By Alan Boswell
Nairobi, Kenya, October 10, 2009 Ė Kenyans expressed both elation and a
sense of national urgency Friday when it was announced that "son of the
soil" Barack Obama won the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize. The award is the
second time in the past six years that a person of Kenyan roots has won
Kenyans received a pleasant surprise mid-day Friday when they learned
that the year's Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to U.S. President Barack
Most of the world will see the prize as a victory for a globally-popular
new American president - but for Kenyans there is little doubt that Mr.
Obama, whose father was Kenyan, is ultimately one of their own.
Nasuur Dhoka, a 34-year-old accountant, voiced the pride widespread
among Kenyans toward the U.S. president.
"Being a Kenyan I'm very proud about him," said Nasuur Dhoka. "We say
he's a Kenyan because his dad is from Kenya. So Kenya is proud; we have
two [peace prize winners] now."
Faith Mkarima, a local catering service employee, expressed similar joy
at the news.
"He's our son so we share with him the happiness," said Faith Mkarima.
"Being a son of Africa, we should also follow his example."
The U.S. president continues to hold extreme levels of personal
popularity in this African nation, even leading former Kenyan president
Daniel Arap Moi once again to criticize his countrymen for holding a
near-religious obsession with the American-born world leader.
Despite having skipped Kenya in his first visit to the continent and
having made few public comments directly regarding the nation since
taking office, the man the Kenyan people call their "son" is a routine
sight on the front page of the country's major daily newspapers. After
Mr. Obama won the U.S. election last November, Kenya celebrated a new
annual national holiday - Obama Day.
His popularity has caused an awkward situation for the nation's leaders,
who have been coming under increasing fire from the U.S. for allegedly
failing to quickly implement key reforms demanded by the international
community following its post-election crisis of early 2008.
The government has responded to the criticism by claiming that President
Obama must be receiving bad information from the chief diplomatic envoy
posted in Kenya.
For many Kenyans, their clear satisfaction with Mr. Obama's recognition
is tempered with a deeper sense of collective urgency to fix the
nation's problems. Kenyans themselves point out the uncomfortable irony
that their country - which has received the bulk of its international
attention the past couple years for political instability and ethnic
violence - would have garnered such an unlikely success in the world's
top peace prize.
Ngari Gituku, head of the Kenya Leadership Institute, summarized a
common feeling expressed to VOA that the award needed to serve as a
"First, he deserves it, and I think this is a very appropriate honor,"
said Ngari Gituku. "Number two, it should be a turning point for Kenyans
to feel very ashamed if they don't rise up to the occasion and become
the kind of people that Obama is inspiring us to become."
Kenyan Wangari Maathai won the Nobel award in 2004 for her environmental
advocacy work under the Green Belt Movement.
Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki issued a statement Friday congratulating
President Obama for his award, saying the prize was a "recognition of
the contribution you are making for the well being of humanity."
Source: VOA, October 9, 2009