Sen. Obama Seen As Inspiration in Kenya

By ANTHONY MITCHELL
The Associated Press
Thursday, August 24, 2006; 3:29 PM

NAIROBI, Kenya -- Barack Obama may have only landed Thursday for his latest visit to his father's homeland, but the U.S. senator has already become the country's most prominent "citizen."

People drinking a Kenyan beer called Senator are ordering "Obama" instead. Obama's photograph is popping up on T-shirts, and the once knee-high grass in his ancestral village was cut in advance of his arrival.

As the only African-American in the U.S. Senate, Obama is seen as an inspiration in this east African country where more than half its 33 million people eke out a living on less than $1 a day.

Obama arrived Thursday for a six-day visit, and planned to meet with President Mwai Kibaki and stop at the site where Nairobi's U.S. embassy was bombed in 1998, killing 248 people.

The Illinois Democrat, his wife, Michelle, and daughters Malia, 8, and Sasha, 4, were greeted at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport in Nairobi by U.S. Ambassador Michael E. Ranneberger, the embassy said.

Just an hour after his plane touched down, Obama's arrival was making headline news on the country's leading television stations and local journalists chased his entourage as it left the airport.

"Village beats the drums for returning son" declared the Daily Nation newspaper, the most widely read in Kenya.

In Nyangoma-Kogelo, a tiny village tucked away in the rural west where chickens roam free and tiny boys in rags tend their flocks, residents have been preparing for weeks for Obama's return. Local newspapers reported that the dirt road leading to his 85-year-old grandmother's house was leveled.

Local media reported that Sarah Hussein, who will have to communicate with Obama through an interpreter, will treat him just like any other grandchild.

The senator grew up in Hawaii with his American mother after his parents divorced. He has visited Kenya three times, most recently in the early 1990s to introduce his then-fiancee to his Kenyan family. This is his first trip to Kenya since being sworn into office as a U.S. senator.

The senator's father, also named Barack Obama, became a university lecturer in Uganda after studying economics at Harvard University. He then worked in Kenya's private sector before joining the treasury department, where he became a senior economist.

He died in a car crash in 1982, leaving three wives, six sons and a daughter. One son died in 1984 and all his surviving children, except one, live in Britain or the United States.

Obama's paternal grandfather, Onyango Hussein Obama, was one of the first Muslim converts in the village.

During the senator's visit, he plans to take a public HIV test at a clinic in Nyangoma-Kogelo in an effort to promote AIDS prevention in a country where 700 people die on average per day from HIV/AIDS.

Although there have been recent declines in the amount of people infected with the virus in Kenya, two million people out of a total population of 33 million are infected. Around 1.5 million people have died from the disease _ and western parts of the country are the worst hit.

After his visit to Kenya, Obama is headed to Djibouti and Chad. He began his African tour Sunday with a visit to Nelson Mandela's former prison at Robben Island in South Africa. He has met with black businessmen, AIDS victims and U.S. Embassy officials, among others.

He paid tribute to South Africans' fight for freedom, saying they taught lessons to the world and helped inspire his own political career.

Aides said Wednesday that Obama had scrapped plans to visit Congo and Rwanda at the request of the U.S. Embassy in Congo because of postelection fighting in that country's capital, Kinshasa.


© 2006 The Associated Press