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Sweet Column: Obama frenzy in Kenya?

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PRETORIA, South Africa -- Barack Obama flies from here to Kenya today, and dispatches from a Kenyan medical student vividly describe the soaring expectations over the return of the almost native son.

"Some think ... it's a great politician who is coming to bail them from their problems," Joseph Lenai told me in an e-mail.

Obama, with a Kenyan father and Kansas mother, will have difficult personal and political terrain to navigate. His visit could be hijacked by tribal-based political interests as Kenya heads toward a presidential election, and the demands of members of his extended family may be unrealistic.

Escalating anticipation

On Tuesday, Obama tried to lower expectations by saying flat out that people -- even cousins and uncles he does not know very well -- may be disappointed.

Lenai is a 27-year-old Kenyan medical student from Moi University School of Medicine in Eldoret in the western portion of the country. Lenai and I have a mutual friend and Lenai's dispatches to us vividly describe the escalating anticipation. He writes me of the excitement over the coming of "this great senator to Africa, Kenya included."

"Ya, it has been all over the news -- TVs and radios and even in the mouths of people in the street -- corridors, offices and shops.

"What is sooo amusing is what we see in the TV back at the Obama's father native land the folks are sooo excited.

"Some think it their own relative who became the U.S. president that is paying them a visit; some think it's a great politician who is coming to bail them from their problems.

"A ram, white in color with a black head, the breed of Merino, is ready for the senator and his team! The small house for the senator has been renovated and the officials from the U.S. embassy have been making trips to assess the situation ahead of the coming of the great man of Africa."

"Obama will be landing in Kenya in style and as he said, many people, especially in his father's village, are thinking that it is the U.S. president who is paying them a visit -- and they expect many of their problems to be solved.

"We have been shown in the TV the sheep that will be slaughtered for him, the small house that he will live in -- wa! Lynn will have some good coverage -- since he will even undergo some rituals!"

I showed one of the e-mails to Robert Gibbs, Obama's spokesman, and asked him if any of it seemed out of line based on what he has heard. He did not seem surprised.

Obama covered a lot of ground on his last day in South Africa -- symbolically and physically. He stayed here another afternoon because of the cancellation of a trip to Congo.

The day was bracketed by stops that memorialized South Africa's history as a nation of forced racial separation, suppression and repression.

Spotlight on apartheid

In Soweto, a township southwest of Johnannesburg, Obama toured a museum memorializing the June 16, 1976, student protest that turned deadly, resulting in the murder of a 12-year-old, Hector Pieterson. The riot -- between armed police and unarmed students -- and the ensuing deaths turned a spotlight on apartheid, South Africa racial separation laws.

Hours later, Obama was given a tour of South Africa's Constitutional Court, stunning in design and interior and rich with history -- it is built on the site of an infamous prison.

Obama's host was Justice Albie Sachs, one of 11 judges appointed to his seat by former South African President Nelson Mandela. Sachs was part of the team that wrote a constitution for the newly democratic nation. An anti-apartheid fighter, he was imprisoned, detained, exiled and lost an arm in a car-bombing.

6 Comments

As Kenya gets excited about it's "Great Senator", it is obvious who he represents, and it isn't the people of Illinois.

BD, your an idiot!!!!!!

Now is the time Senator Hillary Clinton & Obama democratic ticket 2008 the republican can not escape its time for a change.

I'm amazed at these folks that are so critical of Obama's African trip. Don't they know these foreign jaunts are so very common with Washington pols? I think they may be threatened by Obama's popularity and the principles he represents.

BD you shouldn't be that close minded

And just what is this visit supposed to do for Illinois?I am not too sure I understand how this is supposed to work ??

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Lynn Sweet

Lynn Sweet is a columnist and the Washington Bureau Chief for the Chicago Sun-Times.

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This page contains a single entry by Admin published on August 24, 2006 5:37 AM.

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