In Obama's rise, Kenyans see lessons for Africa
For Kenyans, the election of a young black man with direct roots in Africa has a resonance that goes far beyond home-town pride.
(Page 2 of 2)
Even in the streets of the Kenyanb capital, Nairobi, the inauguration has turned the city into a mini-Mardi Gras.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
Street vendors sell T-shirts, wraparound skirts, and even woven-hemp purses adorned with Obama's trademark grin, with Obama's slogan "Yes, we can" translated into Swahili: "Ndiyo tuna-weza."
"Oh, gosh, let me tell you, when he got elected, everyone was crying," says Peter Gitari, a dreadlocked shopkeeper in Nairobi's City Market.
Obama's election will encourage Americans to come to Kenya see where Obama has come from, which will improve business for the tourism industry, Mr. Gitari believes. "Everyone in America will want to see Kenya now."
"Obama has created hope, even here in Africa," says Charles Mbugua, who says his locally produced Obama skirts are his biggest sellers. "When Obama said, 'Yes, we can,' Ah! It cuts too deep in our hearts. Look, here we have [Mwai Kibaki] as president, and after him there will be a successor. If they change like Obama, we believe things will get better in Kenya."
"He's one of us, and I think he'll be good for Kenya," says Pamela Orhruch, a shopkeeper. "I think we will now expect more from our leaders, because of Obama. Right now there is a famine, and people are dying from hunger, while our leaders are making money from food. I think it is better to expect higher from these people than to expect lower."
To be sure, many Kenyans have high expectations that Obama will use his position as US president to increase aid and business ties with Kenya, a notion that they carry from their own country's political system, where leaders are elected largely to bring benefits to their own tribes, clans, or close relations.
"Luos didn't elect Obama; he was elected by Americans," says Mr. Akech, who hails from Obama's same village and same ethnic group, the Luo tribe. "Obama's first allegiance is to Americans."
Africans and Kenyans in particular are almost bound to be disappointed by Obama, because of their high expectations, Akech says. But Africans should remember that Obama is not a messiah, and that Obama's greatest success thus far is simply getting elected, despite his supposed disadvantages of being a member of an ethnic minority.
"Obama is a role model, not only to me, but also to my son," says Akech, as his family eats a pizza in a posh Nairobi shopping mall. "Everything was against him in this election, and there's no way to do something great without slaying a Goliath. But now that Obama has won, my son can say: "This man can do it, I can do it, too, no matter the challenge.'"