The View From Kenya

Jan 16, 2009 5:56pm

High expectations of Barack Obama are not limited to the United States: They've soared to near-unanimity in his ancestral Kenya, to some extent bridging tribal tensions that spilled into violence there last year.

Obama's father was Kenyan and he has many relatives there; the East African country declared a national holiday after his election. The affinity's apparent in a survey from the U.K. polling firm ORB and made available to ABC News: Ninety percent of Kenyans say Obama's election has improved their opinion of the United States, 91 percent think it'll improve U.S. relations with Kenya, as many think it'll improve U.S. relations with Africa, in general, and 89 percent think it will boost U.S. aid to Kenya.

Big numbers — and ones that cross ethnic lines. Among members of Obama's father's Luo tribe, 97 percent say his election has improved their view of the United States. That declines, but to a still-high 79 percent, among the Kikuyu, long the dominant political and economic group in the country. Ninety-nine percent of Luo, and 81 percent of Kikuyu, expect a positive impact on U.S.-Kenya relations.

Violence erupted among these and other groups after disputed elections in December 2007. And there are sharp differences in the intensity of their sentiment: Seventy percent of Luo say their opinion of the United States has "greatly" improved; many fewer Kikuyu, 48 percent, agree. Sixty-one percent of Luo expect "greatly improved" U.S. aid; that drops to 39 percent of Kikuyu. And 72 percent of Luo expect Obama's election to have a "very" positive impact on relations between the United States and Kenya. Among Kikuyu, that falls to 41 percent.

Deep difficulties continue to face Kenya — drought has put perhaps 10 million at risk of famine, prompting a state of emergency declared Jan. 9; corruption scandals involving food aid, oil and tourism have roiled the country; and inflation has soared. Its challenges almost make Obama's at home look simple. These polling data suggest that there, as here, the question is not just how he performs — but how he manages sky-high public expectations.

ORB's poll was done via face-to-face interviews of a random national sample of 2,995 Kenyans Nov. 14-Dec. 10.

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