New Vision (Kampala)

Uganda: Barak Obama's Victory Excites Uganda

Kampala — SENATOR Barak Obama's victory in the US Democratic Party primary yesterday excited Ugandans. Most expressed optimism that the African-American of Kenyan descent would win the presidency of the world's only superpower.

Son of a white American mother and a black Kenyan father, Obama on Tuesday captured the Democratic Party's presidential nomination and became the first black to win a preseindetial nomination of a major US party.

He beat Senator Hillary Clinton, who would have equally made history as the first female US president. The wife of former president Bill Clinton started as a favourite and the contest seemed to be a David-Goliath affair. Hillary, who has refused to concede defeat, saw her advantage eroded by what commentators called Obama's charisma and calls for change.

Obama now enters into a five-month election battle with Republican John McCain, the presumed flag-bearer for the Republicans.

Foreign affairs minister Sam Kutesa described Obama's success as historic because a black man was for the first time contesting for the US presidency on the ticket of a main party.

Asked if the Ugandan government would side with Obama or McCain, Kutesa said: "We will work with any elected government."

The third deputy prime minister and minister of information and national guidance, Kirunda Kivejinja, said Obama's success signified how much America had put racism behind from the time of civil rights activist Martin Luther King.

Speaker Edward Ssekandi was impressed by what he described as a smooth and transparent manner in which the elections were carried. "We will welcome whoever of them wins at the end of the year."

NRM spokesperson Mary Karooro Okurut saw both the victory of Obama and Hillary's loss positively. "Obama is the first black, while Hillary is the first woman to have come this far in the US presidential election."

The candidates, she said, represented hitherto marginalised groups in America, which according to her, was transcending racial barriers and gender prejudices.

Foreign affairs permanent secretary Ambassador James Mugume said: "It's historic. We want to consult before we come out with a government position."

FDC spokesperson Wafula Oguttu said his party was fully behind Obama. "We pray that Obama wins so that he can review America's foreign policy from war to peace. America's foreign policy has been too militaristic."

Democratic Party president John Ssebaana Kizito, who said the matter of being black or white was immaterial, expressed joy that the most popular candidate had taken the lead.

"The victory of Obama is good news because democracy, the core of our struggle, has prevailed."

Opposition Chief Whip Kassiano Wadri said he woke up at midnight to listen to BBC, and was overjoyed when the news of Obama's victory broke.

"For the first time a black person has taken the US Democratic Party's primary." He said although American democracy was over 300 years old, none of the 43 presidents was black. "Africa should be proud that one of our own has moved nearer to the presidency." He said Americans should also be happy that their nation was no longer ethnic but able to recognise quality leadership. "I wish Ugandans could emulate this."

Uganda People's Congress communications chief Benson Ogwang Echonga said: "In Obama, we see a new America."

Obama rocketed to prominence at the 2004 Democratic presidential convention with an electrifying call for unity. He proclaimed: "There is not a Black America and a White America ... there's the United States of America."

Well ahead of the election in November, Obama has a slight edge over McCain, according to some opinion polls. The two candidates differ sharply over the Iraq war and how to proceed over Iran and the ailing economy.

In Kenya, scores of jubilant villagers trooped to Sarah Obama's home in western Kenya to savour her grandson's victory. Crowds hurdled around TV sets in the provincial capital Kisumu to listen to Obama's victory speech.

"I was very delighted to learn that he had scored big against his rival," Sarah Obama told reporters as she laughed raucously.

She was supported by a Kisumu water vendor, Pascal Onyango. "Finally one of our own is getting up there to the high seat in America."

"Obama has done our community and our country proud. We know he will win," Jack Owuor, a resident in Kogelo village, said.

Sarah Obama was the third wife of Obama's paternal grandfather, Hussein Onyango Obama. Although not a blood relation, Obama refers to her as his grandmother.

Back in the US, the media called Obama's victory historic but warned Democratic splits and racial politics pointed to a rocky road ahead.

"Obama's success marked a major milestone for the nation -- a sign of the racial progress that has taken place during the span of the senator's lifetime."

The Washington Post said: "The nomination battle also revealed a racial schism within the Democratic Party, and potential resistance to a black candidate in some parts of the country."

The Chicago Tribune, in Obama's home state of Illinois, said his victory marked a moment "bearing history's weight and the future's promise" but also presented him with a "momentous task."

"If Obama has a knack for dealing with difficulty, he'll need it now. Setting out as the new presumptive nominee, Obama must win over an enormous swath of the Democratic electorate that has been devoted to Clinton," it said.

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