Nairobi (CNSNews.com) – Kenya media are traditionally dominated by local politics but in recent weeks the American presidential campaign, and the drumming up of support for Sen. Barack Obama, have taken precedence.
Newspapers here run daily headlines about the campaign, and television and radio networks run live reports from the U.S. Taking their lead from their American counterparts, newspapers have taken to endorsing candidates. And all endorsements here have favored Obama, the son of a Kenyan.
In Nyanza province, about 350 miles west of Nairobi, where Obama’s father was born, Obama-branded merchandise has become popular. Kenyans are also holding prayer sessions in favor of the Democratic candidate.
Anne Onyango, a retailer based at the provincial capital of Kisumu, said everybody in the area wanted to be seen wearing an Obama t-shirt. “It has become a fashion statement. Others think by not wearing one, they will be seen as not supporting him.”
At the Kenya National Theatre in the capital, Nairobi, playwright George Orido is directing a production he calls “Obama the Musical.” It tells the story of a Kenyan-American who is on the verge of becoming the first black president of the United States.
“The musical is about the fascinating Obama story and also a way of uniting our nation,” Orido said.
In both Kisumu and Nairobi, giant billboards of Obama have been erected.
Obama and Republican presidential candidate Sen. John McCain have become household names in Kenya, where even primary and high school children have been following the campaign.
Almost 14,000 students took part in a nationwide competition called “Dear Barack Obama/Dear John McCain.” Each student was required to write a brief letter and ask one question ofeither candidate.
Dr. Vickie Ndibo, whose education development group, the Mbegu Trust, helped to organize the contest, said the serious nature of many of the questions showed the enormous level of interest the U.S. elections have generated here.
A 16 year-old girl wrote to McCain, “If you become the president of the USA, I hope you will capitalize on your long life experience in politics to restructure America’s foreign policy and restore its international reputation.”
To Obama, one 19 year-old boy wrote, “If you become the president of USA I hope you will fight for the world at large to be a better place. The change I hope will be of a positive effect on the whole world and not the USA only.
“I also hope you will do your best to deal with issues like terrorism, poverty and the never ending war and probably make decisions that will focus on our generation too. I hope the change you are implying will be a momentous one.”
Last weekend, Kenyan Prime Minister Raila Odinga voiced optimism that Obama would be America’s next president.
Odinga made the comments during a visiting the home of Obama’s paternal grandmother, Sarah Obama, 86, in the village of Kogelo, birthplace of Obama’s father.
“He will be president,” the Kenyan Broadcasting Corporation quoted Odinga as saying. An Obama presidency would be good for Africa and “definitely widen our scope of co-operation,” he said.
Kenya’s The Standard daily reported that members of the Kenyan Obama clan plan to gather in Kogelo on polling day.
It said Obama’s father’s first wife, Kezia Obama, arrived from London on Oct. 25 for the occasion. The elder Barack Obama was married to Kezia before he went to Hawaii to study. There he met and married Ann Dunham, the Illinois senator’s mother.
American critics of Obama have sought to highlight controversial links between the Democrat and Odinga.
Meanwhile, Kenyans and other Africans are pondering what an Obama win would mean for the continent.
Dr. Joseph Vincent Ebode, who teaches political studies at the University of Yaoundé II in the West African nation of Cameroon, saw the Obama contest for the presidency as part of a strategy of winning back Africa.
“Obama’s candidacy was not a random political event. It was mainly done to win the Africans’ hearts and minds in a make-or-die competition with China, India and Europe,” he said.
Addressing a seminar of the Institute of Security Studies, a pan-African security think-tank, scholar Dr. Steven Erkovich said he did not foresee major changes ahead in the way the U.S. deals with Africa.
American interest in Africa would continue to be driven by the desire to integrate Africa into the global economy, achieve peace and security in Africa, encourage the growth of strong democracy and good governance, and fight diseases.
“The style might be different,” said Erkovich, who is attached to the American University of Paris.
While Africans may be expecting more from the U.S. under a President Obama, he said, they would likely get “some tough love, including straightforward criticism.”
(CNSNews International Editor Patrick Goodenough contributed to this report.)