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By Derek Kilner
Nairobi
04 June 2008

Kenyans, who have long followed the career of Barack Obama, welcomed the news of the senator clinching the Democratic nomination for president Tuesday night. Derek Kilner has more from Nairobi.

Barak Obama speaks in Kogelo village in Kenya
Barack Obama speaks in Kogelo village in Kenya (file photo)
Kenyans have been closely following the presidential campaign of Barack Obama, whose father was from western Kenya. His relatives in the western village of Kogelo have become minor celebrities as the senator's political star has risen.  

On Wednesday, Obama's uncle, Said Obama, commented on his nephew's historic step toward his once-improbable goal of becoming the nation's first black president.

"We are very happy about what has just happened because it's something which has dragged on for a long time and we were looking forward to this and it has finally come," he said.  "So we are very happy, he has made us happy and we are only praying that he goes forward and clinches the presidency as well."

Obama was in Kisumu, Kenya's third city on the shores of Lake Victoria, not far from Kogelo.

"That's the discussion everywhere," he added.  "Even if you listen to our local FM radio stations that's the main news. All of Kisumu is in a celebrating mood actually."

Luo council of elders, listening to Senator Obama
Luo council of elders, listening to Senator Obama (file photo)
As the violence following December's disputed elections exposed Kenya's tribal divisions, some analysts attempted to impose similar divisions on support for Mr. Obama.  Obama's family belongs to the Luo tribe of presidential challenger Raila Odinga, now the prime minister, and who jokes that there could be a Luo president in the United States before there is one in Kenya.

But on the streets of the capital Nairobi, Kenyans from Central Province, home to the Kikuyu tribe of President Mwai Kibaki, disputed that contention.

"No, In fact everybody else I've come across, everybody in Kenya should be enthusiastic about it. Everybody is glad, everybody feels good," said accountant David Kal.

Jonathan, also from Central Province, works for a telecommunications firm.

Grandmother of Barrack Obama, Sarah Obama Onyango, holds a senate election placard promoting Obama at her home in western Kenya 04 Feb 2008
Grandmother of Barrack Obama, Sarah Obama Onyango, holds a Senate election placard promoting Obama at her home in western Kenya, 04 Feb 2008
"We are very excited about it. He is a very intelligent person. He's been able to overcome a lot of difficulties. He's more of a unity factor," he explained.  "He's not divisive. He's a nice guy. In fact, I like him so much I'm even selling his T-shirts."

Despite the excitement, ordinary Kenyans asked about the nomination said there are limited expectations about what Obama will be able to do for Kenya if he wins the presidency.  One woman named Lynn recently returned from the United States where she is studying at the University of Texas.

"I don't think it's going to do much for Kenya but there's a lot of excitement about just our son is maybe going to be the president," she said.

"At the moment it is a big boost," added Martin Oweru, a recent university graduate in the capital. "But for Kenya, not exactly, because he has to concentrate on building the economy of U.S. first before coming back to Kenya."

"There's nothing unusual because it's not Barack Obama the individual who is going to rule the U.S. It's the Democratic Party and the policies and values of America which are going to prevail at the end of the day," said media consultant Charles Otieno.

Political scientist Peter Wanyande, says his colleagues at the University of Nairobi have also welcomed Obama's nomination, but are waiting to see how the general election turns out.

"The real test will be in the elections and they are hoping that the United States will be able to go beyond considerations of race, color things like those and actually demonstrate to the world that they are truly committed to issue-based politics," he said.

Wanyande says many Kenyans have been disappointed that presidents George Bush and Bill Clinton skipped the country on their visits to the continent. Many Kenyans are hoping that with Obama in the White House, Kenya would be on the president's itinerary.

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