November 5, 2008 / 5:50 AM / 11 years ago

Hope washes across Africa after Obama triumph

KOGELO, Kenya (Reuters) - Kenyans in Barack Obama’s ancestral homeland danced with joy on Wednesday as the election of America’s first black president sparked hope that he would tackle poverty and disease in Africa.

Kenyan relatives of Democratic presidential nominee Senator Barack Obama celebrate his victory in Nyangoma Kogelo village, west of Kenya's capital Nairobi, November 5, 2008. REUTERS/Thomas Mukoya

As a pink dawn lit the sky, hundreds of people in a field at Obama’s late father’s village clapped and cheered when key states fell to east Africa’s favorite adopted son.

“We are going to the White House! We are going to the White House!” relatives sang at the top of their voices, dancing around the family’s modest homestead in Kogelo, pausing only to hug each other and hoist small children into the air.

In the tiny village in western Kenya where Obama’s 87-year-old grandmother lives, family members prepared to roast a bull in celebration. Villagers swarmed the family home, banging drums, ululating and waving tree branches.

Born in Hawaii to a white mother from Kansas and a Kenyan father, Obama is idolized by many Africans the way the Irish saw U.S. President John F. Kennedy in the 1960s: as one of their own who succeeded beyond their wildest dreams.

Many Africans fervently hope his victory will mean more U.S. support for local development and an improvement in living conditions for the world’s poorest continent.

“We trust that you will also make it the mission of your presidency to combat the scourge of poverty and disease everywhere,” former South African president Nelson Mandela said.

His fellow South African Nobel peace laureate Desmond Tutu likened Obama’s victory to his own country’s triumph over apartheid. Nigerian President Umaru Yar’Adua said the result had “finally broken the greatest barrier of prejudice in human history.”

SUDAN UNMOVED

Analysts have cautioned, however, that Obama may have little scope to bring tangible benefits to Africa, and that he does not have a strong track record of interest in the continent.

“Whatever his personal preferences are, he is going to face much more immediate pressing concerns. And those are dealing with Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, Russia and the global financial crisis,” said Mark Schroeder, director of risk analysis for sub-Saharan Africa at the political intelligence group Stratfor.

“There is not going to be a lot of political capital left over to devote to Africa.”

During a visit to western Kenya in 2006, Obama reminded thousands of adoring fans that he was the senator for Illinois in the United States — not Kogelo.

Africa’s largest country, Sudan, was quick to dismiss any notion that a Democratic president with African roots would make much difference to its troubled relationship with Washington, particularly over the festering Darfur conflict.

Slideshow (5 Images)

“When it comes to foreign policy, there is no difference between the Republicans and the Democrats,” said Foreign Ministry spokesman Ali al-Sadig.

But in Kenya, President Mwai Kibaki declared Thursday a national holiday in honor of Obama, who enjoys rock star status in the east African nation.

Babies have been named after him, drinkers knock back “Senator” beers in his honor, pop stars sing his praises and “Obama: The Musical” opened in the capital Nairobi on Sunday.

Additional reporting by Munir Weche in Nairobi, Paul Simao and Michael Georgy in Johannesburg, Felix Onuah in Abuja, Shapi Shacinda in Lusaka, Andrew Heavens in Khartoum and Joe Bavier in Kinshasa; Editing by David Clarke

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