Kenyan Elis reflect on Obama’s win

Obamamania struck Kenya hard, but Yale students from the country have few illusions about what the presidency of Barack Obama might mean for their home.

In interviews, members of the University’s Kenyan population said Obama’s presidency had inspired hope within the country that Obama’s celebrity status would bring tourist dollars and enhanced international standing. But whether those hopes are ever realized depends largely on Kenyans themselves, students said.

“This whole experience, from the primaries to election night and now this, leaves me with mixed feelings,” Murefu Barasa FES ’09 said in an e-mail. “On the one hand it is inspiring — a reminder that no distance is too great; while on the other, sobering — a realization of how far we have to walk as Kenyans to get our national act together.”

Following Kenya’s December 2007 presidential elections, widespread violence broke out between the two candidates’ supporters after accusations of vote-rigging. The violence claimed more than 1,500 lives and displaced hundreds of thousands more.

Kenyan students said Obama’s victory has given many in their country hope that the nation may soon find, as Victor Mutai ’11 put it, “more Obamas, not in America, but in Africa itself.” Kenyans — particularly the nation’s lower and middle class — take great pride in Obama’s achievements and see the president-elect as one of their own, Kenyan students said.

“He is the ‘in-thing,’ ” Laura Ondere ‘10 said. “It’s Obama everything.”

Mutai expressed concerns that overly high expectations of the benefits his presidency will bring to Kenya were being placed on Obama’s shoulders.

“He’s not going to deliver everything to Africa,” Mutai said. “We still have to work for ourselves. The only thing that I expect to come out of this is that Obama should be a role model for most of our leaders.”

Ondere added that she didn’t think Obama’s Kenyan heritage would change how people view Africa, and that, for many Americans, “it’s still the ‘Dark Continent.’ ”

Ultimately, Nairobi native Amandla Ooko-Ombaka ’10 said, Obama’s presidency “will only do for Kenya what Kenyans are willing to do for themselves.”

But other Kenyan students said there are signs that Obama’s presidency could benefit the Kenyan economy. Kenyans expect tourism to increase, Ondere said, adding that she has heard of an “Obama route” under construction for American tourists interested in visiting Obama’s ancestral village, Kogelo.

“Kenya is definitely taking [Obama’s presidency] seriously,” Brian Odhiambo ’12 said. “They are trying to fix up his home village and the roads to it — everyone is buying property down there.”

Although the seven Kenyan students interviewed said they did not view Obama as truly Kenyan, they were still proud of his accomplishments.

“Speaking from a local Kenyan perspective, Obama is a Kenyan,” Odhiambo said. “Personally, I don’t consider him Kenyan. But his Kenyan roots are strong enough that I can feel passionate about his being Kenyan.”

None of the Kenyan students interviewed plan to travel to Washington for Tuesday’s inauguration, but all said they plan to watch the ceremony on television.

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