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In Kenya, Obama Win Sparks Celebration


In Kenya, the president has declared Thursday a national holiday. Barack Obama's father was raised in western Kenya. NPR's Gwen Thompkins visited the town where he was born, Kogelo, where some of Obama's relatives still live. As Gwen found, people there say they knew well before the polls closed that Obama would be the next American president.

GWEN THOMPKINS: The people here in the green hills of western Kenya had a feeling about this election. And when it rained yesterday, they knew for sure that Barack Obama would be the next president of the United States. Rain, the farmers say, is a good omen. This morning, in the area where Obama's father is buried, the people were celebrating well before the victory speech. David Okelo (ph) felt the hand of providence.

Mr. DAVID OKELO: This is just a blessing from God.

THOMPKINS: Okelo is 30 years old and works for an organization devoted to HIV/AIDS prevention. He's wearing a black t-shirt with the words Obama Tosha on the front. In Swahili, Obama Tosha means...

Mr. OKELO: Obama is the best. Yeah.

THOMPKINS: Most of the people here do not speak English. But many of them watched Mr. Obama's victory speech on what looked to be the village's only television.

President-elect BARACK OBAMA (Democratic Senator, Illinois): And all of those watching tonight from beyond our shores, from parliaments and palaces, to those who are huddled around radios in the forgotten corners of the world, our stories are singular, but our destiny is shared. The new dawn of American leadership is at hand.

THOMPKINS: Bernard Asola (ph) is a 27-year-old electrician.

Mr. BERNARD ASOLA: When the man is talking, we're just feeling happy as if we are hearing what he is saying. And the majority are not sharing.

THOMPKINS: So it's not - it's not important to understand everything he says?

Mr. ASOLA: Yes.

THOMPKINS: But it's good to hear his voice.

Mr. ASOLA: Yes.

THOMPKINS: Not every Kenyan was as sure of an Obama win as the people here in the west. But spontaneous celebrations are now cropping up nationwide. In the slums of Nairobi, people waved American flags. In Mombasa on the Indian Ocean, city leaders said they would name a street after the new American president.

And here in the village, folks are dancing a kind of step, step, step, drop down and wiggle kind of dance that makes old ladies move like young girls. Nearby, the neighbors ripped branches off mango trees and carried them victoriously to the grave of the president-elect's father, Barack Obama, Sr. In Swahili, they shouted, "Obama, you have sired a king." Gwen Thompkins, NPR News, Kogelo, Kenya. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Gwen Thompkins
Gwen Thompkins hosts Music Inside Out on WWNO in New Orleans.
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