KOGELO, Kenya – Toward the end of an all-night election dance party in this rural village that claims President Barack Obama as a “son of the land,” an exhausted crowd sat shivering under shawls and blankets on plastic lawn chairs, watching the first results come in from America. There was an unusual hush as early returns showed Mitt Romney ahead, but soon the count changed and the tension broke. When a television news anchor projected President Obama would be re-elected, a new wave of energy swept over the crowd.
Residents of Kogelo leapt to their feet, singing a traditional Swahili gospel song and waving branches. They danced over to the home of the President’s late father to celebrate with his 90-year-old step-grandmother. “Mama Sarah,” as she is known here, beamed proudly at an impromptu press conference for the crush of reporters who have once again descended on the town for reaction from the U.S. president’s Kenyan relatives.
“The first reason why he won is because he is blessed by God. The second one is that he worked hard for his people,” Sarah Obama said through an interpreter. “This election is more meaningful because it was not just euphoria but the decision of Americans who have seen his work.”
Residents of this typically sleepy village in rural western Kenya are not just celebrating the President’s re-election victory because of a sense of kinship; they said they have high hopes a second term will directly affect their lives.
“He has brought honor and glory to this community. He has placed this community on the map,” said Said Obama, who called himself the President’s uncle.
Kogelo’s connection to the U.S. president has brought it more attention from the Kenyan government and some charity groups. The village now has a paved road, electricity, new wells, and two new hotels and restaurants serving foreign tourists.
“Many guests have come around. Everyone has benefited. Shopkeepers have been selling small things,” said Nicholas Rajula, who says he was inspired by President Obama to try to find his own success as a businessman.
Rajula recently built the Kogelo Village Resort hotel and says he hopes international interest in the area will increase the pace of development. Others say they are celebrating a victory for all people of the world — what they believe is evidence of a changing attitude toward race far beyond their village.
“Blacks and whites are the same,” said local teacher Alice Babu. “It should be a lesson for everyone that we should not underrate people. We are all equal. It is only that given opportunity, then it can be seen.”