Sunday, January 18, 2009

Obamania at its height in Kenya

“Obama is very popular everywhere in Kenya,” said Karam Singh, a Kenya Indian currently on holiday after settling abroad. He saw that all over; and no wonder, the Inauguration Celebrations for President Barrack Obama start in Kenya much earlier than in the United States.

“I went for dinner to one Indian friend and he had portraits of Obama alongside pictures of Hindu Gods,” he said, “In traffic jams, vendors run up to cars selling his autobiography, pictures to hang at home alongside the President of Kenya. Vehicles have his photo painted on them.”

“I came across one coach on Mombasa Road with Obama's portrait painted on the back. Sections of this road are very rough. Some Chinese who are re-building this road, got menacing when I raised the camera. It was then a race to get a good vantage point from by car seat to take picture of the moving coach. I drove the driver crazy asking him to get as close as possible on this dangerous stretch of the road.

“After several wasted shots - I got my exclusive at the cost of being cursed by driver and passengers. They could not fathom the reason that someone from UK would want to take a photo of the back of the bus bearing Obama's photo! To me, this photo embodied aspirations of ordinary Kenyans who strive for greater achievements both in terms of monetary gains, power, high powered connections and personal embellishments,” he said.

Kenya declared a national Holiday when Obama won - the next national holiday will be when he visits Kenya. Now that has to be an event in itself. The Inauguration Celebrations for President Barrack Obama take off in Kenya earlier than in the United States. A five-day cultural extravaganza starts in his ancestral village, Kogelo, in western Kenya, on 16 January with traditional African music, dance, poems, art exhibitions, folk stories and feasts. Kenya’s Ministry of Culture and Heritage is assisting to organise this major event attended by many elders from his tribe and experts on African culture.

“The most important guest at Obama's inauguration is from Kenya,” headlined an American newspaper reporting on the presence of Sara Obama, Barack's Kenyan grandmother. She is the mother of Obama's father, whom he missed greatly when he was growing up. The US embassy in Nairobi has granted visas to eight members of the Kogelo community to attend Obama’s inauguration on January 20 in Washington DC. The group includes five immediate family members of Obama who will also be travelling to the US.

On the historic day when the first African- American takes the oath of office to lead the most powerful nation of the world, Kenyans will be singing to hail him. The trail blazing Boys Choir of Kenya, a group of 26 young men, will perform for Obama and his guests in Washington DC during the inauguration. They will present the song America the Beautiful, a US national song, and Jambo Bwana, a popular Kenyan ditty that means “Hello, Boss”.

Kenya is already reaping a bonanza for its tourism sector after the Obama’s election for tourists are coming to visit his ancestral village after its tourism took a big hit following the ethnic violence in January 2008 soon after the elections in December 2007. Now, no Kenya safari is complete without a visit to Obama’s village in Nyanza Province of western Kenya, not very popular on the tourist circuit until Obama won the US elections.

Many Kenyan companies and politicians are cashing in on Obama’s victory. The vastly popular beer called ‘Senator’ when Obama won the election, it launched a new beer named “President”. East Africa’s leading newspaper, Daily Nation, published a calendar entitled ‘The Obama Year” and was sold out quickly on that day. Obama posters and T Shirts are top sellers. Kenyan politicians published advertisements congratulating Obama on his victory to promote themselves.

Many tour companies start their safaris from this village and then escort the tourists to the national parks. The safari packages, costing between $ 2,000 and $3,500, are promoted as ‘Obama Kenya Roots and Heritage”, “Presidential Heritage safari”, “Roots of Obama” and “Discover Obama’s Kenyan Roots”. The tour operators caution tourists, “There will be no entry into the private residence of Obama's grandmother nor will there be any interviews or contact with any of the Obama family members.” The road to Kogelo has been upgraded, a police post has been established, the airport in nearby Kisumu town is being expanded, and a museum telling the story of the Obama heritage is under construction and set to open late this year. Kenyan tour operators, including many Kenya Indians who own safari companies, are travelling to the United States to promote Obams Safaris and bookings increased since November. Kenya is cashing on Obaboom.

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