Kenyans rejoice and share pride

NAIROBI, Kenya – From the shantytowns of Kenya’s capital to the rural homestead of Barack Obama’s relatives, thousands of Kenyans slaughtered goats, hoisted American flags and partied into the night yesterday as a man they see as one of their own ascended to the world’s most powerful office.

In Nairobi’s sprawling Kibera slum, residents raised a U.S. flag and declared Kenya to be America’s 51st state. In the village of Kogelo, where Obama’s father was born and some family members still live, 5,000 people gathered as 10 bulls and six goats were slaughtered for a luxurious feast at a time when the country is enduring a crippling food crisis. Women dressed in colorful print cloths performed traditional dances to the rhythms of cowhide drums.

“Yes, yes, yes!” shouted Maurice Odoyo, 34, joining hundreds of people trying to catch a glimpse of Obama’s speech on a 12-inch television set up in a clearing in Kibera, one of Africa’s largest slums. “His father comes from this country. Obama will remember us, how we are suffering.”

The election of a black American president with African roots stands as a powerful symbol on a continent where so many people’s hopes are hobbled by crushing poverty and corruption. And in Kenya, a struggling country of 38 million riven a year ago by a deadly postelection crisis, Obama’s presidency was a source of pride and inspiration.

Kibera is a stark reminder of the poverty in a country where one in five people get by on less than a dollar a day. The slum is a maze of tin-roofed shacks where raw sewage flows through dirt tracks. Yesterday, children wearing Obama T-shirts huddled by a bonfire to keep warm.

Despite Kenya’s problems, Obama’s victory has enthralled the nation.

“We missed the Kenyan presidency but we got a bigger one, the American throne,” Seth Oloo, a physician in the western town of Kisumu, told The Associated Press.

Since Obama was elected, the road to Kogelo has been tarred and the government has brought in electricity and water. Local youths hope Obama will bring factories for them to work in.

Samuel Omondi said if Obama could bring such changes, he was welcome to take over from his own country’s scandal-wracked government.

“I hope Kenya to be one of the American states,” the 33-year-old Kogelo resident said.

At the biggest hospital in nearby Kisumu, Christine Aoko named her newborn daughter Michelle, after Obama’s wife.

“I hope my girl will grow as tough as Michelle,” Aoko said.

Nairobi’s popular Carnivore restaurant, where tourists dine on alligator and giraffe, ordered an extra 240 crates of beer for partygoers watching the inauguration.

But many caution against placing too much hope in the idea that Obama will make Africa a top priority.

“It is lost on many of us that despite his Kenyan roots, Barack Obama is as American as apple pie, and will never be president of Kenya,” said a column in Kenya’s Daily Nation newspaper.

“True, he does have an attachment to this country, but it would be foolish of us to wait for him to direct Air Force One and the entire American fleet to bring goodies to our starving shores.”