3 November 2008

Kenya: An Obama Presidency Brings Hope For Development

Kisumu — On the eve of the U.S. presidential elections, Kenyans are elated at the prospect of an Obama win. Near Lake Victoria, where many of Obama's paternal relations live, the excitement is palpable.

Small parties are already being planned alongside larger street carnivals, and a concert is being touted as an "Obama After Party" celebration.

Obama's Kenyan relatives are making headlines. An alleged telephone call from Senator Obama to his half-brother Malik Abango made the front page of Taifa Leo, Kenya's main Swahili-language daily, and the Nairobi Star reports the family will slaughter a bull "if Obama is elected." The Star goes on to report that the family is so hopeful of an Obama victory that the bull in question has already been ordered.

Part of the excitement in Kisumu is related to the Luo identity of Obama's late father, who Barack Obama met only briefly when he was a child. Senator Obama is referred to as "wuod Luo," the son of a Luo, in t-shirts sold in the streets of Kisumu, the regional capital.

Ethnic politics play a large role in Kenya, which was convulsed by deadly violence after a disputed December 2007 election - widely criticized by international observers - edged out the opposition candidate, Raila Odinga, a Luo. In a power-sharing agreement resulting from African-mediated peace talks, Odinga is now Kenya's prime minister, while his rival, Mwai Kibaki, continues to hold the post of president.

Enoch Odhiambo Mulure, a 47-year-old Luo trader from Sakwa, a town in Siaya district (where Obama's father hails from), said he appreciates Obama because he focuses on policy, not ethnicity. "We Luos are hated. Kenyan politicians focus on ethnicity." Mulure said. "I like that Americans discuss policy, like education… Obama's policy for education involves promoting the low man – the jua kali [those who work in the "hot sun"]. I think he will pay attention to people like me."

Fifty kilometers away from Kisumu in the village of Kogelo, site of the Obama family homestead, the prospect of an Obama presidency brings with it hopes for development. Rumors of an Obama homecoming to Kogelo abound, and some expectations for his contributions to the village run unrealistically high. The East African Standard reports one local trader as saying "Obama atajenga nyumba nyingi. Ataleta stima na pia mbolea." (Obama will build many houses here. He will bring electricity and provide fertilizer.)

Journalists from major international media outlets are arriving in Kisumu to cover the Obama family's reaction to the news of election results. Two large television screens are being set up in the village, and press conferences have been planned for later this week.

Street vendors, meanwhile, have made significant profits from selling Obama-related goods, including framed portraits of the senator and greeting cards in which the senator wishes students good luck on their exams – one card reads "Yes, u can!" under a smiling photo of Obama. Another popular item available for purchase on Kisumu's streets offers two regional heroes for the price of one: a clock featuring Odinga and Obama next to each other above the phrase "two great leaders."

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