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Elated Kenyans Revel In Obama Win

Nov 8, 2012
Originally published on November 8, 2012 6:02 pm

As the news spread that the son of the late Barack Obama Sr. — a Kenyan government economist — had held on to the most powerful presidency in the world, the elation across this East African nation was contagious.

One Nairobi radio DJ could scarcely contain himself on Wednesday. "How are your feelings this morning, this Obama Day morning? Talk to me and share your feelings with me," he said.

High Hopes For A Long-Expected Visit

Though the White House has made no promises, many Kenyans are firmly convinced that in his second term, President Obama will pay a visit to the land of his paternal relatives. He came no closer than Ghana and Egypt in his first four years, but "next year, he'll be right here with Air Force One," predicted one excited radio caller.

The mood was ebullient at a big election-watch party held at the U.S. ambassador's residence in a tropical Nairobi suburb. Mang'u High School had sent a group of students to the gathering so they could watch American democracy in action.

"We are very happy and proud for his success," said Jane Muridi, Mang'u's dean of studies. "We feel great, and we have seen the way the Americans have voted."

Muridi says she was impressed by how quickly and peacefully the U.S. votes were counted. She hopes that Kenya's own presidential election, set for March of next year, can emulate the smooth process.

That would be a welcome change after the country's 2007 contested election, when disgruntled Kenyans divided by tribe and brutally killed more than 1,000 of their fellow citizens. The eyes of the world will be on Kenya next spring to see whether it can have a bloodless transition of power.

'Kenyan By Nature'

Born in Hawaii, Barack Obama is American, not Kenyan. But in this country, with its enduring traditions of tribe and clan, he is resolutely claimed as one of their own. His father's family belongs to the Luo tribe, which hails from a western province bordering Lake Victoria.

Steve Njuguna, 16, a junior at Mang'u High School, says President Obama is a role model for him and all of his friends.

"Because they see it as an opportunity, if a Kenyan is able to go to U.S. and become president," Njuguna says. "They see it as something which is revolutionary, that Kenyans are able to conquer the world."

When reminded that the American president is not Kenyan, Njuguna is undeterred. "Yeah, he's not a Kenyan, but he's Kenyan by nature," he says.

In the newsroom of Nairobi's Daily Nation newspaper, columnist Jack Otieno says that Obama has become so respected in four years that his popularity compares to that of former South African President Nelson Mandela.

"Obama is a young Mandela," Otieno says. "A lot of young people identify with the message of hope. He's restored the dignity of the black man, of the African, of the Kenyan."

In fact, says Otieno, the American president is one of the few political figures who unite all of Kenya's fractious tribes.

"You talk to a Kikuyu, you talk to a Luo, you talk to a Luyha, talk to a Kamba — they all love Obama," he says.

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

Kenya received the news of Barack Obama's reelection with jubilation. The East African country is the homeland of President Obama's father and Kenyans were disappointed the president didn't visit during his first four years.

But as NPR's John Burnett reports from Nairobi, they have high hopes they will see him in his second term.

JOHN BURNETT, BYLINE: The elation was contagious on Wednesday morning when the news spread that the son of the late Barack Obama, Sr., a Kenyan government economist, had held on to the most powerful presidency in the world.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: How are you feeling this morning, this Obama Day morning? Talk to me and share your feelings with me. Yah?

BURNETT: This Nairobi DJ could scarcely contain himself.

Though the White House has made no promises, many Kenyans are convinced the president will finally pay a visit to the land of his paternal relatives in his second term.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN 2: Next year, he'll be right here with Air Force One.

BURNETT: In his first term, the president came no closer than Ghana and Egypt.

The mood was ebullient at a big election-watch party held at the U.S. ambassador's residence in a tropical suburb of Nairobi.

JANE MURIDI: We are very happy and proud for his success.

BURNETT: Jane Muridi, Mang'u is dean of studies at Mang'u High School, which sent a group of maroon-sweatered students to the gathering to watch American democracy in action.

MURIDI: We feel great and we have seen the way the Americans have voted. We are hoping the Kenyans...

BURNETT: She was impressed by how quickly and peacefully the U.S. vote count happened, and she hoped that Kenya's own presidential election, set for March of next year, can emulate the smooth process. After the country's 2007 contested election, disgruntled Kenyans divided by tribe and brutally killed more than a thousand of their fellow citizens. The eyes of the world will be on Kenya next spring to see if it can have a bloodless transition of power.

Barack Obama is American, born in Hawaii. But here in Kenya, with its enduring traditions of tribe and clan, they resolutely claim him as one of their own. His father's family belongs to the Luo tribe, who hail from a western province bordering Lake Victoria.

A 16-year-old junior at Mang'u High School, named Steve Njuguna, says that President Obama is a role model for him and all of his friends.

STEVE NJUGUNA: Because they see it as an opportunity. A Kenyan is able to go to U.S. and become president. And they see it as something which is revolutionary, that Kenyans are able to conquer the world.

BURNETT: But you know President Obama is not Kenyan?

NJUGUNA: Yeah, he's not a Kenyan, but he's Kenyan by nature.

BURNETT: Down at the newsroom of Nairobi's Daily Nation newspaper, columnist Jack Otieno says that Barack Obama has, in four years, become so respected that his popularity compares with that of former South African President Nelson Mandela.

JACK OTIENO: Obama is a young Mandela. A lot of young people identify with his message of hope. He's restored the dignity of the black man, of the African, of the Kenyan.

BURNETT: In fact, says Otieno, President Obama is one of the only political figures that unites all of Kenya's fractious tribes.

OTIENO: You talk to a Kukuyu, you talk to a Luo, talk to a Luya, talk to a Kamba, they say you, they love Obama.

BURNETT: John Burnett, NPR News, Nairobi. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.