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Kenyans Celebrate Obama Inauguration


In Kenya, Barack Obama, whose father was born in the country, has long been seen as a native son. On Tuesday, thousands of people across the country gathered to celebrate his inauguration.

At the Kenyatta International Conference Center in downtown Nairobi, thousands of people gathered to watch the inauguration of Barack Obama on television. The crowd was predominantly young, with many students from the city's universities arriving hours before President Obama's speech to find a good spot.

"I'm very happy as a Kenyan to see Barack Obama as a Kenyan," said Asmin Kimunya, an engineering student. "This person has really influenced us. He's become our role model all over the world. That's why we are here today. And actually we are requesting the President of Kenya to declare tomorrow a public holiday. We are so happy. Today this place is at a standstill."

President Mwai Kibaki declared a national holiday following Obama's election victory in November. The mood on Tuesday was again festive as Kenyans celebrated the latest step in a career that many here have long followed with great interest.

But despite President Obama's Kenyan ancestry, many here downplay any immediate effect on U.S.-Kenya relations.

"Obama has a lot of work to do," said Kimunya. "Right now, let us give him some space because he has to work with his country first of all."

Mohammed Sheikh had high hopes for Obama's foreign policy. But he says there will be little direct impact on Kenya.

"Obama is one person," he said. "He cannot change the whole world. But at least we expect a change of policy from the George W. Bush policy to a better one in terms of human rights, in terms of the fight against terrorism, in terms of the relationship between Washington and Africa. Kenya will not benefit directly.

Okapi, another student attending the viewing party in Nairobi, says President Obama's election could set an example for Kenyan politics, and that it might boost Kenya's appeal as a tourist destination.

"I think Kenya is learning a lot from America in terms of democracy," said Okapi. "I think we've learned that democracy should be here in our country. I also want to say I think Kenya will benefit in terms of the tourism sector. I think people will want to know where Obama comes from and they'll come from all over the world to see."

The celebrations were even larger in western Kenya. In the village of Kogelo, where President Obama's father was born, residents slaughtered bulls, goats, and several other animals for a large feast.

In the regional center of Kisumu, thousands of people sang and danced in the streets as Obama took office. President Kibaki issued a message of congratulations, saying that President Obama has inspired millions around the world with his message of hope.

Prime Minister Raila Odinga, who, like President Obama's father, belongs to the Luo tribe, urged the American president to support democracy around the world. Odinga took the newly-created position of prime minister last year as part of a power-sharing deal following presidential elections that he claimed were rigged.
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