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Wed, 21 Jan 2009 08:55 - Updated Wed, 21 Jan 2009 08:55

Obama fever grips Kenya


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Nairobi - Excitement reached fever pitch across Kenya Tuesday, ahead of the day's inauguration of Barack Obama as the 44th president of the US, with giant television screens being mounted in major towns to relay live the historic moment.

In the lakeside town of Kisumu in western Kenya, the birthplace of President Obama's father Barack Hussein Obama Senior, a three-day "Obama Speaking" competition reached a climax with youth who took part in the competition declaring the incoming US president "Obama Tosha" – Kiswahili for "Obama Only."

Never before has the US presidential election been the subject of intense interest in the East Africa nation, which Obama regularly visited before he became an Illinois senator in 2004.

Kenyan television stations interrupted normal programming to focus on history in the making, as the man billed by Kenyans as one of their own reached the climax of long and tortuous journey to the most coveted perch in global politics.

Traders in Nairobi lined up Obama memorabilia, while entertainment spots have lined up events to celebrate the elevation of the first black man to the highest office in the US.

Commenting on the significance of the day, Prime Minister Raila Odinga told a breakfast meeting with journalists on Tuesday that the occasion was symbolic in many respects.

The Prime Minister's father was a freedom fighter and longstanding opponent of tyranny in Africa, a cause for which he was detained with his son Raila by founding president Jomo Kenyatta.

King was a personal friend of Odinga, revered in Kenya and east African as the doyen of opposition politics up to the time he died in 1994.

In Nairobi, most people left their offices early to follow the proceedings on television, and there was little local television and radio news content.