January 8, 2008 / 6:00 PM / 12 years ago

Some Kenyans forget crisis to root for Obama

KOGELO, Kenya (Reuters) - Kenyans were backing Barack Obama on Tuesday, hoping victory in New Hampshire for a U.S. politician they see as a native son will distract them from the gloom of their post-election crisis.

Democratic Party presidential candidate Barack Obama's grandmother, Sarah Hussein Onyango Obama, shows a campaign poster inside her house at the family's ancestral home in Kogelo, a village west of Nairobi, January 8, 2008. Kenyans were backing Obama on Tuesday, hoping victory in New Hampshire for a U.S. politician they see as a native son will distract them from the gloom of their post-election crisis. REUTERS/Thomas Mukoya

Obama, whose father was Kenyan, is seeking to become the first black U.S. president and leads rival Hillary Clinton by double digits in many polls ahead of Tuesday’s vote in which New Hampshire state chooses its preferred Democrat candidate.

He has said he is “deeply troubled” by violence that has killed 500 people since Kenya’s disputed December 27 polls.

Kenyans have been shocked by the clashes but on Tuesday, many turned their attention briefly to the United States.

In Obama’s ancestral village of Kogelo in the west, people talked of little else.

“We are all upbeat and we are looking forward to his win very much,” Barack’s uncle Said Obama, 41, told Reuters.

“We are praying for him and we hope he goes all the way ... It relieves us from the violence going on this country. At least we have something to make us happy.”

The senator from Illinois last visited Kogelo in 2006 and was received like royalty by thousands of cheering well-wishers.

Kogelo, which boasts the Senator Obama Primary School, lies 100 km (60 miles) northwest of Kisumu, a town by Lake Victoria that is a stronghold of Kenyan opposition leader Raila Odinga.


Odinga said Obama called him on Tuesday from the U.S. campaign trail to express his concern. Obama’s staff said he also planned to telephone Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki.

Odinga also said he was a cousin of Obama, but Obama’s uncle said that the two were not directly related.

“Odinga’s mother came from this area, so it is normal for us to talk about cousins. But he is not a blood relative,” he said.

Since 2004 when Obama was running for the Senate in Illinois, the Harvard-trained lawyer and civil rights activist has had rock star status in the east African nation.

Born in Hawaii to a white American mother and Kenyan father, Obama is revered by many Kenyans the way the Irish idolized former U.S. President John F. Kennedy in the 1960s — as one of their own who succeeded beyond their wildest dreams.

Obama has said his return to Kogelo last year represented a cyclical journey like that of his father, who grew up herding goats and then traveled to America where he studied at Harvard before returning to Kenya to become a noted economist.

Obama, whose first name Barack means “blessed” in east Africa’s Swahili language, had visited the country twice before in anonymity on trips to search for his father’s roots.

Slideshow (5 Images)

While Kenyan politics has polarized communities with deadly effect, support for Obama runs across the country’s tribes.

“I really hope he wins tonight,” said Tony Chege, who sells counterfeit DVD movies on the streets of the capital Nairobi.

“He seems to be someone who cares for everyone, not like George W. Bush. I know there are poor people in America like here, people without health insurance. Obama will help them.”

Additional reporting by Daniel Wallis in Nairobi; Writing by Daniel Wallis; edited by Alistair Thomson

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