Kenya cools on Obama


Kenyans celebrate after the inauguration ceremony of U.S. President Obama on Jan. 20, 2009,  in Kisumu. (Simon Maina/AFP/Getty Images)

In Kenya, the mood was noticeably different than the 2008 elections. At that time, the whole country seemed to be gripped by Obama-mania. The capital, Nairobi, was plastered with Obama bumper stickers, Obama T-shirts, Obama key rings. People waved U.S. flags. In this election, one had to look hard to find any Obama paraphernalia — or even his portrait on the streets. With the exception of his ancestral village of Kogelo in western Kenya, where a local witch doctor predictably concluded a landslide victory for Obama, most Kenyans were not as exuberant as they were in 2008.

But this is not to say most Kenyans didn't support Obama. A recent BBC poll found that Kenya ranked third — after France and Australia — among countries whose populations supported Obama, with 65 percent backing Obama. Yet at the same time, Kenya had more Romney supporters than any of the countries polled, with about 18 percent of Kenyans supporting Romney to win the elections.

Most local commentators voiced support for Obama, applauding him for masterminding the killing of Osama bin Laden. Al-Qaeda orchestrated the 1998 bombings of the U.S.  embassies in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam, killing scores of Kenyans and Tanzanians. Today, another al-Qaeda-linked militia, Somalia's Al Shabab, has staged numerous attacks inside Kenya in recent months.

But other commentators expressed disappointment over what they considered Obama's low level of interest in sub-Saharan Africa. "When Obama was elected in 2008, he gained the status of a demigod of some sort in most of Africa. The years that followed, however, were marked by disappointment," wrote Charles Onyango-Obbo, a columnist for Kenya's Daily Nation, the country's most respected newspaper. "Many Africans have been complaining that, as they say in Uganda, Obama “didn’t look into” Africa. He didn’t give Africa any groceries."

But Obbo also noted that as the presidential race got tighter, many Africans renewed their support for Obama. "He might be a prodigal son, yes, but he still has African blood in his veins and is our son, many disillusioned Obama fans are saying," wrote Obbo.

Sudarsan Raghavan has been The Post's Kabul bureau chief since 2014. He was previously based in Nairobi and Baghdad for the Post.
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