Kenya after violence, hope: for the people of Barack Obama's African ancestral home, getting by--and getting along--are a struggle.[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]
The people of Kenya consider Barack Obama to be one of their own. Kenya is the birthplace of the President's late father, Barack Obama Sr. Members of Obama's extended family still live in this East African country.
Kenyans feel especially proud that Obama has reached out to people from different backgrounds and political parties for advice and support. This lesson of inclusiveness is not lost on Kenyans. Neither is the peaceful transfer of power that is a hallmark of democracy in the United States. Kenya has had a long history of ethnic tensions, especially when elections occur. Power is rarely given over without a struggle.
Chaos at Home
After Kenya's presidential election in December 2007, violence on a scale rarely seen here erupted across the country. Opponents of the incumbent President, Mwai Kibaki, charged that he had rigged the vote in order to win re-election. In Kibera, a sprawling slum on the outskirts of Nairobi, Kenya's capital (see map, p. 9), angry mobs torched buildings and battled police.
The chaos lasted for weeks, killing more than 1,000 people and displacing at least 350,000. One day, Jimia Ibrahim, 13, was accidentally shot in the left leg by police.
"The police were shooting to scare [demonstrators] away," says Jimia, who lives in Kibera. "My thigh was bleeding a lot, and I collapsed." Jimia spent three days in the hospital and missed five days of classes.
Often, the fighting seemed cruelly random. Angry crowds attacked the uncle of 15-year-old Paul Nyang and killed a next-door neighbor. Paul doesn't know why. "It was a very bad time for me," he tells JS.
The violence was fueled in part by ethnic tensions. Kenya, which is about the size of Texas, is home to more than 40 ethnic groups, or tribes. Getting along is not always easy. "I don't understand why different tribes cannot get along here," says Jimia. "There should be communication between different groups, just like in America."
A Power-Sharing Deal
Situated on the east coast of Africa, Kenya has a troubled history. From 1895 until winning independence in 1963, it was a colony of Great Britain. Early hopes for democracy were followed by decades of one-party dictatorship. But protests and international pressure led to the gradual emergence of democracy in the early 1990s.
While Kenya's economy is fairly stable, the political structure remains fragile. The December 2007 election pitted President Kibaki against a popular rival, Raila Odinga. The rioting that followed Kibaki's narrow victory soon descended into tribal violence. Kibaki is a member of the Kikuyu, Kenya's largest and dominant ethnic group. Odinga is of the Luo tribe. (The Obama family is also Luo.)
After weeks of clashes, international leaders helped negotiate a power-sharing deal. On February 28, 2008, President Kibaki agreed to name Odinga Prime Minister and give Odinga's party half of the government's Cabinet positions.
The arrangement seems to be working, but many problems remain. More than a million Kenyans are thought to have HIV or AIDS, and nearly half of the country's people live in poverty.
Amid such concerns, Kenyans have taken great pride in Obama's African heritage. In Kibera, rickety kiosks that sell everything from vegetables to cell phones carry his name on them. His portrait decorates the crumbling walls of street cafes and the dusty windows of old minivans.
In 2006, Obama, then a U.S. Senator, toured Kibera. Thousands of people cheered as he walked through the garbage-strewn streets. "The crowds were so big that he had a hard time reaching out to greet them," recalls Rollins Odero, 15.
Obama's triumph in the presidential race has encouraged young Kenyans to think of their own future. Jimia and Paul hope to pursue careers that will enable others to avoid the tragedy they have seen. "I want to be a lawyer who can help bring law and order to the country," says Jimia.
For his part, Paul wants to become a politician. "The biggest problem in Kenya fight now is those guys in Parliament," he says. Kenya's Parliament is divided over whether to prosecute politicians accused of encouraging post-election violence.
Paul and Jimia think that their leaders could learn a lot from the new U.S. President. "Like Obama, they should not be rough, but should work together," says Paul.
Words to know
* Cabinet (n): a body of advisers, especially in a government.
* incumbent (n): the current holder of a political office.
* kiosk (n): a small building or other structure from which merchandise is sold.
* Parliament (n): a legislative, or lawmaking, body in certain countries, like Congress in the U.S.
* prosecute (v): bring criminal charges against.
* rig (v): use deceptive practices to arrange an unfair result.
Think About It
1. What qualities do Kenyans admire about the U.S. political system and President 0bama?
2. What hardships have Jimia and Paul faced recently? What hopes do they have for the future?
Web Watch: Exploring Kenya www.geographia.com/kenya
"PEOPLE ARE DANCING"
After 0bama's election victory last November, the people of Kenya poured into the streets, chanting: "O-ba-ma! O-ba-ma!"
In rural Nyang'oma Kogelo, the home of 0bama's 8B-year-old stepgrandmother (see map, p. 9), election returns were projected on a white sheet outside the medical clinic. When a village elder announced that 0bama had won, children at the Senator 0bama-Nyangoma Primary School raced out of their classes, shouting and screaming.
"People are so happy, so excited. People are dancing," said Sa'id Obama, the new President's uncle. "We are slaughtering cows, goats, sheep. People are going to feast to celebrate Barack's win."
The feast was unusual for this poor village, where most people live on less than a dollar a day. Meat is only for special occasions.
As news of Obama's victory spread, celebrations broke out across Kenya, and the government declared a national holiday. For one day, poverty did not matter as much as usual.
By Jami Makan in Nairobi
A REPORT FROM NAIROBI
What I Like
"When not at school, my favorite things to do are study at home and go to church with my parents. My favorite subject is science because I want to be a doctor. l want to be a doctor so that I can treat even President Obama! I also want to be a doctor to fight AIDS because people are dying. My favorite thing about church is the choir music. When I listen to it I feel like God is close by."
--Wilberforce Chogo, 14