Posted by: Caitlin | November 5, 2008

Observations on Kenya’s reaction to the U.S. election

Just a few quick reflections on the experience of watching the U.S. elections in Kenya: 


  • Before the election, Obama fans in Kisumu and Kibera slum Nairobi, areas heavily populated with people from Obama’s father’s Luo tribe, were threatening to repeat post-election riots if Obama lost. Recalling the scenes from last January, this was a frightening prospect.  There was talk of recycling the “No Raila, no Peace” adage for “No Obama, no peace”. Luckily it didn’t happen. Still it is funny that Kenyans (especially Luos) feel just as passionate about Obama as they do about their own candidate.
  •  Kenyans are expecting a lot from an Obama presidency, and on many fronts they are likely to be disappointed. Expectations of all Kenyans getting visas to the U.S., discounted plane tickets, and special opportunities for work and study in the U.S. are unlikely to come to fruition.  Although it’s nice for me to picture hundreds of Kenyans selling roasted maize and ‘jua cali’ handmade furniture on the Mall, we can file that under not gonna happen.  Also, many Kenyans are looking forward to the day when, as  promised in a song, the White House will actually physically be painted black.
  • Many babies born in Kenya today and this month are sure to be named Obama, President Barack, President Obama, and other variations thereof. Since it is a Kenyan tradition to name children after events that happen on the day of the birth, and since Kenyans favor naming their children after African-American figures (a friend recently named her child Maya Angelou), I am guessing there will be a lot of baby Obama’s. I’ve also heard tell of one poor Kenyan who was named Merrychristmas. No joke. Ouch.    

          On the subject of names: Joe Biden is called J’Biden by many Kenyans. Awesome. I’ve started using it and you should too. 

  • Thursday has been declared a national holiday to celebrate the election of a Kenyan-American as the 44th president of the US.  As the Daily Nation newspaper reports, ‘Kenyans will take a day off to mark the historic election of Obama to the most powerful office on earth.’  It is also, as a friend noted, the first time a Kenyan has been democratically elected ever. And after no sleep and too many bloody marys and champagne, I’m going to need it! Ok, back to pretending to work, ugh… lakini TULISHINDA!!!!!


  1. A national holiday? We don’t even get that!

    Also, you’ll be happy to know that on tv here, they were showing live shots of people celebrating in Kenya.

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