Kenya celebrates Obama's success

Villagers celebrate victory for 'son of the soil'
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The Independent Online

Dawn broke in this tropical hamlet to the news that "one of their own" had completed the incredible journey from rural Kenya all the way to the White House. The partying hordes had never contemplated defeat, but now it was all over and the son of Barack Obama Snr had won. Wild chants broke out of "We're going to White House!" and the campaign favourite: "Yes we can!"

The Obamas emerged from their night-long vigil at the family homestead led by Sarah Onyango, the President-elect's surviving grandmother. Beaming her priceless smile, her head wrapped in a brilliant red scarf, Granny Sarah left the talking to a younger generation, while someone stood behind her clutching the cardboard cutout of her grandson that she normally keeps by the sofa. "It's unbelievable," shouted Obama's half-brother Malik, leading his family in chanting, "Obama's coming, make way!"

The Kenyan President, Mwai Kibaki, declared today a public holiday in honour of the "son of the soil", and in the capital, Nairobi, tickets for Obama, The Musical, were in hot demand.

Back in Kogelo, a night-long party that had shrugged off a tropical storm, a collapsing big screen and the Jesus Choir's broken drum pedal to maintain a relentless rhythm, now did its victory dance. "We haven't slept all night," Biosa Obama, the new President's sister-in-law, told reporters. "I don't know what to say. This is just too amazing."

In the joy and confusion 28-year-old Gitonga Jamlick, who had travelled from Nairobi to be with the Obamas, struggled with what it all meant: "The first black man to be president, that's history," he said shaking his head. But was the victor, the self-described "skinny kid with a funny name" really a Kenyan? "In a way he is Kenya," Mr Jamlick said, "He has family from four continents. He's a bit of everyone."

The gathering in the yard outside Senator Obama school acted as a window both on people's enthusiasm and confusion over what if anything this will mean. A huge hand-painted collage of US politicians showed Obama, Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter rising above George Bush, Dick Cheney and Colin Powell. But there in the top row alongside Obama was Britain's Queen Elizabeth – a personal favourite of Granny Sarah.

Greene Okoth, whose mother had been at school with Obama's father, said the rain had been a sign of coming victory in local Luo culture and there was no way the son would neglect his roots. "He is one of our own, he's not going to forget us," she said. "He is from the Karouth clan – kings that came south to Kenya from Sudan. Now he's going to be king of the world."

A little of that reflected glory went a long way yesterday in the dirt poor hills and plains that ring the shores of Lake Victoria. Crowds of ragged young men, some running, some riding bicycles, thronged the roads chanting the name of their champion and waving US flags.

It was impossible not to think that these were the same young men who a little over a year ago had rampaged through Kisumu burning and looting after Kenya's own elections ended in accusations of theft and rigging. Yesterday the same boys and men were decked out in twigs and leaves to signify peaceful celebration.

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