Illinois is all that counts for a village in Kenya

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The Independent Online

Deep among the coffee plantations and homesteads of western Kenya, people are getting excited about the American elections. Most homes have no electricity, never mind a television set, but everyone has spare batteries for a transistor radio to follow the results.

Deep among the coffee plantations and homesteads of western Kenya, people are getting excited about the American elections. Most homes have no electricity, never mind a television set, but everyone has spare batteries for a transistor radio to follow the results.

They are not too bothered who becomes the next president, but they are following every second of the campaign of Barack Obama, the 43-year-old Democrat who is running for senator in Illinois.

In this corner of Kenya, blood ties hold strong and the fact Barack Obama's father was born and buried in the village of N'yangoma in Nyanza province makes Obama Jnr everyone's favourite relative.

"I think he will come here and build us a new school," said 17-year old Tirus Omedi, sitting in a dusty classroom with a dirt floor and rickety desks. "He will bring piped water, electricity, and new roads," added his teacher.

In this region, which has the highest incidence of Aids and one of the lowest standards of living in Kenya, the Illinois candidate has gained the status of a demi-god. He has already become the first black president of the Harvard Law Review ; if elected, he will become only the fifth black senator in US history. He is the clear favourite to win the race for the Senate against his rival, Alan Keyes, another African-American, and people are already talking about him as a future president.

Mr Obama grew up in Hawaii and Indonesia with an African father, American mother and Asian stepfather. His father, also called Barack, left Kenya after he won a scholarship to study in Hawaii, where he met and married Obama Jnr's mother. He left his wife when his son was two and returned to Kenya, where he became a top economist and part of the government's inner circle.

Mr Obama's extended family cannot be blamed for expecting some of the rewards of his success to come their way. At the Democratic convention last July, he drew a standing ovation for a speech in which he talked about how his father "grew up herding goats, and went to school in a tin-roof shack". Nine years ago, he published an autobiography - Dreams of My Father - and has kept in touch with his grandmother, uncle and cousins in Nyanza.

Kenyan politics is centred around tribal loyalties: Kikuyu politicians are expected to look after their own, as are Luo, Masai, Meru, and the myriad other tribes that make up the country. No one sees why it should be different for Barack Obama.

Said Obama, his uncle, said: "I don't know just what powers he will have if he is elected, but I would like to think he would work to put Africa's problems high on the American agenda. I think directly or indirectly he is going to help Kenya a lot."

Mr Obama's father was killed in a car crash in 1982 and is buried in the rich, red soil of his family's 30-acre homestead. Obama Jnr came to visit his father's grave and home for the first time six years later. When he arrived, he found a collection of simple brick rooms with no electricity or running water. On the bare stone walls there were rows of photographs of his extended family.

Now there is a picture of the young Barack Obama himself, beaming. In the village, excitement is reaching fever pitch. At the local school, which may be renamed after Mr Obama, children chalk up the words "Obam's [sic] ice cool" on the blackboard, and the teachers do not tell them to wipe it off.

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