Obama's Kenyan roots celebrate


KOGELO, Kenya — A cheer cut through the warm, dark night air as Barack Obama appeared
on the projector screen set up in the village of Kogelo for the first time. A woman, wrapped in a bright green dress of printed fabric raised her arms to ululate shouting, "Obama! Our son!"

But the enthralled thousands-strong crowd saved their loudest cries for the moment during his inaugural speech when Obama spoke of "the small village where my father was born," Kogelo, set among the hills and forests of western Kenya.

"A boy from here will never forget where he is from, we are blood," said Frederick Odinga, 20, as the music started up shortly after the speech ended. "People were speculating that he would not mention anything about Kogelo so it is very wonderful!" He said that to remember one's roots was typical of someone from the Luo tribe which dominates in this part of the country.

As Washington slept in the early hours of Tuesday morning Kogelo was in full party mode.

The village is the ancestral home of the Obama clan: it is where Obama's father was born and where his step-grandmother, Sarah, a guest at the official ceremony in Washington, D.C., still lives.

It is a usually sleepy place beside an unpaved dirt road where goats and cows wander untethered through the surrounding family plots. It is, in other words, like any other village in this part of Africa.

It was a wonderfully exuberant, Kenyan affair. The crowds began arriving in the early morning and by evening several thousand had made their way to the Senator Obama Primary School. Some had walked from their homes five hours away. What they found was a tree-lined
recreation ground transformed into a carnival of music, dance, soccer and joyful celebration.

All were there to mark the swearing-in of President Obama but no one waited for a signal from Washington to begin the celebrations. Hours before Obama made his way onto the stage in front of the Capitol, the party was well underway.

Barefoot children charged about madly, audiences gathered around traditional dance troupes as they stamped their feet and banged their drums. Local dignitaries made speeches encouraging young people to follow Obama's example and animals were slaughtered. One group of
actors enacted their own dramatised history of the Obama family over the last 400 years until the moment when Obama Senior won a scholarship to study in America. Everywhere people smiled, greeting one another.

Manning a bookstall selling a locally written Obama biography Laban Odiambo, 26, said, "Obama is a black man and an African so he is an inspiration and a challenge to us to work harder to achieve." Odiambo was already achieving: he had sold over 100 copies of the Obama book by mid-morning.

Nearby Erastus Oliet, 22, was doing even better. He arrived from Nairobi the day before with 300 bright orange T-shirts printed with Obama's portrait and had already sold half. He thanked Obama for helping him to earn a living.

"I feel pride to be a Luo in the first place, because that is where it starts," he said, "and I am proud as a Kenyan. And, as a black man, it is beyond me!" he added with a grin.

Having just finished his role as the back end of an eight-foot-tall dancing figure that entertained the children, Onyuka Clement, a 22-year old performer in wraparound shades said of Obama's presidency, "It's like a dream that has come true."

With a wave of his hand towards the gently sloping hill dotted with bare cement block houses with tin roofs that lay behind him he added: "Could you imagine a man from this place could become the most important in the world?"

Houses like these make up the Obama family homestead, but unlike the others this one is surrounded by a wire fence and guarded by a contingent of security men camped inside: Obama's Kenyan family's lives have also changed as he has risen in prominence.

Eighteen-year-old school girl Winnie Sewe — top of her class in math — had just finished a tour of the compound when she announced her dream to follow in Obama's footsteps to become a president, although of Kenya.

"In the future all of us are looking forward to being like him," she said proudly.