— By Jerry Cates. First published on 19 December 2016 and last expanded on 19 December 2016. © Govinthenews Vol. 7:12(5).
In the following, Swahili words and phrases are interspersed as a means of explaining and elaborating on the title to this article. For those who celebrate their African roots, especially those with roots in African nations where Swahili is the primary language, these interjections — accompanied by their English translations, out of respect for those unfamiliar with the Bantu tongue — should be welcomed as the respectful treatment of an ancient language that is intended.
Swahili is a Bantu language widely used as a lingua franca in East Africa, and has official status in the African nations of Tanzania, Kenya. Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, Mozambique, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Today, as many as 100 million people speak Swahili as their primary native tongue.
Though not proficient in Swahili, I do know a few words. For example, the word for “sad” is kusikitisha (coo-see-keh-TEE-shuh); it is formed by combining the infinitive kusiki (to hear) and the past participle tisha (threatened), and describes the reaction one feels when on the receiving end of a spoken threat. The word for “hopeless,” kukatisha (coo-keh-TEE-shuh), shares the same suffix, and the combination is indicative of unrelenting misery. In Swahili the interrogative “why?” is kwa nini? (quah NEE-nee).
So, in an interview that aired on Friday, 16 December 2016, when Michelle Obama laid bare her soul to Oprah Winfrey, she used English words that in their Swahili counterparts, have strong emotive value. In a near-tearful display, she explained how things had recently changed in her life, and how those changes affected her. She and many Americans were feeling sad and hopeless (kusikitisha na kukatisha), she said, now that Donald Trump had been elected to replace her husband in the White House. Then she told Oprah why (kwa nini) the election had made her feel this way:
“We feel the difference now. See, now, we are feeling what not having hope feels like,” Ms. Obama explained. “Hope is necessary. It’s a necessary concept and Barack didn’t just talk about hope because he thought it was just a nice slogan to get votes… He and I and so many believe that — what else do you have if you don’t have hope? What do you give your kids if you can’t give them hope?“
It’s hard to disagree with the necessity for hope. In English it is used both as a noun and a verb. As a noun, it refers to an optimistic state of mind founded on an expectation of positive outcomes. As a verb it means “to expect with confidence,” and “to cherish a desire with anticipation.” Psychologists have long seen a direct correlation between optimistic states of mind and positive outcomes. Hope is so much a part of the human condition that it is enshrined in humanity’s most ancient writings, including the Bible. My favorite is the N.T. verse from Hebrews, Chap. 11, verse 1, which defines another word closely aligned with hope: “Faith,” Paul tells his readers, “is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.”
But, based on her description of the way she feels, one could characterize Michelle’s frame of mind as not just sad, but hopeless as well, i.e., as kusikitisha na kukatisha (na being the Swahili connective “and”). Poor, Kusikitisha Kukatisha Obama… That’s her, at least for the moment, in a nutshell.
Yet, as we are asked to think of her in those words, perhaps it is only proper that we also feel a sense of genuine sympathy. Perhaps as one would have felt sympathy for the wives of other despots of history. For though I might wish such a thing on America’s worst enemies — and yes, I’ve often thought of Barack and Michelle in such terms — it’s definitely no way for anyone to go through life.
I speak from experience, at least with respect to kusikitisha. For more than twenty years, now, I and many other Americans have been very, very sad (Obama was not the first to bring sadness to America). But, kukatisha? The thought did cross my mind, once or twice, but unlike Michelle Obama, I’ve never thought things were truly hopeless for America. My previous writings, published on this website, make that abundantly clear.
Why my unwavering optimism? Well, besides being an inveterate optimist, I was reminded just this morning, by Wayne LaPierre in his “Standing Guard” editorial published in the January 2017 edition of American Hunter, that Alexis de Toqueville said it best. In Chapter XIII of his 1835 book, Democracy in America, Toqueville remarked that “The greatness of America lies not in being more enlightened than any other nation, but rather in her ability to repair her faults.”
Oh, we screw things up from time to time, but as Toqueville explained, we eventually recognize the errors of our ways and make them right. Not even the abominable Obama Administration, nor the incompetent one of George W. Bush that came immediately before, or even the immoral one of Bill Clinton that preceded GWB, can dim the bright prescience of Toqueville’s words. I’ve never doubted that, though I’ve often wondered how low we would sink before coming to our senses.
Two good questions for Ms. Obama, had a Kenyan been present when she made these statements to Ms. Winfrey, might have been these: Kwa nini kusikitisha sasa? No, seriously, kwa nini kukatisha sasa? Sasa is the Swahili word for “now”.
To her credit, Ms. Obama tried to offer an answer:
“I feel Barack has been that (i.e., hope) for the nation in ways that people will come to appreciate. Having a grown-up in the White House who can say to you in times of crisis and turmoil, ‘Hey, it’s going to be okay. Let’s remember the good things we have,’” Michelle told Oprah.
Based on these words, one would think America should have elected someone who echoed Barack’s words, and championed his deeds, to succeed him. We did not. Instead we elected someone who was his exact opposite in many ways, and who promises to repudiate much if not most of what Barack Obama has pushed over the past nearly eight years in office. And that is why Michelle Kusikitisha Kukatisha Obama is so sad, and feeling so hopeless.
Her grief is real. But is it rational? The rest of this article, in process, will explore that question.
Did you notice how she described Barack? “I feel Barack has been (hope) for the nation in ways that people will come to appreciate…” Not “in ways that people appreciate” but “in ways that people will come to appreciate…” Even Michelle doesn’t believe Americans appreciate Barack as a bringer of hope, and for good reason. He promised what he did not deliver. She thinks he will be appreciated in the future, but even that is for his promise, not his deliverance.
That’s odd. She should know better. Hope is inalterably tied to the “things hoped for,” as Paul put it in his letter to the Hebrews. If the things hoped for are achieved, one’s hope is vindicated. Otherwise, hope is empty, that is, tupu (too-poo). When hope is offered without expending serious effort to bring it to fruition, it is tantamount to a lie… uongo (uh-OHN-gah).
Dare we now examine Barack Obama’s legacy?
Stand by for more…
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