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Last Updated: Friday, 20 August, 2004, 10:57 GMT 11:57 UK
US election makes waves in Kenya
By Muliro Telewa
BBC correspondent in Nairobi

The prospects of an American of Kenyan descent becoming a US senator in November's elections has the politics-loving citizens of the East African country cheering.

US Senatorial candidate Barack Obama
Barack Obama is tipped as a future US president and first black leader

Barack Obama, the Democratic Party's candidate for Illinois, is the son of Barack Obama Sr, a senior economist in the Kenyan government, who died in a car accident in 1982.

His father herded goats before winning a scholarship to study in the US and grew up in the rural village of Nyangoma Kogalo in Western Kenya, near the shores of Lake Victoria.

Arriving in the village, people pointed out the direction of the Obamas' household.

"Yes that is the home of the Obamas whose son is contesting a seat in the big American parliament," someone told us.

Barack Obama's grandmother, Sarah Hussein Obama
He told me that he was joining politics but I did not know his involvement would draw such international attention
Sarah Hussein Obama
Barack Obama's grandmother

The compound has three houses built from red bricks and corrugated iron - a sign of the middle class in rural areas.

The first person we bumped into was Mr Obama Jr's uncle, Said Hussein Obama.

He shows us the grave of his late brother, Mr Obama Sr, the decorated slabs of which are already peeling.

Said Obama remembers his brother with nostalgia.

"The late Dr Barack Obama was well educated. He was social. He always reached out to us wherever we needed him. He even assisted some of us, his brothers, to go to school," he says.

As chickens foraged nearby, the 82-year-old grandmother of Mr Obama Jr pulled out a small sack filled with maize and poured it on the ground to dry in the pounding tropical heat.


Sarah Hussein Obama prays that her grandson wins a seat in the US Senate.

"When I visited him in the United States he told me that he was joining politics but I did not know his involvement would draw such international attention," she says.

Barack Obama's uncle
While he could afford to rent a car... he squeezed into matatus [taxi buses]
Said Hussein Obama
Barack Obama's uncle
When she learns that we are from the media, she pulls out three photo albums full of photographs of her "historic" tour of the US, UK and Germany.

Then she proudly leads us into her seating room where she shows us the pictures on the walls of Barack Obama Jr, who is already being referred to in this lakeside town as "Senator".

Barack Obama Jr was last in this tiny village in 1992 when he was accompanied by his wife.

The photographs show him in the company of his grandmother carrying foodstuffs to the market to sell.

Another shows him seated near a tiny grass thatched house with his uncle, Said Hussein Obama in 1987.

A wedding picture of the young Barack also features prominently in his grandmother's album. Said Hussein Obama, who communicates with his now prominent nephew on the phone and through e-mail, says he remembers him as a young humble man when he came to Nyangoma Kogalo village in 1987 to do research for his autobiography.

"While he could afford to rent a car to criss-cross Nyanza Province as he gathered material on his father, the young man, in his 20s then, squeezed into matatus [taxi buses]... that was his way of knowing the people," Said Hussein Obama says.

Sleepless nights

After my visit to the village, I checked into a hotel in nearby town of Kisumu, where I was caught up in the Obama mania.

A person in the hotel room next to mine switched on his TV set rather loudly.

Barack Obama's relatives remove maize from the cob
Barack Obama's relatives are small-scale maize farmers
I complained to the receptionist on the phone and she called me back three minutes later to explain my neighbour was watching the live speech by John Kerry, the US Democratic presidential candidate.

"Your neighbour says he will switch off the TV after the live transmission," she said.

The Obama family have also had a few sleepless nights monitoring the US campaign through the media.

But they if they and the residents of Nyangoma Kogalo village had a vote in the US elections, they would not take longer than a moment to pick their man.


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