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Barack Obama: Mood is subdued in Kenya as villagers pray for the return of their most famous son

In other parts of the world, the excitement of four years ago is minimal – except in China, where elections are unheard of

The residents of Kogelo village in western Kenya, near the shore of Lake Victoria, are getting ready for three days and nights of prayer starting this Sunday.

People will gather near local landmarks such as the President High School, the Barack restaurant and the Obama Hotel to keep a vigil in what was once the home of the US President's father, Barack Obama Snr. As Kenya's most famous son is in the fight of his political life amid the swing states and undecideds a world away in the United States, they don't want to leave anything to chance.

No one knows whether election night in Kogelo will feature the same big screen, where hundreds of foreign reporters sat alongside the villagers in the pouring rain four years ago watching Latin American soap operas and waiting for the first results. Last time around, Abisalom Omolo had to take leave from his day job as a radio host to guide the international media horde that descended on what was then a remote village. Then, Grandma Sarah, as Mr Obama calls his step-grandmother, was the darling of global networks. This time, Mr Omolo has taken one journalist in the past five weeks.

There are few of the gripes that are heard elsewhere in Kenya and more broadly across Africa: that an Obama presidency has failed to deliver much for them. A partially paved road, some ramshackle hotels and a trickle of tourists are more than this area ever got from a Kenyan government, so disappointment is tempered.

"There will be waiting and praying [in Kogelo] but people are sure that he's going to win," said Mr Omolo. "The area is not so poor as it was four years ago, so maybe someone will pay for a big screen to watch the election."

An hour's drive away in the region's main city of Kisumu, the lakeside bastion of the Obamas' Luo people, there is none of the excitement of 2008. Next year's Kenyan elections loom larger than next week's US equivalent.

There are few flickers of the Obama paraphernalia that dressed Kenya last time around. The Obama bumper stickers read "Yes We Can 2008" if you look more closely, and there are tell-tale signs of wear and tear on T-shirts, bags and hats that are being recycled for the re-election campaign.

"People are not as boisterous or as loud as they were four years ago," said Kenyan commentator Murithi Mutiga. "But the latent support is very strong. It's just that there was a reality check in the last four years after the sky-high expectations that came with seeing a black man elected president."

Most Kenyans now know better that American politics is local. Mr Obama was elected to be President of the US and not Africa. And in any case, there is a rumour going around that "cousin Obama" will visit Kenya if he gets a second term. That would soothe bruised feelings at a single stroke.

Daniel Howden


Barack Obama started his presidential term with a much-vaunted "reset" of relations with Russia, but has ended it with his ambassador in Moscow stalked by Kremlin television reporters, his international development body USAid kicked out of the country, and his State Department accused by Vladimir Putin of paying the people who came out on to the street to protest against his rule.

Who actually wins may be a matter of secondary importance. Russia will continue to use the US as a useful foreign bogeyman if the exigencies of domestic politics demand it, and both Mr Obama and Mr Romney will want to play it carefully with Russia while still exploiting the economic opportunities. The New York Times reported yesterday that Mr Romney's son Matt has been in Moscow in recent days, ostensibly on a business trip, but also to deliver a message via intermediaries to Mr Putin that his father would tone down the rhetoric if he made it into office.


If European voters had their way, Barack Obama would be re-elected by a margin so overwhelming that it would embarrass a Third World dictator. A poll by YouGov in seven northern European nations this week found that more than 90 per cent of voters preferred President Obama to Mitt Romney. If the poll had been extended to southern Europe, it would probably have shown a similar result.

Given the chance, Europeans would have voted for Jimmy Carter and Walter Mondale, rather than Ronald Reagan in 1980 and 1984. They would have voted, overwhelmingly, for Al Gore and John Kerry rather than George W Bush in 2000 and 2008.

The rise of the Christian Right and the Tea Party has driven transatlantic political alignments even further apart. If parachuted into Washington, Chancellor Angela Merkel, or even former president of France, Nicolas Sarkozy, would find themselves in the centre-ground of the Democratic Party. Even the French far-right leader Marine Le Pen likes to point out that she is, on many issues, substantially to the left of the Republicans.


Four years ago, millions in India – especially those among that half of the population aged under 25 – got caught up in the Obama phenomenon. Although Republicans have traditionally been seen as having enjoyed better relations with successive Indian governments than the Democrats, and even though George Bush had brokered a breakthrough nuclear-power deal, it was Barack Obama rather than John McCain who captured the imagination. Indians were more than aware that here was the first non-white American President.

This time around, the US election has received far less coverage. America remains in a slump. Mr Obama has lost his sheen but Mitt Romney has not matched the 2008 magic of the challenger. The most important issues in the years ahead will be boosting trade, the opening of India to US companies such as Walmart and the increasing reliance of the US on India as a regional foil to China.


Chinese people do not get to vote, ever, so there is considerable interest in the US election here. But many are also concerned about China's own, once-in-a-decade leadership transition which starts on 8 November.

Chinese people have been following the cut and thrust online. As the China Daily pointed out, half a million users of the Chinese social network Renren clicked on the link to watch Jon Stewart's The Daily Show poke fun at the candidates after their second debate, just after it was posted. Major Chinese news and video websites have carried live webcasts of the debates, or posted video of them afterwards.

Traditionally, the Chinese, despite being run by Communists, have supported Republican candidates, because they tended to be very much in favour of free trade and were less pushy on issues such as human rights. However, the Chinese also like consistency and stability, and tend to favour sitting candidates as it means they can be sure of a certain predictability.