Kenya Celebrates President-elect Obama as Native Son



Barack Obama's election victory was greeted with particular enthusiasm in Kenya, where he is viewed by many as a native son.  Crowds celebrated in the western village where his grandmother and other relatives live, and the president even announced a national holiday to celebrate the event.  For VOA, Derek Kilner has more from Nairobi.

Barack Obama's election victory has been celebrated around the world, but perhaps nowhere as much as in Kenya, where President Mwai Kibaki announced that Thursday will be a national holiday.

"Because of his roots here in Kenya, as a country we are full of pride for his success. I therefore wish to announce that tomorrow, Thursday the sixth of November the year 2008 be observed as a public holiday to enable all Kenyans to celebrate this historic achievement for President-elect Obama," said President Kibaki.

In the village of Kogelo in western Kenya, where Mr. Obama's grandmother and other relatives live, crowds danced in celebration as the news of the Obama victory was announced shortly after dawn.  Mr. Obama's uncle, Sa'id Obama, spoke to VOA from the village.

"People are so happy, so excited.  People are dancing.  People are in a festive mood," he said.  "And we are also slaughtering cows, goats, sheep, I mean people are going to feast literally to celebrate Barack's win."

In the nearby city of Kisumu that is dominated by the Luo group, to which Obama's family and Kenyan Prime Minister Raila Odinga belong, Obama mania is at its most intense.  The celebrations spilled out into the streets.

There is also a large Luo community in Nairobi's biggest slum, Kibera, and there too, raucous festivities greeted the news of Obama's win.  But in Nairobi, Kenyans from different backgrounds packed into the city's bars and restaurants to watch Obama's speech.  

Stephen Dunga, whose family is from the country's Eastern Province, watched the speech in the downtown restaurant where he works.

"I have been watching CNN since morning.  Each community supports Obama, they are praying for him to win," said Dunga.  "I think the celebration is country wide.  Not from one province or the other."

At the American ambassador's residence, students, officials and members of civil society, both Kenyan and American, cheered the results.  

"This is a big lesson," said Njeri Kabeberi, director of Kenya's Center for Multi-party Politics. "We had our own problems in January, February after we messed up with our own electoral process and messed up with our own tallying and counting process of the elections.  So this is a big lesson that you do not have to steal votes, you do not have to discriminate against other communities, because we did discriminate against other communities.  So what is most important is for the leadership that is going to provide that particular country what that country needs.  And in this case, it is change they can believe in, and for Kenya we better actually start believing in some change in our leadership style."

Back on the streets of Nairobi, music shops throughout the city are playing Jamaican reggae star Cocoa Tea's hit song celebrating Mr. Obama.

A shopkeeper says it is the hottest selling CD in town.  Bernard has just walked in to purchase the disk after hearing it playing in the street.

"I think Kenyan people have got a lot to learn from the American election.  It has shown true democracy, it does not matter how you look like, it does not matter where you come from," he said.  "It is about what policies you have for the people, so I think in Kenya next time we make a decision about our leaders we will know what to look for."

The election results arrived early Wednesday, catching many people as they headed to work.  But with a holiday declared for Thursday, the celebrations could be even stronger.

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