Global Education

Obama ignites Kenyan pride while masking deeper conflict

By Amrita Rao
Published: November 2008

Euphoria filled the streets of Nairobi when news came in at seven in the morning that Barack Obama would be the next president of the United States.

Kenyans stayed up all night, tracking the latest election results and the distribution of electoral votes. That morning, after one of the longest campaign seasons in American history, Kenya’s dream was realized.

Kenya has claimed Obama as one of its own. Obama is biracial and his father’s native village is Kogelo, Kenya, a small village in western Kenya where his half-brother, step-grandmother, and various other relatives still live. Many Kenyans feel that he is one of them and they take pride in his heritage.

His picture is plastered on billboards and buses throughout the country, and you can often hear his name being chanted in the streets. The buzz  over Obama is contagious and it seems that everyone has caught on. The entire nation is whole-heartedly invested in the outcome of the election. The day after the election was declared a national holiday.

Through much of the hysteria, some Africans remain concerned that Obama will not come through for them as expected. In an article published in the Daily Nation, Kenya’s most prominent newspaper, columnist Priscah Edith Awino wrote that Obama should not be expected to be the “cure for Kenya. Awino writes that the election should inspire Africa to elect new leaders with Obama’s strengths.

After recent tensions over Kenya’s own election less than a year ago, Kenyans are looking forward to a leader that they can look up to for support and guidance. Riots broke out in January over the election of President Mwai Kibaki. The election was fiercely fought despite widespread corruption. The elections reawakened longstanding resentment towards Kikuyus, the privileged ethnic group in Kenya.

The recent U.S. election has partially reunited and eased the still very apparent ethnic strains. Perhaps the best way to eradicate these conflicts is through cooperation and the understanding of differences in a difficult time for all.

“Despite irreguliarities in the vote tabulation, now is not the time to throw that strong democracy away. Now is a time for President Kibaki, opposition leader Odinga, and all of Kenya’s leaders to call for calm, to come together, and to start a political process to address peacefully the controversies that divide them, Obama said responding to the conflict in Kenya.

African leaders and the African people are looking to Obama to address local, regional, and continental issues in Africa that have long since been put aside for other foreign policy issues.

Kenya and a number of other African nations have been, or are currently, ravaged by ethnic conflicts from within. Africans hope that since Obama has a direct connection with these issues, he will not ignore them.

Regardless of the cause or the ultimate outcome of the election, it is clear that President- elect, Barrack Obama, has reignited support for the US in Kenya and around the world.

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