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Originally published November 6, 2008 at 12:00 AM | Page modified November 6, 2008 at 12:14 PM

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Barack Obama's victory resonates across Kenya

On the morning that this East African nation's favorite adopted son won the White House, villagers danced and sang and waved American flags and leafy branches that symbolize good fortune.

McClatchy Newspapers

KOGELO, Kenya — Here, everyone's an Obama.

On the morning that this East African nation's favorite adopted son won the White House, villagers danced and sang and waved American flags and leafy branches that symbolize good fortune. They slaughtered bulls and goats in preparation for a feast as they contemplated the idea that part of America's next first family lives right here in western Kenya.

"I'm so happy, I don't know if I'll die of happiness," said Sarah Onyango Obama, President-elect Barack Obama's 86-year-old stepgrandmother.

Obama's late father, Barack Obama Sr., was born in Kogelo — Sarah was his stepmother — and although father and son barely knew each other, Kenya has embraced Obama as an icon of triumph and possibility.

As the nation celebrated his victory — Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki declared Thursday a public holiday — the distance from the cow pastures of Kogelo to the Rose Garden of the White House suddenly didn't seem so great.

"We have a president from this place," marveled Mary Adhiambo, a 21-year-old mother who lives in Kogelo and counts herself a cousin of the family. Throughout western Kenya, Obama's victory felt like redemption from the country's immediate past. Many in the predominant Luo tribe — to which Obama's father belonged — are still smarting from Kenya's disputed presidential election last December, when a narrow loss by the Luo candidate, Raila Odinga, unleashed weeks of violence that killed more than 1,000 people.

"In this country, politics is too much about ethnicity. America is showing that leadership has no color," said Samuel Otieno, 23, who watched the election results at a fairgrounds in Kisumu.

Obama has been to Kogelo only three times, but his mark here is unmistakable. Down the road from the family farmhouse is the Senator Obama Primary School, named for him on his last visit, in 2006.

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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