Kenya’s ‘Obama Generation’ Looking for Change

By Stephen Mbogo | November 6, 2008 | 4:35am EST

Kenyans watch TV news on U.S. presidential elections, in Nairobi, Kenya on Tuesday, Nov. 4, 2008 (AP Photo)

Nairobi ( – The election of Barrack Obama may prompt Africa’s younger generation to challenge older leaders’ grip on power, a phenomenon that has been common in many African countries since independence.
In interviews with young professionals here, it is apparent that Obama’s relative youth – he’s 47 – and his rhetoric of change is likely to feature strongly in their political activism.
Oliver Oliech, a final-year law student at the University of Nairobi, said Obama’s victory would convince many younger people about their ability to bring about change, if they have sufficient determination.
“It should be a wake-up call for Kenyan and other African elderly leaders that the inspiration of a younger person with African roots being elected the president of the U.S. is enough to awaken the young people here,” he said.
Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki is 76, while his political rival, Prime Minister Raila Odinga is 63. Elsewhere in Africa, a number of leaders are older.
Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak is 80, Algeria’s Abdelaziz Bouteflika is 71, Omar Bongo of Gabon is 72 and Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe is 84.
In African tradition, elders led communities because they were considered to be wiser. During colonial times, children of these leaders often were given priority when it came to schooling opportunities and were subsequently recruited into government at independence because of their education.
Rampant corruption in many countries saw leaders amass resources which they used to control political power. Leaders have also used ethnic differences as a divide and rule tactic.
But countries like Kenya have now produced growing numbers of educated young people who already are being dubbed “the Obama generation.”  They are keen to promote change based on ideas rather than ethnicity and what many regard as outdated traditions.
In Kenya, the home country of Obama’s father, politics has long been highly ethnicized. A disputed presidential dispute at the end of last year triggered violence along political and ethnic lines that nearly led to a civil war.
A negotiated power-sharing deal left the incumbent, Kibaki, in power, with Odinga given the premiership, and cabinet posts shared between their parties. The recent release of a comprehensive report into the post-election violence has returned the issue to center stage and threatening political turmoil.
Nancy Wambui, 34, a banker here, said Obama’s election victory has shown young people here that tribe or ethnicity does not matter.
Meanwhile, the U.S. election outcome is credited for gains on the Nairobi Stock Exchange.
Elizabeth Irungu, an analyst with investment bank African Alliance, attributed them in part to expectations of increasing American tourism
Tourism is Kenya’s major foreign exchange earner. The U.S. is the second biggest source of tourists, after Britain, but the first nine months of 2008 saw only 25,000 Americans visit, compared to more than 100,000 during 2007, according to Kenya Tourism Board. The violence in January was blamed for the drop.
“There are also expectations that the election of Obama will renew investor interest in the country,” Irungu said.
At Kogelo village in western Nyanza Province, where Barack Obama Sr. was born, the celebrations are continuing. The government is bringing electricity to the sleepy village and a dirt road leading to Obama’s grandmother home is being paved.

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