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Half a World Away, Kenya Exults at U.S. Outcome

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Barack Obama's Kenyan family erupted in cheers Wednesday, singing "we are going to the White House!" as Obama became the first African-American elected president. Video by AP

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By Stephanie McCrummen
Washington Post Foreign Service
Thursday, November 6, 2008

KOGELO, Kenya, Nov. 5 -- By afternoon on Wednesday, truckloads of Kenyans from all over the country were making a kind of pilgrimage to a place now known as White House Africa.

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It is the rural home of President-elect Barack Obama's Kenyan grandmother, a modest but sprawling compound with neatly trimmed grass and deep-green mango trees, where crowds of cheering, dancing, singing people spent the day reveling in the victory of the man they simply call "our son."

"It's something we never thought we would achieve," said John Omondi, 20, a student who lives in this village of farmers where Obama's father grew up. "I'm so happy that America has set an example to the whole world, that any one of us can make it."

The news of Obama's triumph reached Kenya as the sun rose Wednesday, and within minutes, a wave of euphoria -- and some serious reflection -- washed across this East African nation, where weeks of violence after a presidential election in late 2007 left many people deeply pessimistic about democracy.

On Wednesday, though, Kenyans were speaking of a restored confidence and hope in their country. Prime Minister Raila Odinga, who is from the same area and tribe as Obama's father and who says he lost the election because of vote rigging, declared Thursday a national holiday, saying Obama's victory was also one for Kenya.

Revelers paraded through the streets waving American flags, Obama posters and branches of palms and other trees, and some neighborhoods and villages were renamed -- Florida, Ohio, North Carolina.

People spoke jokingly of Kenya becoming a 51st U.S. state.

"This election shows that the kinds of changes we believe in are possible," said Bonaventure Mboya, a textbook salesman named for a much-loved Kenyan politician assassinated in 1969. "We feel as if we are Americans."

Mboya was among a few hundred people from this village who gathered in a field under tents through the cool Tuesday night. They had hoped for months, prayed for hours and now were watching election returns projected on a big white sheet. Some tallied electoral votes on scraps of paper. Others struggled to stay awake, not realizing the significance of early returns from some place called Pennsylvania.

When the announcement came, though, the reaction was quick.

"Hallelujah!" a preacher yelled into a microphone just after CNN anchorman Wolf Blitzer said Obama had won. "It's celebration time! Obama has put Kenya on the world map and the whole of Africa on the world map!"

People began hugging and dancing, hoisting their white plastic chairs.


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