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Kenya celebrates Obama win

Hundreds of villagers gather to cheer the rise of a man they consider a native son. A public holiday is declared.

November 05, 2008|Edmund Sanders

NYANGOMA-KOGELO, KENYA — Whether they found hope, inspiration or just a reason to party, Kenyans celebrated today as they awoke to learn that a man seen here as a native son would be the next U.S. president.

Residents of this tiny farming village where Barack Obama's father was born had been cautiously optimistic, but rain Tuesday night was viewed as a particularly good omen.

It's difficult to overemphasize Obama's popularity here. Even before he ran for president, there was a high school and a beer named in his honor.

After U.S. networks declared Obama the winner, cheers and shouts erupted under tents where several hundred residents of Nyangoma-Kogelo had gathered. Women began dancing and men paraded around carrying tree branches, a symbol of celebration.

"I feel so very good now because my neighbor Barack Obama is president of the United States," said Richard Onyango, 30, an unemployed resident. "My area has been poor for such a long time, but now I think Obama will make things better."

Newspapers have been running Mt. Rushmore-sized pictures of the senator on their front pages, and billboards bearing his image were erected all around Nairobi, the Kenyan capital, and the western city of Kisumu. Vendors are cashing in with buttons, T-shirts, clocks and other souvenirs.

Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki declared Thursday a public holiday. In the Nairobi slum of Kibera, young men carried U.S. flags and chanted, "We want Obama!"

Obama's Kenyan relatives, whose homestead has been inundated by foreign reporters over the last two weeks, watched the election results here in their village.

Hundreds of villagers, most of whom live without running water or electricity, watched coverage on big-screen televisions specially set up for election night. Shivering under blankets and coats, they didn't react with the frenzy that many anticipated as results poured in, cheering mostly when television cameras were pointed their way. Others attended all-night viewing parties or watched from neighborhood bars.

At the Kenya National Theater this week, "Obama -- The Musical" opened, portraying the presidential candidate as a near Christ-like figure who redeems drug users.

"He's our icon of hope," said Njoki Wachira, 26, a Nairobi consultant.

Many here equate racism in the United States with tribalism in Kenya and said the U.S. elections provided an important message about overcoming discrimination. Almost a year ago, tribal tensions erupted into rioting and ethnic clashes that killed more than 1,000 people after a disputed presidential poll.

"I want Kenyans to learn from what is happening in the U.S.," Prime Minister Raila Odinga told reporters here. "If Obama can win and get endorsement from the whites, then why should an all-black country like Kenya have its citizens fighting each other?"

Sanders is a Times staff writer.

edmund.sanders @latimes.com

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