Obama speech error that threatened relations with Kenya

Former US President Barack Obama

An excerpt from a book by one of Barack Obama’s speech writers carried by American Magazine Politico detailed the inadvertent pitfalls of a former speech writer David Litt.

Litt made a simple mistake that threatened to strain Kenya’s diplomatic relationship with the US.

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“During his serious close, President Obama praised reporters for risking everything in places like Syria and Kenya. Everything flowed perfectly. The crowd went wild,” Politico wrote.

Obama’s entry onto the book of controversial speeches was not as dramatic as that of some of his peers.

While his linking Kenya to Syria might have been accidental, many of his peers used speeches at key moments to push their agenda and introduce the world to their not so linear lines of thought. And this they did in the unlikeliest of places, like the ongoing United Nations General Assembly (UNGA).

In his prime, Muamar Gaddafi harboured dreams of uniting Africa. His world travels war a media spectacle with his entourage erecting mega tents to host his posse in the middle of cities or on plush green golf clubs. Very little things fazed the Libyan revolutionary.

So when in 2009 he was for the first time given a chance to address global leaders at UNGA, he savoured every moment of it. In a rumbling lecture, he seemed to show some sympathy towards the Taliban’s ambitions to establish an Islamic Caliphate and said that Swine Flu, a viral disease that was ravaging parts of Asia at the time was a man-made biological weapon.

Gadhafi, the Brother Leader, was meant to speak for only 15 minutes. But no one dared bump him off the podium. He spoke for well over 90 minutes, only pausing to adjust the layers of fabric that made up his attire for the day.

His diminutive counterpart and former Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was no stranger to controversial utterances.

Boisterious leader

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In 2006, his country was coming under increasing pressure to abandon plans of developing its own nuclear weapons arsenal. Ahmadinejad, launched a tirade against western countries that were pressuring Iran.

“Some powers proudly announce their production of second and third generation nuclear weapons. What do they need these weapons for… how long should the people of the world live with the nightmare of nuclear, biological and chemical weapons,” he quipped, aiming a jab straight at the then US president George W Bush.

It may be bad to speak ill of the dead, but sometimes their parting words ensure they are forever part of the living. Hugo Chavez was a charismatic and engaging character as he ruled over Venezuela and often spurred with Bush, who was a favourite punching bag at UNGA.

Chavez was boisterous in his 2006 speech saying that American imperialism put the survival of the humans species at risk. But the cherry on the cake was how he referred to the American president.

“In this very place, it still smells of sulphur. From this same rostrum, the president of the United States, who I call the devil, came here talking as the owner of the world,” Chavez said.

In 1987, the Nicaraguan government was facing pressure from a friend turned foe. The president, Daniel Ortega and his Sandinistas were getting closer to being unseated from power with each passing day.

The architects of this unsolicited coup was the US government, covertly assisted by the Central Intelligence Agency.

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But as the plot to unseat Ortega gathered steam, he was not going down silently. At the 1987 Assembly he took a swipe at president Ronald Reagan whose money and forces were openly backing a rebellion in Ortega’s back yard.

“Before consulting the hotheads who present various military options such as a military invasion, remember, President Reagan, Rambo only exists in his movies.” He might have won the battle of words but Ortega was deposed the following year. Fresh from a liberation struggle, sporting his trademark military fatigues with almost the fill backing by his people, Fidel Castro owned the UNGA stage in 1960.

He took four and a half hours to say what he had. In that time he called the then presidential aspirant John F Kennedy an illiterate and ignorant millionaire. The United Nations General Assembly ends on Monday.

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