Kenya celebrates Obama win in US election

Barack Obama's ancestral country of Kenya has been celebrating his winning the US presidential election. President Mwai Kibaki was among the first foreign leaders to congratulate Obama, while declaring Thursday a public holiday.



In Kenya, where Barack Obama’s father was born, the victory of the man many consider a local was widely celebrated. Just a few minutes after hearing the news that the United States had elected its first ever black president, Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki made this Thursday a public holiday.


The holiday’s aim is to “celebrate the historic achievement by Senator Obama and our country,” he said in a statement. “The victory of Senator Obama is our own victory because of his roots here in Kenya. As a country, we are full of pride for his success,” he added.


People in Kogelo, Western Kenya, where Obama’s grandmother lives, followed the election with special interest. The villagers were glued to a giant screen set up for the occasion. Screams of joy and victory hailed the results. “Young people started to go around the village and headed for Obama’s grandmother’s house”, said Stéphanie Braquehais, FRANCE 24 and RFI correspondent there.


Barack Obama regards Sarah Obama as his grandmother although they are not actually related. She is his grandfather’s third wife.


Obama’s other grandmother, Madelyn Dunham, died aged 86 in Hawaii on Monday.


“Obama will build houses”


Can a black president initiate new relations between the US and Africa? Barack Obama did not focus on that issue during the campaign, and George W. Bush’s image is not all negative in Africa: in the last four years, US aid to the continent has increased.


In the field, Stéphanie Braquehais heard two types of reactions. “In the slums, where violence erupted at the beginning of the year, people say ‘Obama will build new homes, hospitals and roads’. But when you talk to Kenyan intellectuals, they are cautious about that. What they are saying is that Obama, who has roots in Africa, can establish a fair communication with African leaders. What you hear most here, however, is that Obama has put Kenya on the map.”


Stéphanie Braquehais reports that the Kenyan prime minister recently told her Obama was likely to take care of American farmers before African farmers. However, he was hopeful that Obama could help develop “commercial ties between the US and Africa”.


FRANCE 24 international editor Gauthier Rybinski agreed. “Obama may not consider Africa as a priority, unless the financial crisis makes it necessary to help that continent”, he said.


Festive night


In Kogelo, the priority is celebration rather than political analysis. “People were waiting all night for the result and you could see the anxiety on their faces, until Pastor Washington announced the good news,” said Stéphanie Braquehais. “Then people started singing, women began to cry and it was a big celebration.”


In Kogelo, Barack Obama’s rise has already yielded benefits: the government has hastily renovated the dirt track to the province’s capital, Kisumu.



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