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'New era' for Obama's Kenyan home

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Karen Allen on how the residents of Barack Obama's hometown in Kenya are celebrating his inauguration

By Karen Allen
BBC News, Kogelo

People here in western Kenya are celebrating the birth of a new era.

Kogelo, the hometown of the father of US President-elect Barack Obama, is normally a sleepy village of 5,000, but has become a riot of colour and sound.

The festivities have already begun, as they count down the hours before "their son" becomes the 44th president of the most powerful country in the world.

There are women in brightly coloured "kangas", the Kenyan sarongs which are so popular here. Some have the image of Mr Obama on the cloth, worn mischievously around their waists so that when they dance, he appears to be dancing too.

I feel like I'm living a dream
Mary Atieno Otieno
Retired schoolteacher

It is like one enormous wake, but for the fact that no one has died.

Many men are also sporting traditional dress. One wears an elaborate feathered head dress and dances with a traditional spear or ratung. It is not dissimilar to the ceremonial one Sarah Onyango Obama - the president-elect's grandmother - was hoping to take with her as a gift to him.

In her 80s, she and many of the Obama family are in Washington to witness Kenya's most famous son being sworn in.

Tourist draw

Since his victory back in November, electricity has been supplied to parts of the village, there is also more water to quench the thirsty soil where millet and sugar cane grow.

An American tourist is welcomed to Nyang'oma village in Kogelo by an elder (19/01/2009)
Kogelo has already found itself attracting curious tourists
As one man said to me, Barack Obama has shamed the Kenyan government into giving us something, now that the world's eyes are upon us. It is often the way progress happens.

Incongruous in all the partying we found the first Obama tourists - Canadians drawn to Kogelo at the news of the celebrations.

"These are such spirited people, who have been so inspired by the Obama win," remarked Stephanie Livingstone, who postponed her trip to Uganda to savour some Kogelo fun.

She and her gang of travellers are welcomed warmly as children giggle at their strange presence here.

He has taught us that we should practise true democracy - I hope he will tell dictators to practise democracy
Vitalis Akech Ogombe
Kogelo party organiser

The pupils of Senator Obama primary and high school have been given a few days off to join in this little piece of history - their school yard has become the focus of celebrations.

"I feel like I'm living a dream," smiled Mary Atieno Otieno, a retired schoolteacher who used to work here.

"I hope the children watch the inaugural speech to realise that if they work hard, they can achieve so much."

'True democracy'

The Luo community - from where Mr Obama's family comes - are known for their strong traditions, sense of identity and pride in their Nilotic roots. But many here are hoping that Barack Obama will be able to blend the old with the new.

Kenyans at inauguration celebrations in Kogelo (19/01/2009)
Kenyans hope Mr Obama will have a good influence on their own politicians

A fair few now accept that his presidency will not see a rush of investors scrambling to put new money in western Kenya. But they are hoping for a wholesale change in the way African politics is done.

"In my view the Obama presidency is going to change the political system in Africa," beams Vitalis Akech Ogombe, one of the organisers of the Kogelo festivities.

"He has taught us that we should practise true democracy. I hope he will tell dictators to practise democracy".

All eyes will be on Mr Obama as he deals with issues like Zimbabwe and Darfur in Sudan, and whether the domestic political agenda, with the crisis in the economy, will dominate.

When Mr Obama addressed students at Nairobi university a little over two years ago, his stern words against corruption and tribalism resonated among many here.

Cynical about their own leaders, Kenyans' hopes are being transferred to a man who, though an American citizen, is an inspiring figure with "Kenyan values".

Many hope his administration will be a turning point for this vast continent so often saddled with bad leaders.

Managing expectations will be one of his biggest tasks.



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