Kenyans celebrate Obama's inauguration 2009-01-21 18:27:17   Print

 Special Report: Barack Obama: The 44th U.S. President

     by Daniel Ooko     

    NAIROBI, Jan. 21 (Xinhua)--Thousands of Kenyans cheered and danced across the country during U.S. President Barack Obama's inaugural speech late Tuesday.

    They went nuts when Obama made references to Kenya -- particularly when he mentioned Kogelo, the village where his father was born.

    Obama, whose father was born in the country, has long been seen as a native son and thousands of people gathered across the country to celebrate his inauguration.

    In a remote village in Western Kenya where President Obama traces his roots bubbled with excitement as the world ushered in the first African American president in the country's history.

    After feasting and dancing all day long on Tuesday, thousands of villagers sat on a dusty football pitch to witness man they call their son take oath of office.

    They cheered with clenched fists as President Obama, who had visited the village three times before he won the seat, stepped forward to take over power from President George W. Bush.

    Shouts of "our son, our pride" rang out in the dark, expansive pitch of a Primary school named after President Obama.

    At exactly 19:45 local time (1645 GMT), the crowd that included, old women, men and children broke into cheers when President Obama rose to give his historic speech.

    The audiences were waiting for Obama to look into the distance and see them in Kenya. And when he did, the crowd could not have been more satisfied.

    The Obama family is an extensive one in Kenya as there are scores and scores of people with the last name Obama.

    In Nairobi, thousands of people gathered to watch the inauguration of Obama on television in different entertainment spots. At the University of Nairobi, the crowd was predominantly young, with many students from the city's universities arriving hours before President Obama's speech to find a good spot.

    "I'm very happy as a Kenyan to see Barack Obama as a Kenyan," said Amos Njuguna, a university student in Nairobi.

    "This person has really influenced us. He has become our role model all over the world. That's why we are here today. And actually we are requesting the President of Kenya to declare tomorrow (Wednesday) a public holiday. We are so happy."

    Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki declared a national holiday following Obama's election victory in November. Television stations provided 24-hour coverage with bars and discos hosting inaugural bashes.

    Dozens of cows, goats and chickens were slaughtered in Obama's ancestral village in western Kenya, which even got a shout-out from the new president during his inaugural address.

    Lorry loads of police kept vigil at the packed grounds where the multitudes followed the events from a giant screen that beamed the ceremony live from Washington.

    "We brought very many police officers because we feared crowd trouble. But things are fine. They are excited but very peaceful,"said Siaya police chief, Johnston Ipara.

    "Keeping this place secure has been a big challenge because many people are over excited and could have easily committed crimes."

    The swearing in ceremony was preceded by a football match between a team named after President Obama FC and another one made of youths from Kisumu, the lakeside city.

    After the swearing ceremony, the crowd refused to leave the grounds and opted to dance to disco music until Wednesday morning.

    "No body will sleep today. We are all spending the night here. I can't sleep when our son is taking over such a powerful office," said Mariam Oyuka, 67.

    Oyuka is among the villagers who met President Obama when he visited his father's homestead in 1983, 1995 and in 2006.

    "I know him very well. I have shaken his hands on three occasions and I am very delighted to see him on television tonight. I think he still remembers me," said Oyuka, a mother of four.

    Some of the villagers had trekked for several miles to attend the ceremony and when they left at dawn on Wednesday, the school compound was teeming with garbage of left behind by the merrymakers.

    In a country where most people don't have electricity and television sets, thousands crowded around public TVs, from the giant-screens erected at Nairobi's downtown convention center to battery-powered monitors set up outdoors in remote farming towns.

    "I'm going to stay here all night," said Stephen Mutua, a Nairobi hawker as he watched the inauguration with hundreds of cheering Kenyans in Nairobi's Kenyatta International Conference Center (KICC).

    "It's good to be associated with the greatest president of the greatest nation on earth. And it's very special to see a black man now leading whites."

    The native son (Obama)'s wave swept across Kenya as the son of a man with Kenyan descent was sworn in as the 44th President of the US.

    President Kibaki issued a message of congratulations, saying that President Obama has inspired millions around the world with his message of hope.

    Prime Minister Raila Odinga, who, like President Obama's father, belongs to the Luo tribe, urged the American president to support democracy around the world.

    Odinga took the newly-created position of prime minister last year as part of a power-sharing deal following presidential elections that he claimed were rigged.

    Entertainment joints in Nairobi were filled to capacity as citizens were glued to big screen televisions to witness the making of history.

    "It gives us the impetus to work harder and achieve these things," said Joseph Okello in Nairobi.

    "You feel like it's your brother doing this things, it's a brotherly kind of love," added his friend Michael Mbugua, as the two sipped The Senator, a beer named after Senator Obama.

    Like the last national holiday following Obama's election victory in November, the mood on Tuesday was again festive as Kenyans celebrated the latest step in a career that many here have long followed with great interest.

    But despite President Obama's Kenyan ancestry, many here downplay any immediate effect on U.S.-Kenya relations.

    "Obama has a lot of work to do. Right now, let us give him some space because he has to work with his country first of all," said Stephem Umiah in Nairobi.

    Many Kenyans feel connected to the man who is now in charge of the most powerful nation in the world. They were all inspired by the president's words of hope.

    "He has made us (Kenyans) proud. He has mentioned the village of Kogelo though not by name," said Margaret Mwangi, excitedly.

    "If his father were alive today, he would have been so proud. I would think he would be boasting right now about his son. He always believed in the Obamas. He was very proud of that name," said Nairobi-based teacher Charles Otieno who comes from Kogelo.

    Mohammed Hussein had high hopes for Obama's foreign policy. But he says there will be little direct impact on Kenya.

    "Obama is one person. He cannot change the whole world. But at least we expect a change of policy from the George W. Bush policy to a better one in terms of human rights, in terms of the fight against terrorism, in terms of the relationship between Washington and Africa. Kenya will not benefit directly."

    Otieno said President Obama's election could set an example for Kenyan politics, and that it might boost the east African nation's appeal as a tourist destination.

Editor: Xiong Tong
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