It's Lincoln 'delivering emancipation' for Kenyan half-brother


KENYAN ROOTS:Obama's image is solid in a country where politics is a byword for corruption, writes Rob Crilly, in Kogelo

ELECTION night was cold, damp and dark in the tiny farmstead that the Kenyan Obama family calls home.

Miles from the nearest mains electricity, dozens of his relatives huddled around fires or sat glued to flickering television screens, powered by generators, as the results trickled through.

It was past dawn before the man his Kenyan relatives know as "Barry" was declared the winner, sending more than 100 aunts, uncles and assorted cousins into paroxysms of joy. "We haven't slept all night," said Biosa Obama, the president-elect's 39-year-old sister-in-law, dancing on the spot. "I don't know what to say. This is just too amazing." The farm's brick-red soil soon turned to mud as dozens of feet stomped to tribal rhythms.

Men cheered and women ululated as the televised maps of the battleground states turned blue. Among the group was Kezia Obama (65), who had travelled from her home in the UK to celebrate her stepson's victory.

"Me I am feeling very happy," she said yesterday morning, wearing a traditional headdress. "Even from yesterday we knew he was going to win and we were hoping for good things from my stepson Barack Obama."

At the mention of his name, another cheer went up and assorted nephews and nieces started on a traditional tribal chant: "Obama is coming, clear the way." Life has already changed among the lush green fields where Barack Obama snr once herded goats.

Police have mounted a 24-hour watch on the bare brick and tin-roofed shack where Obama's grandmother lives.

Where chickens and goats would once wander freely, her grassy compound is now surrounded by a six-foot fence and impenetrable gate.

Diplomats, local politicians and Kenyans seeking American visas regularly beat a path to her door hoping her illustrious relative can help.

Bulldozers and roadrollers have been smoothing the rutted dirt track that winds its way through maize fields to the Obamas' land.

But other things have stayed just as they were centuries ago.

Yesterday, women tended cooking fires as the family began preparations for a huge victory feast. Two fine bulls and dozens of goats chomped grass, oblivious to their coming role in the celebrations. Two bulls had already been slaughtered as the celebrations began long before the polls even closed or the networks dared to call the result.

"We are Africans. This is what we do. We kill an animal and invite all our friends to visit," boomed Abongo Malik Obama, the 44th president's elder half-brother.

Earlier he had received a phone call connecting the two worlds of American politics and African village, as Barack Obama chatted for about 10 minutes with his Kenyan relatives, telling them election night was proving to be "great fun".

Later, as the excitement died away for a moment, Abongo reflected on the dawn of a new type of politics in the US. "I feel that this is a great, great, great moment. It means a new era, a new era of thinking about the direction of the world," he said, his eyes watering with tears.

"This is the best thing - this is Abraham Lincoln delivering the emancipation proclamation. This is everything. This is the best of everything rolled into one."

Similar scenes were played out across the country, as ordinary Kenyans began to dream of a new dawn for their own country.

Peter Otieno, from the town of Siaya, beside the Obama family homestead, spoke for many when he said he hoped the president-elect would remember his roots when spending his billions-strong budget.

"When he's in that place, we want him to improve means of transport, hospitals, skills," he said. "His father came from Kenya, so he must look to where he came from first." Obama's image as a politician free of dogma and someone breaking out of the accepted political mould is desperately popular in a country where politics has long been a byword for cronyism and corruption. Many hope he will become a role model for Kenya's tarnished elite.

Today has been declared a public holiday to give Kenyans an extra chance to share in his success.

In Kogelo yesterday, children from the neighbouring Senator Barack Obama School performed songs and readings in the brick classrooms, agog at the thought that the next time Obama visits he might come on Air Force 1.

If America will never be the same after an Obama victory, then the same goes for this corner of Kenya, where Barack Obama snr grew up before leaving to study overseas.