Following the US presidential election from Kenya was fun! It was also a bit advantageous, too. I wasn’t inundated with commercials, polls, and appeals to vote ad naseum like all of you were.
As most of you likely know by now, Obama’s father hailed from a small village called K’ogelo in Kenya's Nyanza district. Because of that simple connection, and even though there wasn’t much of a relationship between Obama and his father, Kenyans consider Obama to be very much one of their own.
Kenya’s presidential election less than a year ago turned quite ugly, as the whole world watched in horror and dismay. Many citizens here still struggle emotionally to come to terms with what became known as the “post-election chaos”.
Perhaps due to the fact that they couldn’t really celebrate the outcome of their own election, they displayed quite a party atmosphere when Obama was declared to be the next US president! Thursday, the 6th, was even declared a public holiday by President Mwai Kibaki.
For several days leading up to the US election day, The Daily Nation (the most popular newspaper in Kenya) devoted numerous pages to the election and primarily to Obama. One day, they even printed a two-page pull-out portrait of him. On both Wednesday and Thursday last week, there were an amazing 30 pages (out of 72) dedicated to this worldwide news event.
The photo above is the front page of Thursday's paper. Since Kenya is 10 hours ahead of California time and since the local daily papers only print one edition - in the mornings - Thursday was the first opportunity to report on Obama's victory.
For at least the past two weeks, everywhere I went in Nairobi, the buzz was Obama. Total strangers would ask me if I'd voted. While shopping at Toi (a large second-hand market), a young man tried to sell me an Obama lapel pin. Later, in the same market, I heard a reggae song about Obama belting out through the crowded alleyways. Two guys in a matatu expressed amazement regarding the technology that could beam images from K’ogelo all around the world. A man that runs a tiny fruit and juice kiosk in town promised me a free juice if Obama wins.
A small café in town offered free sodas to passersby after Obama was announced the winner. Wangari Maathai (a political and environmental activist and winner of the Nobel peace prize) planted a tree at Freedom Corner in Uhuru Park in Obama’s honor. Some restaurants offered menu items bearing his name. A local beer company came out with a special offer of a lager called “President”. Matatus formed a spontaneous parade near Kisumu.
This is Obama’s 86-year old paternal grandmother – Mama Sarah Obama. She is quite proud of her grandson! Local and international journalists have been camping out near her house for weeks. Early on in the campaign, the Kenyan government put up a new barbed-wire fence and gate and posted policemen for added security. Immediately after he won, the local power company made plans to bring electricity to her remote rural home and the road to her house is supposedly going to be tarmac-ed.
As for myself, I spent the night at Chunge’s house so I could watch all the election results. With a busy medical clinic to run the next day, they only stayed up with me until 1:00am. I slept on their couch between 2-4:00am, but flipped from one news channel to another during all the other hours.
It was 7:00am on Wednesday morning, here in Kenya, when Obama was announced as the winner.