bad idea? Does what happen in Somalia matter much? Are we likely to get drawn into more pointless tribal conflicts, a la Iraq?
Beats me, but it would be interesting to hear the candidates give their views on it. Obama's thoughts would be particularly interesting, since he has strong ties of blood and emotion to the Luo tribe in Kenya. Presumably, he knows more about American foreign policy in relation to Kenya than to any other country, relatively speaking, so hearing him speak about Kenya in depth would be a good test of his foreign policy instincts overall, which remain murky in general.
Personally, I have a bad feeling about U.S. involvement in Northeastern Africa. Places like Darfur and Somalia strike me as of almost zero strategic interest to us, but they're also the kind of places where we could get in and wallow around for decades. But, I really don't know much about the region.