Wednesday, December 9

A Year (or Two) in Kenya: Obama

Kenya loves Obama. A lot. On the night of his election, cameras recorded the reactions of people in his dad's home village. I remember there being dancing and singing and cheering and jumping and all the rest. The enthusiasm hasn't lessened all that much in the intervening year.

A few weeks ago the government was discussing investing twelve million shillings in the senior Obama's hometown of Kogelo to build a monument and other such things for the tourists. Tentative name? Obama Cultural and Leadership Centre. Apparently the man is a serious attraction. The tour agency we used to visit Lake Nakuru also offers a special seven-day Obama package. I'm not even sure if that tour visits Kogelo, but throwing around Obama's name and smiling face is a fairly common technique to boost sells. In my five months here I've seen T-shirts, shawls, jeans, belt buckles, and soapstone Scrabble boards with his name or face on them. There's even an Obama brand of bubblegum. He shares that particular distinction with Mr. Bean and the English Premier League.

Other, less-economic evidence of Obama's popularity: the one Luo child at the center very readily claims Obama as his brother and articles centering on the American president are fairly common in the national newspapers. Claims and counter-claims that Obama's birth certificate was forged and the 'beer summit' both appeared in The Daily Nation.

What makes this all the more impressive is that Obama hasn't done much to deserve local support beside the nationality of his father. He's chastised the Kenyan government for showing a complete lack of willingness to reform or prosecute those responsible for the post-election violence, snubbed the prime minister for a day when Odinga was in Washington, D.C., and totally skipped Kenya on his first trip to Africa as president. Obama has really kicked the chastising into high gear, too. Twenty-some top Kenyan officials received letters a few weeks back informing them they were not allowed in the United States for their parts in encouraging post-election violence.

Oh well. There are a number of men named Kennedy here, our nurse and farmhand among them. Give it a decade or two, and Kenya will probably be full of Obamas.

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