Obama mania has Kenya in a spin

NAIROBI - With posters splashed on walls, front pages bearing Barack Obama's picture day after day, concerts and plays held in his honour, one would be forgiven for thinking Kenya was the 51st US state.

NAIROBI - With posters splashed on walls, front pages bearing Barack Obama's picture day after day, concerts and plays held in his honour, one would be forgiven for thinking Kenya was the 51st US state.

With the historic US presidential election hours away and the Democratic candidate holding a healthy lead over Republican John McCain, the East African country where his father was born was holding its breath.

The US election, which could for the first time see an African-American installed in the White House, moved up into the national section of most Kenyan newspapers several days ago.

Though Obama was born in the US and barely knew his Kenyan father, the US senator enjoys almost unanimous support in Kenya, where he was given a hero's welcome in 2006.

From bar banters, T-shirts, the latest hit to make the charts, to graffiti and portraits on rickety mini-buses, the new fad in town is Obama.

Early this month a local band launched the Obama for Change song at a Nairobi pub and appealed to US voters.

Part of the song goes: "For good change, vote Obama... this is the time, if you miss it it's gone."

The country's top-selling Daily Nation was barely letting itself be distracted by the political aftermath of Kenya's disastrous own presidential election 10 months ago.

It has been running an unusually long series of articles on Obama.

The Daily Nation - which exceptionally dispatched several correspondents to the US to cover tomorrow's election - carried this headline yesterday, in huge block letters: "Yes he can."

Newspapers carried pullout posters of the Democratic party candidate and paid ads.

One add placed by a well-known paint retailer shows the White House repainted in yellow with a caption: "I agree with Mr Obama, we need change!"

Some days ago a Kenyan daily ran a front page that looked like a hit list, bearing the photographs of Kenyan lawmakers believed not to support Obama, with a headline: "MPs opposed to Obama."

The latest to be hit by Obama mania were local high schools that recently took part in a letter-writing contest to the two presidential candidates titled "Dear Barack Obama" and "Dear John McCain".

Of the thousands of the participants, 87 percent addressed their letters to Obama and the rest to McCain.

"What really shocked me was the expectations and the hope that these youngsters are placing in Barack Obama," said Martin Minns, coordinator of a local education trust that organised the contest.

"I really saw a leader who can make a difference not only in America but in the whole world," 17-year-old Bilha Musima, who was among the eight winners of the competition, said of Obama. - Sapa-AFP

X