As President-elect Barack Obama’s historic victory continues to draw global goodwill, one African nation stands out for the manner in which its citizens have continued with unabated celebrations.
To a good number of Kenyans, the U.S. president-elect is their son. Obama’s father, Barack Hussein Obama Sr., was born in Kogelo village, Western Kenya. And according to the customs of Obama Sr.’s Luo community, a child belongs to the father, hence the strong bonds of kinship to the American president-elect in the East African nation.
When he visited the country in 1982 shortly after the death of his father in a road accident, Obama stayed with his Kenyan granny in Kogelo village for several weeks. His last visit to his Kenyan relatives was in 2006.
Following Obama’s victory, spotlight shifted to Kogelo with local and international tourists flocking the area to see for themselves this most improbable tiny village from which the soon-to-be-most powerful man in the world traces his roots. Kenyan media reports indicate that Mama Sarah, Obama’s grandmother, is unable to keep up with the number of interviews that she has to do in a day.
The Kenyan frenzy for the U.S. president-elect did not only start with his victory. Beginning with Obama’s declaration for the presidency and throughout the nomination battle with Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.), nearly every Kenyan household was glued to the international television channels for updates on how their favorite son was fairing.
During Election Day, a mock vote was conducted in Kogelo village and the neighboring Kisumu city where Obama thoroughly trounced Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.). Kenyans were indeed at fever pitch.
And it did not come as a surprise when after Obama won, Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki declared the following day a holiday for the country to celebrate this historic victory. Kibaki said, “This is a momentous day not only in the history of the United States of America, but also for us in Kenya. The victory of Senator Obama is our own victory because of his roots here in Kenya. As a country, we are full of pride for his success.”
However, not everyone was pleased with the declaration of holiday by the Kenyan government. A blogger, by the name “kgatonye,” wrote in one of the Kenyan newspapers: “A holiday? This is shameful. The Americans did not even get a day off to vote, they did not get a day off to celebrate, and they certainly will not get a day off to witness the inauguration of their new president. Even Barack Obama is busy working hours after being declared a winner, but Kenya, we have too much time in our hands to waste around. God have mercy on us.”
Debate has since shifted to what an Obama presidency portends for Kenya and the rest of Africa. While there are a few unrealistic fellows who expect Obama to offer direct financial assistance to them, a good number of Kenyans are alive to the fact that the priorities for the newly elected president will be to fulfill the pledges to the American people. With an ailing economy to fix, protecting imminent job losses, implementing a new energy policy, ending the Iraq war, catching or killing Osama bin Laden, containing rogue nations and restoring the image of America abroad, Obama’s hands are full. Rather than expect goodies from the U.S. government under an Obama administration, Kenya should seek to fully meet her Africa Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) quota. Kenyan politicians and the citizenry also have a chance to now learn the need for conducting a peaceful election devoid of killings as witnessed in December last year when Kenya held her general election. Obama’s call on leaders to practice mature politics, that politicians can disagree without being disagreeable is an inspiring instruction that is much needed not only in Kenya but the rest of Africa.
In the meantime, celebration parties continue in all corners of Kenya. Other media reports from Kenya indicate that 80 percent of babies born Nov. 4 were either named Barack Obama or Michelle Obama. A Kenyan couple that was blessed with twins, a boy and a girl, named them Barack and Michelle Obama.
In big cities, businesses and buildings have been renamed Obama. Virtually all Public Service Vehicles (PSVs) are christened Obama. Aside from all these celebrations, it is everyoneís hope that Obamaís inspirational power and transformative ability will move millions of Africans and others worldwide to demand the best from their leaders.
But for now, it appears that celebrations are not about to be called off in that part of the world. For me, it is a moment of great exhilaration; delighted that a member of the most burdened race on the planet will lead the most powerful state.
Dane KiambiGraduate Studentkiambidm@muohio.edu