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Kenyans Express Joy, Urgency, at President Obama's Nobel Peace Award

By Alan Boswell
09 October 2009

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 the prize.

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 Obama.

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 wake-up call.

"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."

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