A big victory for Kenya

The Baltimore Sun

Halfway through his meal of grilled goat meat and lemon-scented tomato chunks, Dishon Kimani, 31, leaped out of his seat and pumped his fists in the air.

"Oh my God! He took Ohio!" he announced as CNN declared the state for Barack Obama. "This thing is over."

Kimani, a tow truck operator from Baltimore, was among about 20 African natives huddled around a flat-screen television at a lounge above George's Auto Repair in Northeast Baltimore. They chatted in a rowdy mix of Swahili, English and Kenyan slang as the election results trickled in. Every few minutes, as if on cue, the crowd would go silent as a winner was declared in a state, erupting in cheers and whistles moments later.

"Man, I am celebrating this for my 13-month-old daughter!" Kimani said as he grabbed a bottle of Corona from the table. "I can tell her that I was here when history was being made. I can tell her that 'You are an American citizen, with a Kenyan father, and you can also be president of the free world.' "

His sentiment echoed the theme at this election party. To many natives of the East African nation, Obama is a symbol of pride. His father, Barack Obama Sr., grew up in Kogelo, Kenya, a sleepy hamlet in the western part of the country, and met and married the younger Obama's mother while studying in the U.S. In African culture, children assume their father's lineage, so for Kenyans, the Illinois senator is one of them.

The fact that most are not eligible to vote - they are in the U.S. on visas or green cards - did not stop the group from celebrating.

"I'm losing my mind!" Rebecca Okombo Arum yelled as she pushed through the front door carrying a tray piled with goat ribs and ugali, a Kenyan bread made of corn flour that is served with meat.

Arum, 43, of Rosedale is from Nyanza province, the area from which Obama's father came. "My whole family in Kenya will be up all night," she said. "It's so overwhelming - he has the same roots as I do."

Though most Kenyans applaud Obama's victory, they have few expectations of material benefit. The euphoria is more about their country's tie to the future leader of the U.S., they say.

"He will bring an unprecedented change in attitudes," said Saisi Marasa, 34. "A lot of people view Africa negatively. He will do more than anyone has to change that."

The crowd doubled as the hour grew late. Arum dashed into the kitchen and emerged with bottles of Corona and plates of food. "This one's on me," she said. "It will be another lifetime before we have any Kenyan ties to a U.S. election, so we might as well enjoy this moment."

Baltimore resident David Bulindah, 37, founder of ChristAid Kenya, a nonprofit that focuses on HIV prevention in Kenya, said Obama's victory is proof of the American dream. "It shows that in America, anything is possible, and his speech fortified that. ... We look to the future with hope."

Mike Mugo, 34, of Abingdon retreated into a corner to call Kenya and update his relatives. "No need," his brother said on the other end. "We are watching everything on CNN."

Across the room, the crowd suddenly erupted into cheers and hugged one another. They cried, toasted and yelled, "Kenya! Obama!" It was 11 p.m.

"My hands are shaking, it's surreal," Mugo said. "Our man is president."

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