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African Leaders Congratulate President Obama on Peace Prize

By Alan Boswell
09 October 2009

The unexpected decision to award U.S. President Barack Obama with the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize has gathered praise from a variety of African leaders. President Obama's African heritage has given many in the region, accustomed to feelings of marginalization on the world stage, a sense of continental pride.

Three South Africans and one Kenyan have won the Nobel Peace Prize - but in the minds of some Africans, this count should now be notched up to five after Barack Obama was given the prestigious award Friday.

In his father's homeland of Kenya, the U.S. president is considered a national hero, even having had an annual national holiday created in his honor following his election last November. His visit to the West African nation of Ghana earlier this year was greeted ecstatically, with fears of a public stampede partly keeping him from making an outside appearance.

The U.S. president's uncle, Said Obama, expressed his family's pride at the high honor from the Western Kenyan village of Kogelo.

"I can tell you we are so very happy as a family. It's an honor not only to Barack but to the entire Obama family, here in Kenya and everywhere they may be," he said.

Former peace prize winner Archbishop Desmond Tutu said the award "speaks to the promise of President Obama's message of hope" in his still-young presidential term, comparing the new U.S. president to a "younger Mandela."

Another South African former peace prize winner, Nelson Mandela, put out a statement through his foundation congratulating Mr. Obama for the prestigious award.

But not all on the African continent were necessarily pleased with the surprising announcement. Many had picked Zimbabwean prime minister Morgan Tsvangirai as the frontrunner of the secretive selection process. Critics say Mr. Obama can as of yet point to no major accomplishments which would have justified such a coveted world prize.

Mr. Tsvangirai, who was in Spain where he received two prestigious awards Thursday for his political reform efforts in Zimbabwe, dismissed any claims that he might feel slighted by the announcement, saying the U.S. president "deserved" the honor.

"I wish to congratulate President Obama, I think he is a deserving candidate, I can not determine how people arrive at those conclusions and for me he is an extraordinary example," he said.

In Kenya, President Mwai Kibaki also put out a statement congratulating Obama for his award and expressed hope that the rest of his term would help make the world a better place. In 2004 Kenyan environmental activist Wangari Maathai won the award for her tree conservation advocacy work.

But perhaps Obama's greatest popularity is among regular Africans, many of whom feel a unique connection with the American-born world leader, a rare occurrence in this part of the globe.

In the Kenyan capital, Nairobi, 22 year-old philosophy student Alexander Muchiri said that Mr. Obama's famed message of hope has truly been taken to heart by the African youth.

"It goes to show that no matter your background you can come up and do big things, said Muchiri. "Hey, we are proud of him."

The Norwegian Nobel selection committee said Mr. Obama won the award "for his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples."

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