KOGELO, Kenya (Reuters) - Kenyans in Barack Obama’s ancestral homeland stayed up all night and danced with joy on Wednesday as America’s first black president won a second term in the White House, raising the prospects of a fresh start for his ties with Africa.
Many Africans feel Obama has not responded to their huge enthusiasm when he won the presidency four years ago with an increased U.S. commitment to the world’s poorest continent during his first term.
His re-election failed to rouse the same level of jubilation that was seen across Kenya following his 2008 election victory.
But as news of Obama’s victory came through, hundreds of people gathered in his late father’s village, and cheers and chants of “Obama, Obama, Obama!” erupted when key U.S. states fell to the east African country’s favorite adopted son.
In the tiny western hamlet of Kogelo, men waved tree branches and banged drums at the Obama family home where his grandmother Sarah lives. Women ululated and cried tears of joy, muttering prayers of thanksgiving.
Obama’s grandmother joined in the dancing and cheering outside her house after the results were declared.
“He is welcomed home,” she told reporters. “I would just like to tell him to give his best to the people who have shown their faith in him by electing him.”
Obama, who hails his African roots, visited sub-Saharan Africa only once in his first four years - a stopover of less than a day in Ghana between summits elsewhere.
President Mwai Kibaki, who declared a national holiday in Obama’s honor four years ago, this time merely sent him a message of congratulations for his victory over Republican Mitt Romney, saying he hoped Obama would deepen ties with Kenya.
However, in Kogelo, where Obama’s father was born and buried, they still celebrated his win with gusto.
Residents saw his victory as a boost for Kenya-U.S. relations. Some said it gave Obama another chance to provide more development aid to the continent, and many still held out hope that he would visit the country of his father’s birth.
“If I had a chance to talk to him, which hopefully I will get after he is inaugurated again, my message would be to focus on Africa,” Mustafa Obama, the president’s half brother said as he plucked weeds and tended to flowers on their father’s grave.
“If he can put more emphasis on education, health and all that matters to Africa instead of politics, that is my message to my brother,” he told Reuters.
Obama, who was born in Hawaii to a white mother from Kansas and a Kenyan father, has been idolized by many Africans in the way the Irish revered U.S. President John F. Kennedy in the 1960s - as one of their own who succeeded beyond their wildest dreams.
Macharia Munene, a lecturer on international relations at the United States International University, said Obama’s re-election gave him a chance of a fresh start with Africa.
“There is a possibility that he might want to be seen to be more concerned than he was with regards to Africa. He may say, ‘let me go and see my grandma, and say hi to Africa’. In that sense it is an opportunity to start afresh,” Munene said.
Some people in Kogelo had predicted an easy victory for Obama. Witch doctor John Dimo had tossed some shells, bones and other items to determine who would win Tuesday’s election. Pointing to a white shell on election day, he declared: “Obama is very far ahead and is definitely going to win.”
Several new-born babies at a hospital near Kogelo were named after the U.S. president.
In the spirit of bipartisanship, Millicent Awuor, 20, named her twins after both candidates. “I named the first twin Barack and the second one Mitt,” said Awuor, a housewife.
Additional reporting and writing by James Macharia; Editing by Pascal Fletcher and David Stamp