Obama's Kenyan cousin bids to duplicate his rise to power

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The Independent Online

Among the family portraits in Sarah Hussein Obama's modest house in a remote corner of Kenya, are election posters of her two grandsons. The first poster shows the familiar smiling face of the US presidential hopeful Barack. Her second politico grandchild Nicholas is not so well known, but that could change, at least in Kenya, after elections in which he is bidding for a seat in parliament.

Nicholas Rajula, to give him his full name, has seen his popularity boosted by his famous familial connections. When Obama visited Kenya last year, the country – and this western region of Nyanza in particular – was swept up in Obama-mania. Babies were christened Obama, the primary school was named after him, even the local Senator beer was rebranded to celebrate the area's most famous son.

"It would be very cheap of me to drop the name 'Obama' into my campaign," Mr Rajula insists, "but if they know I am a relative and want to associate me with the senator I have no quarrel."

Many voters are already making the connection. A group of young men gathered in the shade by the side of the road nod in agreement when Charles Odhiambo, a 30-year-old bicycle taxi rider, explains why he is voting for the Obama connection. "If he wins and maybe Barack also wins then they can co-ordinate together and bring a lot of development down here."

Election fever is mounting in Kenya in the approach to the December ballot and, for the first time in the country's troubled history, a Luo, the charismatic Raila Odinga, has a serious chance of snatching the presidency. But since Obama announced he was running for the presidency of the US, Kenyans have had two election campaigns to follow.

Obama's father, also called Barack, was a goat herder in Nyangoma-Kogelo, the village where Mrs Obama still lives. Their son left after getting a scholarship at Harvard University. It seems that everyone in Nyanza, from taxi drivers to stallholders, has an opinion on Barack junior, Hillary Clinton and the latest opinion polls.

"I think both the senator and Rajula can win," said Mrs Obama. "They are playing different types of politics in terms of style but they are both stronger than their opponents."

Mr Rajula was close to his cousin's side when the US senator visited the area last year, particularly when he visited the newly renamed Barack Obama Primary School – of which Mr Rajula is patron – and donated books and materials for the teachers. "He has helped us uplift the standard of education," says Ann Aromo, the school's deputy head. "Rajula can make it."

Mr Rajula is one of 17 people competing for the nomination of Mr Odinga's ODM party and, given Mr Odinga's popularity in this area, whoever wins the nomination is all but guaranteed to be elected to parliament. But not everyone is convinced Mr Rajula will be that man, whatever his connections to Obama.

Margaret Adimabo Okatch, 34, sells chapattis, avocadoes and tomatoes from her roadside stall. Her analysis of Mr Rajula's chances almost mirror the comments many Americans are making about his cousin. "Rajula is still junior in politics," she said. "He needs more experience."

If Mr Rajula is the constituency's Obama, then Edwin Yinda is the local Hillary. Mr Yinda, a rich businessman who stood unsuccessfully in 1997, is more experienced and the favourite to get the nomination.

Mr Yinda dismisses any suggestion that his rival's connections might sway voters in his favour. "The people will look at what he can do himself. They are looking for someone with experience and that is why I think they will choose me."