'Africans Back Obama Because He's Black - It's That Simple'

By Stephen Mbogo | July 7, 2008 | 8:18 PM EDT

Nairobi, Kenya (CNSNews.com) - For many Kenyans, the race for the Democratic nomination in the U.S. presidential election has sparked much greater-than-usual interest, partly because Barack Obama's father was a Kenyan.

Commentators here say that in past American election cycles, Africans have been more interested in the presidential contest than the in the primaries.

"I think the last time I saw this kind of interest in the American electoral process was when [former President Bill] Clinton was going for his second term," said Jotham Kabuye, a Nairobi attorney.

Clinton was popular in Africa, partly because of his popularity with African-Americans at home and also because he was the first U.S. president to visit the continent in two decades.

His administration initiated the African Growth and Opportunity Act, which allows selected African products preferential access to U.S. markets and is aimed at encouraging African nations to open their economies. (AGOA was introduced in Clinton's final months in office; President Bush in 2004 extended the law seven years, to 2015.)

Clinton's popularity here, however, does not appear to have translated into support for Sen. Hillary Clinton in her campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination.

Asked whether African women would be motivated by the election of America's first female president, Kenyan journalist Wanjiru Waithaka demurred.

"Women celebrated when Margaret Thatcher became British prime minister," she said. "But the way she handled the leadership did not convince us that women are better leaders. Hilary shares her character [traits]."

Attorney Albert Muriuki said Obama was a role model for young African adults.

"He has showed us that it is possible to make big achievements, no matter one's background. He has helped motivate young Africans."

Muriuki conceded that his liking for Obama was also tied to the senator's Kenyan origins.

Okello Oculi, a Nigerian correspondent for East Africa's Daily Nation newspaper, says the prospect of a black man as U.S. president is seen by many Africans as something that would erase the sad memories of slavery.

Others interviewed here described Obama as eloquent and said a victory for him would benefit Africa. Muslims linked their support for Obama to his opposition to the war in Iraq, and the doubts he has voiced about the conduct of the campaign against terrorism.

But some acknowledged that the color of Obama's skin was an important factor for many Africans.

"It's like the ethnic politics practiced in most parts of Africa," said Peter Kimani, a recent political science graduate at the University of Nairobi. "We are supporting him because he is black. His win will be seen as a win for the black people - it's that simple."

At the same time, many respondents tempered their enthusiasm for Obama by asking whether American voters would elect a black president.

Norman Mudibo, a public relations manager in Nairobi, said one of the main drivers of support for Obama among the African middle class was a view that, as president, he would pay considerable attention to the continent.

President Bush on Thursday wrapped up a visit to five African countries, during which Bob Geldof, the Irish musician and Africa advocate, praised him for doing "more [for Africa] than any other president so far."

During the trip, Bush announced $350 million in aid over the next five years for countries in Africa, Latin America and Asia to treat and prevent specified tropical diseases.

The Bush administration has given $15 billion over the last five years for HIV-AIDS programs, and the president wants Congress to approve another $30 billion over the next five years.

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