Proud ties

Granny Obama, Kenya celebrate White House win

Obama’s stepgrandmother, Sarah Obama, was among the revelers. She offered words of advice for the president.
Dai Kurokawa/EPA
Obama’s stepgrandmother, Sarah Obama, was among the revelers. She offered words of advice for the president.

KOGELO, Kenya — Waving her walking cane and smiling broadly, the stepgrandmother of Barack Obama celebrated Wednesday as this tiny Western Kenyan village danced and rejoiced after the US president won four more years in the White House.

Kogelo, a dirt-road town where children play soccer in bare feet, was the home of Obama’s father, and claims several relatives of the president among its population. The family matriarch is Sarah Obama, who was married to the president’s late grandfather.

‘‘Take the great job that people have given to you and lead them well,’’ Sarah Obama advised the president after his victory. ‘‘They have shown immense love to have voted for you.’’


Residents hoisted branches of green leaves, red plastic chairs, and even one-speed bicycles into the air to celebrate Obama’s win.

Get Today's Headlines in your inbox:
The day's top stories delivered every morning.
Thank you for signing up! Sign up for more newsletters here

‘‘The community is happy. The community is waking up from their sleep to come and celebrate,’’ said Kennedy Rajula, the president’s cousin.

Sarah Obama is the second wife of Obama’s paternal grandfather. Obama referred to her as ‘‘Granny’’ in his memoir, ‘‘Dreams from My Father,’’ and described meeting her during his 1988 trip to his father’s homeland and their awkwardness as they struggled to communicate.

Kenya takes great pride in its association with Obama, and Prime Minister Raila Odinga said the election victory was a great day for the United States and Kenya.

‘‘Obama’s victory has proved that it was not a fluke the first time round, that the American society has changed, that the people of America have now, basically living the American dream of a people who are united by race, by religion, by ethnicity, and so on,’’ Odinga said. ‘‘People are prepared to work together to build their country.’’


Kenya has its own presidential election coming up in March. The country’s last vote in late 2007 turned devastatingly violent, and more than 1,000 people were killed. Many people in Kenya vote along tribal lines, adding to the tension, but Odinga said the US vote showed that elections should be decided based on issues.

‘‘This is what we should learn from these elections, American elections, and try to see if we cannot replicate it here in Kenya, that we move away from personality-based campaigns or ethnic-based campaigns and move toward issue-based campaigns,’’ Odinga said.

John Githongo, a former adviser on ethics and governance to Kenya’s president, Mwai Kibaki, who resigned and then exposed hundreds of millions of dollars in government corruption, said Obama enjoys ‘‘an unprecedented level of trust’’ among the people of the world. But he also said there are some in Kenya who worry the United States will now begin cracking down on corruption and tribalism in Kenya. ‘‘Many leaders thrive on corruption and whipping up tribal sentiments to consolidate political support,’’ he said.

Eric Lugalia, a 31-year-old pilot, said he is excited that Obama won again. ‘‘It also motivates us before our elections. Him being Kenyan, it motivates us to vote wisely for leaders who can bring change, unlike voting along tribal lines as we do.’’