The Nation (Nairobi)

29 July 2004

Kenya: Star Role for Obama At Party Convention

New York — Offering his own life as an example of uniquely American possibilities, Mr Barack Obama cited his Kenyan ancestry at the outset of his rapturously received keynote speech to the Democratic National Convention.

"Tonight is a particular honour for me because, let's face it, my presence on this stage is pretty unlikely", declared Mr Obama, a candidate for the US Senate in the state of Illinois.

"My father was a foreign student, born and raised in a small village in Kenya. He grew up herding goats, went to school in a tin-roof shack. His father, my grandfather, was a cook, a domestic servant who worked for the British", Mr Obama said in his address to Democratic delegates gathered in Boston and to a national television audience in the United States.

Mr Obama's father went on to study at Harvard University, not far from the Democratic convention site, and to become an economist who advised Mzee Jomo Kenyatta.

The elder Obama, who died in 1982, left his white American wife when Barack was two years old. But the 42-year-old candidate makes frequent references to his Kenyan descent and identifies himself as an African-American.

Mr Obama's standing as one of the hottest political celebrities in the United States was thunderously affirmed today. His dynamic performance will be sure to fuel the growing speculation about an Obama run for the US presidency in the coming years.

Although he does not yet hold a prominent political office, Mr Obama's speech upstaged remarks delivered on Tuesday night by Senator Edward Kennedy and other senior Democrats.

Referring to Senator Kennedy's tepid address, The Washington Post reported, "Obama made up for the veteran's shortcomings with an address that built in pace and power as it went on. When he reached his climax, the convention crowd was on its feet, cheering every phrase."

The New York Times observed that during Mr Obama's speech the convention audience "exploded in the kind of electric reaction and uproarious applause reserved for the birth of a political star, louder and longer than even the response to the Democrats' hometown hero, Senator Edward M. Kennedy, an hour or so earlier".

Mr Obama made no mention of Africa issues in a speech that featured calls for unity among Americans and pleas for voters of all backgrounds to support the presidential candidacy of Democrat John Kerry.

"We are connected as one people", Mr Obama declared. "If there's a child on the South Side of Chicago (an African-American district) who can't read, that matters to me, even if it's not my child. If there's a senior citizen somewhere who can't pay for her prescription and has to choose between medicine and the rent, that makes my life poorer, even if it's not my grandmother.

"If there's an Arab American family being rounded up without benefit of an attorney or due process, that threatens my civil liberties. It's that fundamental belief - I am my brother's keeper, I am my sister's keeper - that makes this country work."

Mr Obama expressed gratitude for the opportunities he had been given in the United States. "In no other country on Earth is my story even possible", he said.

Like his father, Mr Obama attended graduate school at Harvard. He earned a law degree and later left a lucrative career in New York to become a community organiser in Chicago, where he was elected as an Illinois state legislator in 1997.

Mr Obama is now almost certain to become only the third black person to win a seat in the US Senate in the past 130 years. He still has no opponent in the November contest following Republican candidate Jack Ryan's withdrawal from the race last month due to a sex scandal.

Mr Obama's father, Barack, was from Ndori, Alego, Siaya district.

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